What is a Screen Reader? How is it Helpful for Blind People? - Darklup

What is a Screen Reader? How is it Helpful for Blind People?

Are you ready for an exciting adventure into the realm of screen readers? These handy little helpers are transforming the way people with visual impairments interact with the digital world. 

Sounds fascinating, right?

Screen readers take all the jumble of text and images on a screen and turn it into speech or braille. It’s like having a helpful friend read out everything on your computer or phone screen for you.

Now, you might be wondering – what exactly are screen readers, and how do they work? Are there different kinds? How do they deal with stuff like PDFs? Can they be used with popular coding platforms like Visual Studio Code? If these questions are buzzing in your mind, you’re in the perfect spot!

In this blog post, we’re going to unravel the magic of screen readers. We’ll walk you through how they function, look at the different kinds out there, and see what cool features they have. 

What is a Screen Reader?

What is Screen Reader

Image Credit – www.audioeye.com

Ever wondered what a screen reader is? Well, it’s a super helpful software program that assists people who have visual impairments. This program reads out the text displayed on a computer screen. Cool, isn’t it?

Imagine if you couldn’t see what’s on your screen. How would you read emails, browse websites, or use different apps? That’s where a screen reader steps in. It reads out the text to users, making it possible for them to use computers, tablets, or smartphones.

Screen readers don’t just read text, they can also tell users about pictures, buttons, links, and even errors on the screen. They describe everything so that users have a clear understanding of what’s happening on their screen.

Some screen readers even interact with Braille displays, which can be a big help for people who are both deaf and blind.

From blind or visually impaired people to those with learning disabilities or anyone who just needs a bit of extra help, screen readers are making technology more accessible and friendly to all. So, in a nutshell, screen readers are amazing tools that give everyone the chance to interact with the digital world.

  • By the way, if you want to improve the accessibility of your WordPress website, you can use a dark mode plugin called Darklup.

How Do Screen Readers Work?

Screen readers, as the name implies, are software programs that allow the visually impaired to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer or braille display. 

Now, let’s dive deeper into the mechanics of how these vital tools function. The fundamental principle of screen readers is to convert digital text into synthesized speech or braille output. These applications capture the information on the screen, interpret it, and then vocalize it for the user or provide it in a tactile form if connected to a braille display. 

They do this through various techniques, including text-to-speech synthesis, sound icons, or a braille output device.

Screen readers also provide a unique way to navigate through different elements of a web page or document, such as links, headings, or lists. Users can leverage keyboard commands or gestures (in touch-screen devices) to interact with these elements. 

This means users do not have to read the entire page content sequentially; they can directly move to the desired section or content piece.

Can Screen Readers Read PDFs?

Yes, screen readers can read PDF files, but the PDFs must be properly formatted. This means they need to include certain features like text characters, tags, alternative text for images, and clear language definitions. 

Tags in PDFs are important because they provide a hidden, structured representation of the PDF content, which screen readers can interpret. Screen readers like JAWS, NVDA, and VoiceOver can read PDFs that have been formatted this way.

These screen readers read the document from top to bottom, using the tags to understand the order in which to read things. If images have been given alternative text descriptions, screen readers can also announce these. 

To check if a PDF is accessible, tools like Adobe Acrobat’s Accessibility Checker can be used. This tool checks a PDF against a set of accessibility standards and highlights any potential issues.

If a PDF is not accessible, it can be made so by using software like Adobe Acrobat Pro, which can add tags and other features to the PDF. These added features make the PDF easier for screen readers to understand and read.

Are You Using a Screen Reader to Operate VS Code?

Visual Studio Code (VS Code) is a popular and powerful source-code editor developed by Microsoft. It’s used by many developers for various tasks such as debugging, syntax highlighting, intelligent code completion, snippets, and code refactoring. 

But the question arises, can one use a screen reader to operate VS Code? The answer is yes, and it’s designed to work efficiently with several prominent screen readers.

VS Code’s Accessibility Features

VS Code has several features that make it user-friendly for visually impaired individuals. It provides an immersive screen reader experience by supporting Windows Narrator, NVDA, and JAWS on Windows, VoiceOver on macOS, and Orca on Linux. This makes the coding environment more accessible for users relying on assistive technologies.

How to Use a Screen Reader with VS Code

To use a screen reader with VS Code, you first need to enable the screen reader mode. You can do this by pressing Ctrl + Shift + P to open the Command Palette, and then typing “Accessibility: Enable Screen Reader Mode.” Once the screen reader mode is enabled, your screen reader of choice can interact effectively with VS Code.

Noteworthy Screen Reader Features in VS Code

Some of the powerful features of VS Code that make coding accessible to visually impaired users include:

  • Auto-Complete Suggestions: When typing code, VS Code provides real-time auto-complete suggestions. The screen reader vocalizes these suggestions, helping users with code completion.
  • Syntax Errors and Warnings: VS Code notifies users about syntax errors and warnings in the code. The screen reader can read these warnings aloud, assisting developers in debugging their code.
  • Integrated Terminal: VS Code comes with an integrated terminal that is also screen reader-friendly. The terminal reads command outputs aloud, enabling visually impaired users to interact with the terminal efficiently.

Different Types of Screen Readers and Their Functionalities

Screen readers offer a variety of functionalities that are designed to cater to the specific needs of their users. Below, we delve into some of the most commonly used screen readers and discuss what makes each of them unique.

1. JAWS (Job Access With Speech)

JAWS is one of the most popular screen reading software developed by Freedom Scientific. This powerful tool offers several unique features designed to optimize accessibility for visually impaired users. 

For instance, JAWS supports two multi-lingual synthesizers – Eloquence and Vocalizer Expressive, which help in reading aloud text from the computer screen in many languages. It also offers Braille support, enabling users with a connected braille display to read, rather than listen to, the information.

Additionally, JAWS is compatible with MAGic, another product from Freedom Scientific, which is a screen magnification software. This compatibility provides visually impaired users with low vision an option to magnify their screens for better visibility.

2. NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access)

NVDA is a free and open-source screen reader developed by NV Access. It supports over 50 languages and is used by people all around the globe. 

It provides many essential features, including support for popular applications like web browsers, email clients, internet chatting programs, and office software. 

It also supports both speech and braille output. Furthermore, being open-source software, NVDA allows developers from around the world to contribute and improve the product, ensuring continuous updates and enhancements.

3. VoiceOver

VoiceOver is Apple’s built-in screen reader and comes pre-installed on all Apple devices including Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. VoiceOver is unique because it incorporates gesture-based controls, such as swiping and tapping, making it highly useful for touch-screen devices. 

It also supports braille displays and has an exciting feature called the VoiceOver Cursor, which allows sighted users or educators to track what the user is hearing through the VoiceOver software.

4. TalkBack

TalkBack is Android’s built-in screen reader and is primarily designed for smartphones and tablets. It provides spoken feedback and vibrations to help visually impaired users navigate their devices. 

Users can use swipe gestures and touch-and-hold commands to interact with their devices. Additionally, TalkBack also supports braille displays for users who prefer tactile feedback.

5. Narrator

The narrator is the built-in screen reader provided by Windows. It reads aloud the text on the screen and describes events, such as notifications or calendar appointments. 

It has been enhanced significantly over the years, and with the Windows 10 update, it offers improved functionality, such as a better web browsing experience, reading and writing emails, and working with basic apps.

These are just a few examples of the numerous screen readers available today. Despite their unique features, all share a common goal such as to provide visually impaired individuals with the means to freely and independently access digital content.

Final Words

Well, there you have it, my tech-loving friends! We’ve just taken a fantastic journey through the world of screen readers. They are pretty amazing, right?

We’ve learned all about how screen readers work, the different kinds out there, and how they help folks with visual impairments use tech like anyone else. They can read text from PDFs and even help with coding in platforms like Visual Studio Code. It’s like they’ve got superpowers!

But remember, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can try them out for yourself! With the steps we shared, you’re all set to turn on a screen reader and give it a whirl. It’s always fun to learn new things, isn’t it?

Fahim Muntasir

Hi, I am Fahim Muntasir, Technical Content Writer at WPCommerz. I love to write WordPress plugins and customization-related articles. I have completed Bachelor's Degree in English Language and Literature. I love to watch a lots of movies and TV shows during my leisure time.

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