A screen reader is a software package designed to run on the most commonly used operating systems like Windows, Mac OS, Android and iOS.

What is a screen reader?

A screen reader is designed for computer, laptop, smartphone and tablet users who have little or no useful vision. This means that content from monitors and screens cannot be discerned properly so speech output is required.

Screen reading software will announce content in speech using a synthesiser. In this way, items like icons, dialogue boxes, file lists, emails, webpages and documents are made accessible.

Screen reading software, with many advanced features, can be purchased. Some screen reading options are available free of charge. These can be downloaded from specific websites or are built into an operating system.

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.


A downloadable screen reader needs to be obtained from the relevant provider website. Software can also be purchased on disc. It then needs to be installed and configured to the personal preference of the user. Before purchasing a license, many screen reading software companies allow users to download a trial of the product for a limited period of time, to make sure it is appropriate.

A free, built in screen reader can also be found on computers, tablets and smartphones running the 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 does a blind person 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 package can be used at home, in the work place, in education and in public areas like libraries. It makes the content from the computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone accessible meaning that a blind technology user can access and enjoy their device without barriers or obstacles. 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.


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.


RNIB stock a selection of screen reading and speech software options. Click here to browse our range:

RNIB online shop


Further resources

Updated December 2021

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