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Screen reading software

A basic RNIB guide explaining what screen reading software is, and how it is used by blind and partially sighted people.

What is a screen reader?

Screen reading software will announce content in speech using a synthesiser. This allows a computer to read text, images, icons and more.

Some screen reading options are available free of charge. These can be downloaded from specific websites or are built into an operating system. More complex screen readers with advanced functions are also available for purchase.

When using a device in conjunction with a screen reader, keyboard shortcut commands are widely used. Gestures on a track pad or touch screen also change to meet the specifics of the particular screen reader and suit the requirements of various applications. Basic essential keyboard shortcuts and gestures can be quickly learned but to become a proficient user of screen reading software will take time and practice.

Content from a device can also be output on to a refreshable braille display. This means that a user would get speech and braille simultaneously from the device being used.


Screen reading software packages are available to apply for through the RNIB Technology Grant Scheme. Other items include braille notetakers, video magnifiers, RNIB PenFriend 3, kitchen equipment, clocks and watches, phones and DAISY players. Click here for more information about grants.

Setting up a screen reader

Screen readers can be downloaded from the providers website or purchased on disc. Before purchasing, many screen reading software companies allow users to download a trial of the product for a limited period of time so that users can see if they like it.

A free, built in screen reader can also be found on computers, tablets and smartphones running the Windows, Android or iOS platforms. When using a screen reader in this way, no download is necessary, although configuration of the software is required to suit the personal preference of the user. The rate, pitch and volume of the speech can be adjusted, the screen reader can be set to start when the device starts or it can be launched manually.

How do a blind and partially sighted people use a screen reader?

Screen readers are used if someone does not have any useful vision to be able to view content from a screen. By using a screen reader, information from the device is announced in clear speech allowing a blind user to access devices on an equal footing with sighted counterparts. Screen reading software can make many main stream applications and services completely accessible.

We've put together a collection of helpful videos that demonstrate how screen reading software works and shows some functions you might find useful.

Watch our screen reading video collection


A screen reading software makes content from a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone accessible meaning that a blind or partially sighted technology user can access and enjoy their device without barriers. A screen reader makes day to day tasks like emailing, web browsing, accessing documents, shopping, banking and navigating the device completely accessible.

Screen readers can either be purchased, downloaded and used for free or are built into the operating system making the product accessible right out of the box.

Further resources