Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

What Is a Screen Reader, and Basic Points to Remember When Choosing One

A screen reader is a piece of software that turns the text in your computer screen into speech or braille. If the text is to be turned into speech, the screen reader requires the use of a speech synthesizer. If the text is to be turned into braille, the screen reader requires the use of a refreshable braille display.

There are 3 kinds of speech synthesizers. A synthesizer can be a card that is inserted into the computer, an external device attached to the computer by a cable, or software that functions with the computer's sound card.

A braille display is an external device. This device operates by electronically raising and lowering different combinations of pins. These pins reproduce the text on the computer screen into braille.

When choosing a screen reader, there are some basic important factors to consider depending on your individual needs:

  1. What kind of operating system will you be using?
    There are a variety of screen readers in the market. Some are specifically designed to work with either DOS or Windows.
  2. Consider the type of software applications you will be using with the screen reader.
    For instance, will you be using Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, spreadsheets etc? This is important to know, since different screen readers function better in different environments.
  3. Consider the screen reader's compatibility with other assistive technology you may choose to use.
    For instance, will it work well with screen magnification programs? Will it support a specific Braille display? Or will it support a specific hardware or software synthesizer? Consider all possible options, including those accessories you may be thinking of acquiring in the future.
  4. Make sure your computer meets the minimum requirements to have a screen reader.
    Every screen reader calls for its own specifications, precise RAM and drive space recommendations may vary. However, most currently available screen readers require from 5 to 30 MB of available hard disk space. Most screen readers also require at least a 256-color display in order to read correctly. As with most systems, the faster the processor and the more memory the computer has, the better the performance.
  5. Consider the availability of technical support and learning materials.
    For instance, do they offer unlimited tech support? Do they have an 800 number? Is the manual available in a specific language? Do they offer the instructions in alternate media? Most companies also may offer support over the Internet.

Finally, if one screen reader does not meet your needs, consider the option of having two screen readers. There are some computer users that use more than one screen reader to meet all their needs.

Contributor: Maria Delgado

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