Screen Readers


Text-To-Speech and Screen Readers Can Make All Our Devices Aural Reading (or Reading by Listening) Devices

I got my first computer, a "Toaster Mac" and screen reader, outSpoken, in 1989. With this gadget and software, I could aurally read any text on the computer quickly and easily, reading and rereading anywhere on the screen and reading as fast or slow as I wanted to. At that time my main source of Reading by Listening material was audio (taped) books and magazines. The internet was not developed and there was not a good way of getting print onto the computer for reading. The only print I had to read with my screen reader was from documents that I had copied to my computer or documents that I had typed myself, and I was a slow typist. I used to go to the University of Tennessee library, copy research articles to a floppy disk, take them home, upload them to my Mac, and read them aurally with my screen reader. As a slow and inadequate reader, I could not visually read them while I was in the library and there was no way to read them aurally there. All that has changed. Over the years the internet has grown into a massive generator of print content with web browsers, email, database services, newspaper articles, Wikipedia, e-books, etc. available at our finger tips from any location that has WiFi. Now, anyone can read aurally anywhere on any subject at any time with an iPad, laptop or iPod Touch. This section will tell about the computers, and hand held gadgets that let slow and inadequate readers use screen readers for reading by listening, at 250 to 350+ words per minute with good comprehension.

VoiceOver on iPad, iPhone, & iPod Touch (iOS Devices)

As a long time user of screen readers and VoiceOver (VO) on the Mac, I wanted to have a hand held device that would let me do Reading by Listening, but I was skeptical of VoiceOver on the iOS devices. After a number of trips to the local Apple store for trials of the VoiceOver screen reader I saw how well it could work for a person who was not sighted. Apple uses the VoiceOver system to cleverly modified the interface of the device to making what has been a visual/touch device into an auditory/touch device. Once VoiceOver is turned on, the finger gestures, taps, pinches, and swipes on the touch screen used to navigate through the environment of emails, web pages, news apps, calendars, keyboards, etc. are changed to give auditory feedback for each gesture, insuring that a person, without sight, can use the device with full knowledge of all information on the windows and full control of commands. However, these special gestures are more difficult to use.
The VoiceOver gestures require more strokes to make a command. For instance using standard commands (without VoiceOver on) one makes a selection on the screen by touching the button or app icon and seeing the command executed (one tap to select), but with VoiceOver on, a touch selects the icon, voices its name, and waits for the user to either open the icon with a double tap anywhere on the screen or touch another icon or element on the screen (two taps to activate a button, after it has been touched). Using standard commands (without VoiceOver on) one moves down a page or over a page with a flick of one finger and sees the screen float to the next page, but with Voiceover on the gesture becomes a swipe of three fingers to get the screen to move exactly one page down or over and to hear the page name announced, while it is also visually showing the information. This and the other VoiceOver gestures make this an amazing device for a person without sight who wants access to the world of print that is available with the iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad and who wants to have the same kind of audio access to the device that they can get using VoiceOver on a Mac computer (or using Window-Eyes or Jaws on the PC), but the special gestures are slow and cumbersome for navigating compared to the standard gestures. My question was, "While it's great for a person with limited vision, would it work well for a person with dyslexia?"

I did not immediately buy an iPod Touch because of these concerns about how usable the device would be for a person who is fully sighted, prefers the normal iPod gestures, but needs the screen reader for aural reading. Would I keep VoiceOver on all the time and use the slower, more complex gestures or would I keep VoiceOver off and only turn it on occasionally, when I wanted to go through the five pages to turn it on or off? While I did not know the answer to that question, after a few weeks, I jumped in and bought an iPod Touch. Wow. VoiceOver let me read everything, and I was amazed at what is available with this device for Reading by Listening. I was seeing what all the buzz was about over the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. These devices are like magical windows on the world giving the user minute by minute news feeds, google maps, tweets, texts, weather radar, email, web pages, etc., not to mention access to all those other apps that we hear about. The interface is extremely intuitive and easy to use.

How was I going to use the device, with the quick cool gestures or with the slower VoiceOver gestures? I made a discovery that made me say Wow again. I learned that one of the options under accessibility is to set a triple-click of the home button to toggle VoiceOver on an off. So, now, I keep VoiceOver off and navigate with normal gestures until I find something that I want to read quickly, then I triple-click and use VoiceOver to read text. I read news articles, web pages, emails, etc. at 300 to 400 words-per-minute using the VoiceOver gestures, then triple-click to go back to the faster normal gestures for moving around through windows and content. Now, this works as a fast Aural Reading device or a fast navigating device, separated only by a triple-click.

After using my iPod Touch (& iPad), I am even more excited about it and how it makes print accessible to me. There are two parts to this new print accessibility, (1) being able to read print any time, any where just by reaching into my pocket and (2) having thousands of apps that will let me read their content aurally. The ad for the iPod Touch says "There's and app for that" and I have to add "and I can read that app". The world of opportunities that are opened to everyone who use this mobile device is also open to me and others with print disabilities who use the VoiceOver feature for Reading by Listening: apps for web surfing, email, news papers, bird songs, poetry, text messages, iTunes, weather reports, sports reports, etc. With this new tool I am finding more and more things that I want to read and more and more places where I want to read. This built in screen reader (VoiceOver) reads (aurally) all the apps that I have downloaded. Now, I do not have to go to my computer with the screen reader to read my mail, the New York Times, text messages, my calendar, etc. When a commercial comes on the TV, I can just pop out my iPod, check my mail, and read any new messages. I can take my iPod to bed and relax reading the latest technology news from the New York Times. I can get up in the morning and read the overnight news while I am waiting for my coffee to make. These files stay on the iPod even when I leave my house WiFi connection, so I can be any where and read text that I have downloaded, a waiting room, a park bench, etc., just as I can listen to any music that I have downloaded. It's all in my pocket. If I want to check for new mail or updates to news, instant messages, etc. while I am running around town I just stop at a WiFi hot spot. I can be sitting in McDonnell's (even in France) and using their WiFi, download my latest email messages, text messages, serf the net and read the latest news, and a lot more, using VoiceOver. If you have used an iPad or iPhone, you know what I mean.

VoiceOver on an iOS device does not do what a book player like the Victor Reader Stream does, but it fills another reading need, reading anything that is text on the iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone and reading it fast using Aural Reading. It makes an iOS device a great mobile reading device, but at this time, it does not replace all that can be done on a laptop with VoiceOver. It complements what can be done on a computer by adding a portable way of getting access to print any where any time, and that is no small thing for a person who uses Aural Reading and Oral Writing. Many of our other modern devices come with voice output (GPSs, voting booths, Kindles etc.)

What if we had an app that scans printed documents so we would be able to hold the iOS device over a printed page, snap a picture, and have the text ready for Reading by Listening in seconds, like the knfb Reader Mobile and Intel Reader does now? We do. With the built in screen reader VoiceOver and a download of an OCR app, like Prizmo ($9.99), we can snap a picture of text wait about a minute and see this text displayed on the screen ready to be read with it's built-in speech or using VoiceOver. This iOS app does not have all the advanced features, as the stand-alone devices, but it works well for reading printed documents.

The new smart phones, tablets, iPods, and other hand help devices, are profoundly changing the way we get and read information, and VoiceOver and Apple's Dictation is giving persons with print disabilities full access to the print used by technology so they can join their friends using the latest gadgets.

See the second part of this section, VoiceOver on Mac -- Desktops and Laptops, for full access to the productivity tools of the Mac using VoiceOver with Apple's Dictation to let the user do oral writing and simultaneously do aural reading.

(Check for current prices on the iOS devices. Some venders offer special prices, free shipping, and bonuses)
VoiceOver comes built into all but the first iOS devices. It is in all 4th generation iPod Touches, iPhone, and iPad and the older iPhone G3, and the iPod Touch G3 [32GB or 64GB]. For more information go to:

Purchase of one of these iOS devices is required, and they are available at Apple, major electronics sellers,,, etc.

Settings Suggestions for iOS Devices:

The first setting should be to set the triple-click to toggle VoiceOver on and off. [Settings>General>Accessibility (at the bottom of the page)>Accessibility Shortcut (or Triple-click Home)> and choose toggle VoiceOver]
Set: Speak Hints to ON, Speaking Rate to above 50%, and Typing Feedback to Words. [Settings>General>Accessibility (at the bottom of the page)>VoiceOver> and set Speak Hints to ON, Speaking Rate to the right to above 50%, and Typing Feedback Words (at the bottom of the page)]

Setting Up Your iOS Device to Speak Selected Text - Speak Selection

There are only a few places where VoiceOver on the iPad, iPod touch or iPhone will not voice the text, but these iOS devices have another text voicing feature that will let one Aurally Read any text, amy where, any time. How do you get your iOS device to speak selected text? Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > (Vision) > Speak Selection, set speaks election ON, set Speaking Rate to 50% to 60%. When you are in Mail, Twitter, Safari, Contacts, The New York Times, iMessage, or any window that has selectable text, select a word sentence paragraph or section and notice the black pop up bar with white letters spelling the words Cut, Copy, Paste, Suggest Definition, and Speak. Tap the word "Speak" on the right side and hear your selected passage read aloud.

VoiceOver on Mac -- Desktops and Laptops

The best screen reader that I have found for this application is VoiceOver, and best of all it comes free on all Mac computers (OS 10.4 or higher). If a person or a school has Macs, the cost to provide a screen reader would be zero. For years screen readers had to be purchased from a third party and installed on the computer at a cost of $800 to $900. We still purchase Window-Eyes this way when we must use a Windows Computer. To learn more about VoiceOver in general, you can go to a Apple's Accessibility web site and read accessibility/voiceover

The fastest and most flexible Reading by Listening tool on a computer is a screen reader. It navigates around the screen and voices text so a person with a print disability can read aurally, reading e-mails, worksheets, quizzes, web pages, newspapers, magazines, help windows, etc., reading at speeds of 250 to 350+ words-per-minute with good comprehension, and quickly moving around within the text of e-mails, text documents, web pages, etc., to read and reread text in much the same way that normal visual readers read the text that appears on the screen.

Most computers can do text-to-speech and can run self-voicing programs that will speak text in some of those programs, but to have text read quickly in all kinds of programs with flexibility a screen reader is needed. With a screen reader, persons can give keyboard commands to have print voiced quickly and easily so they can read aurally by word, sentence, line, or continuously, they can go back, reread, and study a word, phrase, or sentence, they can point to text on a web page, have it start reading, let it finish that paragraph, or line, or point to another piece of text and have it immediately switch to that place and start reading. This lets them read aurally much the way visual readers read, scanning around and stopping to read and reread sections that are of most interest.

Bright students with dyslexia use a screen reader to read by listening and use Apple's Dictation to write by speaking. Using these two systems in combination they can rapidly read, write, and reread using their aural/oral channels and produce robust language. They can speak and see their sentences typed by Apple's dictation, and immediately hear their sentence read back to them with VoiceOver. This lets them do reading and writing quickly and effortlessly like other students do.

Dragon Dictate can also be purchased for the Mac. It offers many more features, however Dragon Dictate on a computer requires using special commands that are difficult to learn and to use, and it does not synchronize as well with VoiceOver.

Students using a screen reader also have the option of using the keyboard for typing words and getting voice feedback (or hearing what the spelling attempts sounds like), using trial-and-error to improve their spelling attempts, getting correct spellings or getting phonetically correct spellings, and finding correct spellings in the spell check dictionary by aurally reading the spell check list and finding the correct sounding word. Using VoiceOver or Window-Eyes students can quickly and accurately "read" and "reread" their sentences, paragraphs, and essays to edit and improve composition, do proofreading, and aurally read dictionary, thesaurus, and encyclopedia programs to aid in their writing.

Mike's Notes on Pricing, Venders, and Settings for VoiceOver on Mac

(Check for current prices. Some venders offer special prices, free shipping, and bonuses)
VoiceOver comes built into all Mac computers (OS 10.4 and higher) For more information go to:

Purchase of a Mac computer is the only purchase required, and they are available at Apple, major electronics sellers,,, etc.
Settings for a Sighted Person Who is Doing Reading by Listening
Like any screen reader, one has to know how to turn it on and learn how to use it to meet the reading needs of a student. If you have a Mac, you will need to set VoiceOver up for a student with dyslexia, plus setting up another Aural Reading tool, Voicing Selected Text.

Setting Up VoiceOver for a Person with Dyslexia

When you first turn VoiceOver on, the amount of speech will be great, and it will be overwhelming and distracting for persons who are sighted and who use the mouse and sight for navigating. It will be set up for a person who cannot see the screen, and it will have voicing navigation features talking that a person with dyslexia will find very distracting. A person who navigates visually will need these voice navigation features turned off.

Students with dyslexia need VoiceOver set, so the voice will: read needed text using key commends, avoid talking for navigation, and reads text that the mouse points to. Getting the preferences set up for a person with dyslexia, or a person who does not use the voice for navigation, is not easy, but it can be done in three ways: (1) learn all about the VoiceOver functions and settings, and set the preferences the way the user needs them set, (2) get an instruction sheet I have written with recommended settings and set the preferences. Go to:, (3) get a small file with the recommended settings preset by me, and import these preferences. These three options vary greatly in skill levels needed to preform them. The first option is the best for tailoring the setting but it requires a lot of study and advanced skill. The third is the easiest and requires little time and skill but gives no information about how to make setting changes. The second requires more time than the third but gives the user the experience of manually making the recommended settings. For beginners, I recommend option 2. For a trial run of VoiceOver to see how it will work, I recommend option 3. Contact me at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for these files and instructions.

Setting Up a Mac to Speak Selected Text

There are only a few programs where VoiceOver will not voice the text, but the Mac has another text voicing feature that will let one Aurally Read any text, amy where, any time. "Speak selected text when the key is pressed". To set this up go to: System preferences > System / Dictation & Speech > Text to Speech > Set system voice to: Alex > set Speaking Rate to: 70% to 80%. > Check the box for:"Speak selected text when the key is pressed", click "Change Key" button > See the window named "Set a key combination to speak selected text" > Read the directions and type keys Command + Shift + z (or another key combination). This will let you have any text read aloud that can be selected. Just select the text and click the keys Command + Shift + z and hear the passage read aloud.

Troubleshooting VO on the Mac and on the iOS devices

At times you might make an unintentional gesture (or command) that turns a VO function on or off and messes up the device or computer because you don't know what is happening. When this happens do the following to see if an inadvertent command (or gesture) was made (or if you have any other problems with VO): [For the iOS devices] (1) go back and review the commands on the cheat sheet, (2) go to the PDF file cited below and read Chapter 21 on VO, [For the Mac or the iOS devices] (3) call or email me with a description of the problem, (4) go to the Apple Support Forums (, search for a post on the problem, or post a question to the forum, or (5) Email Apple Accessibility This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your question, Note: Apple phone support is great for the standard functions for your Apple device, but using the VO functions is so specialized that the Apple support people will not know as much about VO as you will.


For complete documentation on VoiceOver for iPad (iPod Touch and iPhone): (1) go to, (2) for iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone save the PDF file , and (3) read Chapter 21.