First, let’s define a screen reader.
Screen readers are software programs that allow blind or visually impaired users to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer. A screen reader is the interface between the computer’s operating system, its applications, and the user. The user sends commands by pressing different combinations of keys on the computer keyboard to instruct the speech synthesizer what to say and to speak automatically when changes occur on the computer screen. A command can instruct the synthesizer to read or spell a word, read a line or full screen of text, find a string of text on the screen, announce the location of the computer’s cursor or focused item, and so on.
Now, watch a video of a user with a screen reader.
I’d like to share a video of Neal Ewers of the Trace Research Center at the University of Wisconsin. He shows how he uses a screen reader and talks a bit about what this means for designers: Introduction to Screen Readers (Opens in a new window (opens in a new window.)
Next, try to simulate using a screen reader yourself.
The directions for this simulation point out that you may be frustrated trying to find the answers to the questions on this website for a fake university. The creators have tried to simulate what blind readers experience when using many web sites.
Now, download a screen reader to your own computer. Use it with any website or document.
NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) software (opens in a new window) enables blind and vision impaired people to use a computer by communicating what is on the screen using a synthetic voice or braille. You can use this to see what your web page will sound like in a screen reader. If you are trying to simulate blindness, just turn off the monitor and try to navigate a web page using only NVDA.
NVDA is a screen reader for Microsoft Windows that is totally free, yet fully functional and portable. You can download it to your PC, or to portable media such as a USB stick which you can use with any computer at school, work – anywhere!