Beyond the Magnifier: A Guide to Easier Reading with Screen Readers




Children and teenagers across the country are starting to go back to school this month, including many in the Autosomal Dominant Optic Atrophy (ADOA) community. One of the key tools that helps makes school easier for those with vision impairments is the screen reader. Screen readers are an assistive software tool that translate a computer screen into more accessible formats. For example, people with low vision can use screen readers to control the movement of their cursor, hear webpages read aloud, and more.


Screen readers are particularly helpful for websites and documents that are Section 508 compliant. Section 508 compliance (or “508c”) refers to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, which require all federal government entities to ensure that their public-facing content is accessible to those with disabilities. This means that all products of government agencies must go through an accessibility checker to ensure a screen reader is reading the text in logical order, that all images have descriptive alternative text, etc.


While Section 508c is not mandated for the educational system, most public schools are encouraged to adhere to the policy because they receive federal funding. In fact, the Assistive Technology Act requires that states receiving their funding must comply with Section 508 requirements. Additionally, many states have passed similar laws to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act to ensure the content produced by their state agencies and public education systems is accessible.


So if you want to buy a screen reader – where should you start? The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) wrote an article highlighting the most important things to know before choosing the right screen reader. The first key consideration is to ensure that the screen reader you choose is compatible with your computer’s operating system and the applications you use the most in your everyday life. Additionally, it’s important to investigate the keystrokes that you’ll need to use to ensure that they are easy to remember or are changeable.


In their article, AFB lists twenty recommended screen reader options. The capabilities each screen reader brand offers are comprehensive, ranging from braille display to screen magnification to the ability to scan a variety of documents. Everyday Sight also published an article of their ten favorite screen readers, including five that are free!


Do you use a screen reader? Is there a specific screen reader that you like best? Share it with us! Fill out the Contact Us form at the bottom of our website if you have a recommendation, a tip, or a story you’d like to share with the ADOAA community. And be sure to follow us on Facebook for frequent updates.