There are many software programs available that allow the blind and visually impaired to confidently navigate the world through their computer. These can generally be classified into two separate categories, the first being screen magnification, and the second, screen readers. Most of the applications come as both screen reader and magnifier.
Screen Readers and Magnifiers
This combination only works well with persons being “visually impaired” as compared to the “blind,” who have no need for a screen magnifier, let alone a computer screen. Also, added to the mix are the developers of operating systems whom have begun to add rudimentary versions of accessibility programs to their operating systems.
Of the scores of screen reader/magnifier software programs available on the market today, only a few are balanced and dynamic enough to provide the blind with the means to navigate smoothly on a computer. For the visually impaired the field is larger as the requirements needing to be met are far less stringent. If any given software is dynamic enough for a blind person; it will more than meet the needs of the visually impaired.
The following are the predominant programs used by most blind services throughout the world.
Jaws by Freedom Scientific
Jaws is arguably the most robust, dynamic and versatile of the screen readers out there. It works well within most popular office programs along with most of the commonly used web browsers. It is, however, a Windows based program.
With up to six hundred basic commands and thousands of others, learning Jaws is a long and trying process. The end result is well worth the effort. Many blind users feel that Jaws can return a blind person to being a productive interactive member of society.
Zoom Text by AI Squared
Zoom Text is a screen magnifier/reader that is limited as a reader but dynamic as a magnifier. It is in its own right a fairly good reader, but lacks the depth and dynamics of ones like Jaws and Windows Eyes. With an easy to use interface and natural speak voice plug-in it is a fun and enjoyable software for the visually impaired.
Using Zoom Text requires the use of some sight, be it diminished or not. It functions well as a web reader and also with other text formats. The magnification feature is fully adjustable and very easy to navigate. Zoom Text can put the joy back into reading for those visually impaired that refuse to relegate themselves to “audio books”.
Web Anywhere by Washington.edu
Web Anywhere is a free screen reader arena. It is a web based program that allows blind users to navigate the web from anywhere and on any computer. With only a few keyboard commands to learn one can be off and surfing very quickly. It is not a full featured screen reader, but it is a simple and effective tool for a blind person to use when their own computer is not available.
While only a few of the many programs available were mentioned above, there are many others. Also of note is the lack of Apple based software. While Snow Leopard OS has what is referenced as “accessibility” software called Voice over, it lacks the power of the Windowa based software to allow the blind to be truly functional on a computer.
While great strides have been made as far as software for the blind and visually impaired is concerned, even the most intelligent of software cannot overcome the lack of proper and uniform formatting and scripting of web content and software programs. Until there is adherence to set standards even the best of readers will at some time bog down and fail.