Using Screen Readers to Experience the Web
If you or someone you know has difficulty seeing or reading, you should investigate software which is able to translate websites into audible speech. The Contra Costa Health Services website has been designed from the ground up to be compatible with these readers, for the benefit of those with vision impairments, dyslexia, or others who read with difficulty.
Aural Browsers for Windows
There are several programs which may be used to experience the web through audio.
Mozilla Firefox with Fire Vox
Firefox is one of the web's most popular browsers, and it comes with powerful accessibility feature built-in. With the free Fire Vox extension, it is capable of reading most websites aloud using a digital voice.
- Firefox - Free download site.
- Fire Vox screen reader extension — A free addition to Firefox that turns it into a high quality, customizable screen reader. Available for Windows, Mac and Linux.
- AccessFirefox.org - A valuable resource for Firefox extensions and themes that support many types of accessibility.
Opera Web Browser
The free Opera web browser includes voice-based browsing and support for vocal control of the browswer interface.
- Opera - Free download site.
This program is one of the easiest-to-use solutions. It loads websites and then displays them on the screen in a text-only format, highlighting the text as it reads it aloud (see illustration). The size of the font on the screen, the style and speed of the voice can all be adjusted by the user. All navigation may be handled through the keyboard. English is the only language it supports. It does not take advantage of all of the features of the Section 508 specifications.
- More about pwWebSpeak Plus 3.0.48 for Windows 95/98/ME, NT, 2000, & XP
Freedom Scientific JAWS 5.0
JAWS, like Home Page Reader, uses Internet Explorer as its basis and then reads the page using a computer-generated voice. It supports many languages, including various dialects of English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian. JAWS also has features designed for Braille readers.
- More about JAWS 5.0 for Windows 95/98/ME, NT, 2000, & XP
Aural Browsers for Macintosh
Apple includes a feature called VoiceOver into the Universal Access control panel of its latest operating systems. Several of Apple's applications have been adapted for VoiceOver, including the Safari web browser. For mobile browsing, the iPhone and iPod Touch also include screen magnification and VoiceOver.
VoiceOver provides complete access to the computer and compliant applications through speech, audible cues, and keyboard navigation as well as via braille displays. Apple users with low-vision or other disabilities will not need to purchase additional third-party software in order to use the web.
The illustration shows a configuration screen for this feature. See the Apple's Accessibility website for more information.
Aural Browsers for Linux
Emacspeak is a voice-based desktop interface for Linux which has excellent World Wide Web support and is fully compatible with the Aural Cascading Style Sheet 2.0 standard. Its installation process is complex and is recommended only for advanced users of the Linux operating system.
- More about Emacspeak for Linux
The GNOME Accessiblity Project
The GNOME desktop is a popular graphical user interface for Linux. The developers of GNOME include accessibility features at many levels. When these features are taken advantage of, it is possible to have a robust Linux-based desktop that is very accessibile as well.
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