Blind and Vision Impairment: Screen Readers
JAWS, Zoomtext, Window Eyes, VoiceOver and NVDA
The primary assistive technology used by students who are blind is most often a screen reader. Screen readers allow users to navigate around computer operating systems, read as well as write to files, surf the web, search databases and operate software products. The user does this by using keystroke commands to navigate and enter information -- when doing so they receive audio feedback to tell them what information is on the screen.
Screen reading technologies vary in range of functionality, ease of use and price. JAWS, which the oldest of screen reading technologies on the market, has a wide range of functions that allows that user greater ease of access to information and the computer environment, it is also the most expensive. Zoomtext provides screen reading along with functions for users who have some functional vision, NVDA is a free product that supports many software products, while Window Eyes is available for free with Windows 10 and VoiceOver is native to Apple computers.
User screen reader preference has changed over the years with the distribution of users being spread more across over the range of products. The annual WebAIM survey on screen reader preferences documents this.
The needs of the student and the requirements of their study should determine the selection of screen reader. For example, the product needed for a user who requires access to a wide range of file types and a large amount of information will be different to the needs of the user who only uses email, word editing software and reads information on the internet in HTML format.
Becoming proficient in the use of screen readers takes time. Learning key stroke commands and becoming familiar with screen reader audio feedback requires practice.