Free Screen Readers
Free Text-to-Speech / Voice Tools
Free Screen Readers: Text to Speech Conversion
Screen readers are a form of assistive technology that reads text that is displayed on the screen aloud. They can be used to help the visually impaired and the blind to use computers, surf the internet, read documents, etc. Unlike the very expensive commercial screen reading software, the screen readers listed on this page are free of charge with some even open source. Some (or perhaps most) of the screen readers listed are GUI screen readers, with the ability to handle graphical user interfaces such as buttons, menus, and other visual screen elements.
Note: before you download any of the software, read carefully the supported operating systems. The screen readers are not cross-platform, that is, they typically support only one operating system.
- NVDA - Non Visual Desktop Access (Windows)
NVDA is a Windows screen reader that supports browsing the web with Internet Explorer and Firefox, reading and writing documents with office programs, sending and receiving email with Outlook Express, producing spreadsheets with Microsoft Excel, using command line programs in DOS windows (that is, the command prompt), managing the computer through things like My Computer, Windows Explorer, Control Panel applets and other general Windows tasks. It supports numerous languages, including English, Brazilian Portuguese, Czech, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, and traditional Chinese. It works with the speech synthesizer engines that comes with Windows XP and Vista, although you can also use the open source eSpeak speech synthesizer, which is reputed to be clearer and easier to listen to. This Windows program is free and open source, licensed under the GNU General Public License.
- Orca (Linux)
Orca is an assitive technology for people with visual impairments. It uses a combination of speech synthesis, braille and visual magnification to accomplish its task. It is designed to work with applications that support the assitive technology service provider (AT-SPI), including the GNOME desktop and its applications, Firefox, OpenOffice and the Java platform. Orca is a Linux program and is part of the GNOME platform. It comes by default in some Linux distributions.
- Emacspeak - The Complete Audio Desktop (Linux)
Emacspeak is a speech interface that allows visually impaired users to interact with the computer. The website claims that unlike speech readers that merely read or speak the visually displayed information, Emacspeak attempts to make sense of the content and voice the underlying content. Hence instead of merely voicing, say, a series of meaningless numbers in a calendar application, it attempts to say the data in a comprehensive manner. The software works on Linux only.
- Screen Access For All (SAFA) Screen Reader Software (Windows)
This open source screen reader software works for English, Hindi, and possibly other languages. It works on Windows 2000 and XP, with Word XP, Notepad, Windows dialog boxes, and in a limited way in Internet Explorer. At the time this was written, it looks like the last version released was in 2004, so I'm not sure if the software is still being maintained.
- Thunder Speech Reader - the Talking Software (Windows)
[Update: the original site for this seems to have disappeared.] Thunder is a Windows program that is free only for personal use. It comes with a text browser that you need to use to browse the Internet. The browser is optimized for speech software in that it cuts out the visual clutter and presents the website in a line-by-line text. Other features include an Internet radio software which supports RSS news feeds and podcasting. You will need to supply your email address before you can download the software.
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