Many individuals with visual impairments use screen readers or screen magnifiers to interact with online content and other digital materials. These tools give users access to much of the internet, but many websites are not optimized to allow individuals with visual impairments to make full use of their features. Though the tools listed below are far from the only ones in use, they are examples of some of the most popular options for those with visual impairments.
According to a survey conducted in January of 2014, JAWS continues to be the most popular screen reader on the market with 50.0% of respondents saying that it is their primary screen reader on their desktop or laptop computer and 63.9% saying they commonly use it. It is only available for PCs and is available in both home and professional versions. The video to the right shows JAWS in action and you can learn more about it through the online training materials. Though the program has long been the dominant screen reader, it has declined in popularity over the last several years as other options have emerged.
The 2014 survey mentioned above found that 6.7% of respondents used Window-Eyes as their primary screen reader and 13.9% commonly used it. This tool is comparable in price to the home use version of JAWS, though it also offers a payment plan. It is also only available for PCs and it claims to be "the most stable screen reader available on the market today." The website offers extensive documentation including a manual and a number of audio tutorials.
VoiceOver is the screen reader that is included on both Mac computers and iOS devices. In the 2014 survey, 10.3% of respondents said that it was their primary screen reader on their laptop or desktop and 36.8% said they use it commonly on desktops or laptops. In addition, 60.5% of respondents said it was their primary screen reader on their mobile device(s). The VoiceOver features are integrated directly into the Mac and iOS apps, making the process of using these apps more streamlined. The tool is also designed to work well with refreshable Braille displays. Apple provides an online Getting Started guide that offers a good overview of the VoiceOver features. They also offer extensive documentation for developers who want to make their software accessible.
Some individuals with low vision and other visual impairments use screen magnifiers instead of or in addition to screen readers. As the name suggests, these tools magnify a portion of the screen at a time so that users can view it enlarged. Most magnifiers include the ability to track the mouse's movement, so that users can simply hover over the section of the screen that they would like to magnify. You can see an example of a screen magnifier called ZoomText in this video. Beyond screen magnification, ZoomText also offers other tools to help users to change the color contrast on their computer and to more easily see their mouse pointer.