Screen readers for free

Date of publication

You've dealt with accessibility before, that's great. But how can you check if the implemented theory really works?

Fortunately, the days when web developers couldn't just buy screen reader software for testing are over. Today, you no longer have to pay several thousand euros for a license, but can use the free and mostly open source screen readers. And they are absolutely practical.

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Vortragssituation: Dennis Westphal im Hintergrund das Bild eines Screenreaders

Dennis Westphal at the Drupal Camp Schwerin during his session on accessibility

To take a look at your own web project with a screen reader, you have the following options:

Windows

Under Windows, you can download the open-source screen reader NVDA. If the program is executed, there is an icon of NVDA in the system tray. Right-clicking on the icon opens a context menu that can also be used to exit NVDA.

The NVDA menu, where among other things the settings are located, can be called up with the shortcut Insert+N. The navigation is basically done by the Tab key. If you want to navigate through a text, the easiest way to start is to use the arrow keys line by line. Further information can be found in the manual, which can also be reached via the NVDA menu (Insert+N).

Mac OS

Here you can switch the already existing VoiceOver on and off via the shortcut Command + F5. However, navigation here does not take place via the Tab key. You use the arrow keys (right/left) together with the Control and Alt keys to navigate to the next (right) or previous (left) element. This also includes paragraphs in continuous text.

Linux

Under Linux, orca can be installed from the package sources provided. Navigation here also runs via the tab key. The remaining keyboard shortcuts are very similar to those of NVDA.

iOS

Under iOS, the already existing VoiceOver can be activated by pressing the home button three times quickly. It can also be turned off in exactly the same way. You can also ask Siri to turn VoiceOver on and off. There are now two ways to navigate: Either with quick swipes to the right or left on the display to jump to the next or previous object, or you place a finger on the display and it reads out which object is under your finger.

Android

Android also has a screen reader on board: Talkback. The usage is similar to VoiceOver in iOS. After activating Talkback in the settings, you can activate or deactivate Talkback by pressing both volume keys for about 2 seconds. If you want to activate an element, you first have to set the focus on it and then perform a double tap with one finger.

“But that's not enough for me!”

With these tools, you can already check your Internet project for possible barriers yourself with all end devices and, along the way, get a vivid impression of how comfortable the architecture of the website actually is. Or you can look for professional partners who specialize in accessibility assessments and consulting.

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DeepL is a deep learning company that develops AI systems for languages. The company, based in Cologne, Germany, was founded in 2009 as Linguee, and introduced the first internet search engine for translations. Linguee has answered over 10 billion queries from more than 1 billion users.

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Dennis Westphal

Dennis is an IT consultant at the Company for the Development of Things. His field is accessibility. Helpfully, Dennis has been blind since birth. He creates his screencasts with open source software.