Veronica With Four Eyes

Ways To Read Webpages Without A Traditional Screen Reader

As a person with low vision, I personally prefer to read text in large print whenever possible. However, there are times when I am unable to read text due to eye strain, the largest font size available is too small, or I am dealing with an eye issue caused by my fluctuating vision that makes reading print close to impossible. In these situations, I take advantage of on-demand screen reader technology across all of my most-used applications and devices. Here are my tips for enabling on-demand screen reading technology across popular operating systems and softwares that can make content easier to understand.

What is a screen reader?
A screen reader is a software program that reads all of the text on a computer screen using a synthesized voice. Screen readers aren’t just on computers though, as many smartphones and tablets have their own screen reading softwares built-in within accessibility settings. Not every website or software application is accessible to screen reader users, though this has been changing over the last few years. Some of the most commonly used screen reader programs include JAWS, NVDA, VoiceOver, TalkBack, and Chromevox.

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Read Aloud on Firefox and Google Chrome

The Read Aloud browser extension for Firefox and Google Chrome allows users to have text from any webpage or PDF read out loud to them in their choice of voice and speed. Users can activate Read Aloud by clicking the icon in the Chrome or Firefox menu, or by right-clicking on selected text and choosing the Read Aloud option in the drop-down menu. Some voices are available for purchase, but the app is otherwise free.

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Microsoft Immersive Reader

Microsoft Immersive Reader is a program built into several different Microsoft applications, including Office Lens, the Microsoft Edge web browser, OneNote, Outlook, Word, and Microsoft Teams that can read text out loud, as well as display text in large print and with other display settings. Users can also access Immersive Reader by copying and pasting text on a Microsoft page I will link below that allows users to test the full capabilities of the tool and works in almost any web browser.

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Google Assistant reader feature

Recently, the Google Assistant app announced a new feature where users can have any website or article read out loud to them in Google Chrome by saying “Hey Google, read this.” It only works for websites and articles at this time (meaning it can’t be used within any apps), but the feature allows users to follow along with text, pause, adjust voice speed, and see how long it will take to read a given page.

Users do not need to have any accessibility features enabled for this feature to work, but they will need to have Use screen context enabled in settings. This can be done by following these instructions:

  1. Go to the Settings app
  2. In search settings, search for “screen context”
  3. Scroll to the General section and turn on screen context

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Select-to-Speak on Android and Chromebook
Select-to-speak is an on-demand screen reader from Google that reads selected text on the screen, as well as alt text and other elements on the page that would traditionally be read out loud by a screen reader like TalkBack or Chromevox. Users can tap the play button to hear everything on the screen, or tap/drag their fingers to select single or multiple items when Select-to-Speak is enabled. This feature is available in all Android versions starting at Android Lollipop (version 5).

To enable Select-to-speak on Android, follow these instructions:

  1. Go to the Settings app
  2. Go to the Accessibility section
  3. Under the Screen Reader section, turn on Select-to-speak, which is above TalkBack
  4. Activate Select-to-speak by tapping the accessibility shortcut in the bottom right-hand corner of the phone screen.

To enable Select-to-speak on Chromebook, follow these instructions:

  1. Press the keyboard shortcut Alt-Shift-S
  2. Select settings
  3. At the bottom of the screen, select Advanced
  4. In the Accessibility section, select Manage accessibility features
  5. Under text-to-speech, turn on Enable Chromevox (spoken feedback)

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Speak screen on iOS, iPadOS, and Mac

Just like Select-to-speak, Speak Selection and Speak Screen will read all text that is selected or on the screen, as well as any alt text or other elements of a page that would traditionally be read by VoiceOver. The voice settings for VoiceOver are the same as they are for Speak Text and Speak Screen, though users do not need to know any VoiceOver gestures to interact with content.

To enable Speak Text and Speak Screen in iOS, follow these instructions:

  1. Go to the Settings app
  2. Go to the Accessibility section
  3. Go to the Spoken Content option, which is in the Vision section
  4. Turn on speak selection and/or speak screen

To enable Speak Text and Speak Screen for Mac, follow these instructions:

  1. Go to the Apple menu and open System Preferences
  2. Click Accessibility, and then speech
  3. Select the Speak selected text when the key is pressed checkbox. The default key shortcut is Option-Esc, but users can choose a different key by clicking Change Key, pressing one or more modifier keys (Command, Shift, Option, or Control) together with another key, then clicking OK.
  4. To activate Speak screen, press the specified key. To stop the speaking, press the key again.

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Final thoughts

I’m very grateful that all of these resources are available for people with low vision and print disabilities for free, and that people have the option to have text presented in an accessible format whenever they need it, without having to worry about learning software they might view as unfamiliar or scary to access. I hope this post is helpful for others as well!

Ways to Read Webpages Without A Traditional Screen Reader. How to enable a free on-demand screen reader, perfect for people with low vision, eye strain, headaches and print disabilities.