Screen Reader Software

Screen readers are software programs used by blind individuals to access computers and mobile devices. The JAWS and NVDA screen readers can be accessed from any public (Sites) Windows computer on the U-M campus. The VoiceOver screen reader is built into the Macintosh operating system.

If you have questions or would like demonstrations or training related to screen readers, please contact Knox Center staff at [email protected] or 734-647-6437.

Users of public computers at U-M are required to log in before starting their screen reader, and may need to adjust the volume settings. Instructions for doing this with JAWS, NVDA, and VoiceOver are available at Accessing Screen Reader Software at Campus Computing Sites.

Purpose of Screen Readers

  • Screen readers provide a nonvisual interface to items on the computer screen:
    • Visible information—as much as possible (e.g., screen readers cannot read bitmapped text)
    • Invisible information (e.g., image descriptions hidden in HTML code)
    • Additional information (e.g., number of links on a Web page)
    • Instead of speaking information, some screen readers permit information to be sent to a refreshable braille display. At present, the university does not have any refreshable braille displays.
  • Screen readers compensate for the mouse by using keyboard commands

Although some people with learning disabilities can also benefit from spoken information, the programs they generally find most useful have different features. See Read & Write Gold for Windows and Read & Write Gold for Mac.

Screen Readers Supported by the University of Michigan

JAWS Screen Reader (Windows)

Manufacturer: Freedom Scientific

Documentation is available through the Help menu in JAWS.

Key JAWS Concepts

  • JAWS key: Used in combination with other keys to execute commands. By default, the JAWS key is the Insert key, but it can be changed to a different key.
  • JAWS commands: Available from the JAWS help menu. To get contextual help, press Insert + F1.
  • Cursors: JAWS has three primary cursors:
    • PC Cursor: Default; follows keystrokes. To activate this, press Numpad +.
    • JAWS Cursor: Emulates mouse functions. May provide access to information that is not heard when using the PC Cursor. To activate this, press Numpad -.
    • o Virtual Cursor: Automatically activated when reviewing a Web page, allows the user to explore a page with the same reading techniques used for standard text, as well as providing information about web page elements such as links and headings.
  • Forms mode: Used to enter text into a form field (otherwise, some keys may not be entered). To activate this, press Enter.
  • Quick Keys: In some cases, pressing a letter will navigate to a specific web element (e.g., B moves focus to the next button, and C to the next combo box). This is why Forms mode is necessary; otherwise, pressing these letters would be interpreted as a command rather than text input.
  • For a detailed tutorial on using the internet with JAWS, visit Surfing the Internet with JAWS.

NVDA Screen Reader (Windows)

Manufacturer: NVDA is an open source project of the not for profit NV Access Foundation.

Documentation is available through the Help menu in NVDA.

Key NVDA Concepts

  • NVDA key: Used in combination with other keys to execute commands. By default, the NVDA key is the Insert key, but it can be changed to the caps lock key.
  • NVDA key + N: activates the NVDA menu to access options and help.
  • On web pages, NVDA uses a browse mode, similar to the virtual PC cursor used by JAWS. Browse mode allows for the reading of a web page using standard text reading keystrokes, as well as providing information about the web page structure e.g. headings, links, and lists.
  • Focus mode is used to interact with web forms and applications. To toggle between browse and focus mode, press Insert + Space.

VoiceOver Screen Reader (Apple)

Built into the Macintosh and iOS (iPhone, iPod, iPad) operating systems. VoiceOver is the only available screen reader for Apple products.

To turn on or off: press command + F5.

Key VoiceOver Concepts

  • VoiceOver keys (VO keys): The Control + Option keys, used in combination with other keys to execute commands.
  • To access the Voice Over help menu, which includes command list, getting started tutorial, and VoiceOver Manual: VO Keys+H.
  • Voice Over uses an interaction model of screen navigation. Items such as toolbars and tables are presented as a single object, and the user must interact using a keyboard command to review the contents of the item.
  • To compile a searchable list of all items on a screen, press vo+i.
  • A "Web rotor" is used to present lists of web elements such as links, headings, and landmarks. It can be activated with VO keys + u.
  • Macintosh has fewer built-in system commands than Windows. List of Macintosh system commands.
  • VoiceOver is also built into other Apple products, such as the iPhone and iPad. With these products, a system of gestures is used to operate VoiceOver (e.g., tapping once announces the item touched, while tapping twice activates the item.)