using a screen reader

using a screen reader

If you are already familiar with screen readers you can skip this activity.

A simulation that demonstrates how a web page might be read by a screen reader and speech synthesiser is available on the Web AIM site.

This site contains an audio file of a screen reader reading a website that has been designed with some common accessibility errors. It also provides a visual version of the site.

The simulation requires the Shockwave plug-in. If you do not have this plug-in on your computer the website will prompt you to install it. Altenatively you may wish to download and install it now from shockwave/ download/. Shockwave is also required for Activity 4.

Run the simulation and try to answer the three questions provided on the simulation page under the heading ‘Tasks’. To make the simulation easier to understand try pressing ‘c’ to make captions appear, and pressing ‘i’ to see a screenshot of the page that is being read out.

Access for partially sighted people

Partial sight is caused by a variety of eye conditions, which affect vision in different ways. This means that partially sighted people have a range of different needs for accessing the output of a computer.

Colours and fonts

Partially sighted people may require particular computer display settings to optimise their ability to see the screen. For example, some people find that particular colour combinations for text and background are easier to see. A common preferred combination is yellow text on a black background. Some people may prefer certain font styles, such as sans serif fonts, or may need larger font sizes in order to read text. Such people may change the default font or increase the font size via operating system settings.


Some people who require large fonts, or who need to enlarge pictures or icons, may use a software magnifier. A basic magnifier is available within operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS. More sophisticated software magnifiers are also available, which provide additional functionality, such as the following:

  • Magnification of the whole screen (see picture below)

  • Magnification of the area around the mouse cursor (like an on-screen magnifying glass) (see picture below)

  • Magnification of half of the screen (vertical or horizontal split) (see picture below)

  • Colour settings applied to everything on screen (see picture below)

  • Speech output, which reads everything on the screen in synthesised speech

Partially sighted people may use a combination of any or all of the above settings and programs, depending on their particular circumstances or the task they are performing.

It is important to understand that when the screen, or a portion of the screen, is magnified a smaller proportion of the screen can be seen at one time. This will have an impact on tasks that require the user to monitor or look at different parts of the screen at the same time. For example, a user with unimpaired sight who is loading a web page can easily glance at the browser status bar to monitor the loading progress. In contrast, someone using a screen magnifier will have to move the magnified area to the status bar to read it, and then return the magnifier to the top of the screen to start reading the page.

As mentioned above, screen magnifying software can provide speech output. This can help to overcome the difficulty described above of needing to look at, or monitor, different parts of the screen.

A list of some of the screen magnifiers currently available is provided on the Resources page at the end of this section. Navigate there using the 'jump to' facility in the navigation bar at the top of this page.

PC input by partially sighted people

Partially sighted people can learn to touch-type as sighted people do. However, this can be a difficult process if you cannot see the screen or the keyboard clearly. A simple, low-tech solution to make the keyboard more visible is the use of large print labels, which can be attached to the keys. Alternatively, a high contrast keyboard can be used; for example a black keyboard with black keys with yellow characters. In addition, speech output software can announce every key that is pressed so that the user can receive feedback as they type. Partially sighted people may use a mouse as well as the keyboard, depending on their level of vision.