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The Best Screen Readers in 2023: An Expert‘s Comprehensive Guide

As a digital technology expert with over 15 years of experience in the field of assistive technology, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of screen readers. These software programs, which convert visual information into audible speech or braille output, are a lifeline for the estimated 285 million people worldwide who are blind or visually impaired (World Health Organization, 2020). In this comprehensive guide, I will rank and review the best screen readers on the market today, sharing insights gleaned from my professional experience and the latest industry research.

The Importance of Screen Readers in the Digital Age

In today‘s world, access to digital information is not a luxury but a necessity. From education and employment to social connection and civic engagement, technology touches nearly every aspect of our lives. For blind and low-vision individuals, screen readers are the key to unlocking the power of computing and participating fully in the digital age.

The impact of screen readers extends far beyond the individual user. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other regulations mandate that businesses, government agencies, and other entities provide equal access to their services, including digital content. Failure to ensure web accessibility can result in costly lawsuits and damage to an organization‘s reputation. According to the 2020 Web Accessibility Annual Report from UsableNet, ADA-related digital accessibility lawsuits increased by 23% in 2020, with over 3,500 cases filed in federal court.

Screen readers play a critical role in ensuring compliance with these regulations and promoting digital inclusivity. By enabling blind and low-vision individuals to independently access websites, mobile apps, and other digital platforms, screen readers help create a more equitable online world.

The Top Screen Readers on the Market

So, what are the best screen readers available today? Based on my professional experience and a thorough review of the latest features, performance benchmarks, and user feedback, here are my top picks.

1. JAWS (Job Access With Speech)

Developed by Freedom Scientific, JAWS is the world‘s most popular screen reader and has long been considered the industry standard for Windows users. With its wide range of features and highly customizable settings, JAWS offers unparalleled flexibility and power for advanced users.

One of the standout features of JAWS is its built-in scripting language, which allows users to write custom scripts to enhance accessibility for specific applications. JAWS also offers a variety of voices in over 30 languages, supports a wide range of braille displays, and includes utilities like a built-in OCR (optical character recognition) tool for reading inaccessible PDFs.

While JAWS is undoubtedly a leader in terms of functionality, it does come with a relatively steep price tag compared to some other options. A new license for JAWS Home retails for $95 per year, while JAWS Professional costs $1,195 (Freedom Scientific, 2021). However, for users who require the most advanced and comprehensive screen reading experience, JAWS is hard to beat.

2. NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access)

First released in 2006, NVDA is a free and open-source screen reader for Windows that has seen explosive growth in recent years. According to a 2019 survey by WebAIM, an organization that promotes web accessibility, NVDA was the second most popular screen reader globally, with 40.6% of respondents reporting that they use it as their primary screen reader.

As an open-source project, NVDA benefits from a passionate community of developers and users who continuously work to improve and expand its capabilities. Key features of NVDA include support for over 55 languages, a built-in speech viewer for developers, and a portable version that can be run from a USB drive.

While NVDA may lack some of the advanced features of commercial options like JAWS, it has made significant strides in recent years to close the gap. In a 2020 performance comparison by Access Technology Institute, NVDA outperformed JAWS in several key areas, including web browsing speed and accuracy of form field identification.

For users who require a powerful screen reader but cannot afford the high cost of commercial options, NVDA is an excellent choice. Its commitment to open-source development also aligns with the values of many in the disability community, who advocate for greater transparency and collaboration in assistive technology.

3. VoiceOver

For blind and low-vision Apple users, VoiceOver is the built-in screen reader of choice. Seamlessly integrated into macOS, iOS, and other Apple operating systems, VoiceOver offers a robust set of features and a user-friendly interface that takes advantage of Apple‘s accessibility APIs.

One of the standout features of VoiceOver is its innovative use of gestures to navigate the screen on mobile devices. With a variety of single-finger and multi-finger swipes, users can efficiently browse content, activate buttons, and perform other actions. VoiceOver also includes support for braille displays, multiple languages, and verbosity customization.

As a native screen reader, VoiceOver benefits from deep integration with Apple‘s built-in apps and services. It also offers unique features like the "Alex" voice, which uses machine learning to generate highly natural-sounding speech output.

While some advanced users may prefer the greater customization options of third-party screen readers, VoiceOver remains a powerful and user-friendly choice for blind Apple fans. Its seamless integration and feature set have helped make Apple devices some of the most accessible on the market.

Other Notable Screen Readers

Beyond the "big three" of JAWS, NVDA, and VoiceOver, there are several other screen readers worth mentioning for specific use cases:

  • Orca: A free, open-source screen reader for Linux and other Unix-like operating systems. Orca offers a solid set of features and is the default screen reader for the GNOME desktop environment.
  • ChromeVox: Google‘s built-in screen reader for Chrome OS devices like Chromebooks. ChromeVox is optimized for web browsing and offers support for multiple languages and braille displays.
  • Narrator: Microsoft‘s built-in screen reader for Windows. While historically not as full-featured as third-party options, Narrator has seen significant improvements in recent years and is a good choice for basic screen reading tasks.
  • Dolphin ScreenReader: A commercial screen reader for Windows with unique features like SuperNova magnifier and the ability to select and click with the mouse. Dolphin also offers a version specifically tailored for students and education settings.

Screen Reader Performance and Compatibility

When evaluating screen readers, it‘s important to consider not only their features but also their performance and compatibility with the latest software and web technologies.

In recent years, screen reader developers have made significant strides in improving web browsing performance, particularly when navigating complex web applications and dynamic content. In a 2020 study by the National Federation of the Blind, JAWS and NVDA were found to have the fastest and most accurate performance when completing tasks on popular websites like Amazon and Facebook.

However, screen reader compatibility is still an ongoing challenge, particularly as web development practices evolve. A 2020 audit by the Bureau of Internet Accessibility found that out of 600 popular websites, only 40% were fully compatible with screen readers. Common barriers included missing alternative text for images, incorrect use of ARIA landmarks, and inaccessible custom controls.

To ensure the best possible experience for screen reader users, web developers must prioritize accessibility and follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This includes proper use of semantic HTML, keyboard accessibility, and compatibility with assistive technologies. Organizations should also conduct regular accessibility audits and user testing with screen readers to identify and remediate any issues.

The Future of Screen Readers

As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, screen readers must also evolve to keep up with new devices, platforms, and interaction models. Some key areas to watch in the coming years include:

  • Artificial Intelligence: AI-powered features like intelligent verbosity and context-aware navigation have the potential to greatly enhance the screen reader user experience. Expect to see more screen readers leveraging machine learning to offer personalized and intuitive interaction.
  • Multi-Modal Interfaces: As virtual and augmented reality become more prevalent, screen readers will need to adapt to provide accessibility in these immersive environments. This may involve new input methods like gesture and voice control, as well as output modalities beyond speech and braille.
  • Internet of Things: With the proliferation of smart home devices and other connected technologies, screen readers must be able to seamlessly integrate with a wide range of platforms and APIs. This will require close collaboration between screen reader developers and device manufacturers to ensure compatibility and usability.
  • Open Source and Collaboration: The success of projects like NVDA demonstrates the power of open-source development in the assistive technology space. Expect to see more collaboration and knowledge-sharing among screen reader developers, users, and other stakeholders to drive innovation and ensure that no user is left behind.

Of course, the future of screen readers will also be shaped by the evolving needs and preferences of blind and low-vision users themselves. As new generations of users come of age in a digital-first world, they will bring fresh perspectives and expectations for what a screen reader should offer. It will be up to the assistive technology community to listen, learn, and adapt to meet these changing needs.


Screen readers are a vital tool for digital inclusion, empowering blind and low-vision individuals to access information, communicate with others, and participate fully in the digital world. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the screen readers reviewed in this guide represent some of the best options on the market today, each with its own strengths and unique features.

Ultimately, the choice of screen reader will depend on an individual user‘s specific needs, preferences, and technology ecosystem. Factors to consider include device compatibility, level of customization required, budget, and personal workflow. It may take some trial and error to find the perfect fit.

Regardless of which screen reader you choose, one thing is clear: the future of digital accessibility is bright. With ongoing advancements in artificial intelligence, open-source development, and multi-modal interfaces, we are poised to see even more powerful and intuitive screen readers in the years to come. As someone who has dedicated my career to the field of assistive technology, I am excited to be part of this journey and to continue advocating for a more inclusive digital world.

So, to all the screen reader users out there: keep exploring, keep pushing boundaries, and keep making your voices heard. Together, we can build a future where digital access is not just a possibility, but a reality for all.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the best screen reader for beginners?
A: For new screen reader users, I often recommend starting with a built-in option like VoiceOver (for Apple devices) or Narrator (for Windows). These screen readers offer a relatively simple and intuitive interface, with fewer advanced features to overwhelm beginners. Once you are comfortable with the basics, you can explore more powerful options like JAWS or NVDA.

Q: Can I use a screen reader on my smartphone?
A: Yes! Most modern smartphones include built-in screen readers like VoiceOver (for iOS) or TalkBack (for Android). These mobile screen readers offer many of the same features as their desktop counterparts, optimized for touch-based navigation. There are also several third-party mobile screen reading apps available.

Q: How do I get started with learning a screen reader?
A: Many screen readers offer built-in tutorials and training materials to help new users get up to speed. For example, JAWS includes a series of audio tutorials called "JAWS Basic Training," while NVDA offers an interactive "Welcome Guide" for beginners. There are also many free online resources, including webinars, podcasts, and user forums, where you can connect with other screen reader users and get tips and support.

Q: Can screen readers work with PDF documents?
A: It depends on the accessibility of the PDF. If a PDF includes proper tags, alternative text for images, and other accessibility features, screen readers should be able to navigate and read the document without issue. However, many PDFs are not created with accessibility in mind and may present challenges for screen reader users. In these cases, built-in OCR tools like those offered by JAWS can help extract text from inaccessible PDFs.

Q: How much do screen readers typically cost?
A: The cost of screen readers varies widely, from free and open-source options like NVDA to high-end commercial products like JAWS that can cost over $1,000. Some screen readers offer subscription-based pricing or tiered plans based on features and support levels. It‘s important to carefully evaluate your needs and budget when selecting a screen reader, and to take advantage of any available discounts or funding programs for users with disabilities.

Q: Can I use a screen reader in a language other than English?
A: Most modern screen readers offer support for multiple languages and dialects. For example, JAWS includes over 30 built-in language synthesizers, while NVDA supports more than 55 languages out of the box. However, the quality and naturalness of non-English speech output may vary depending on the specific language and synthesizer used. It‘s a good idea to test out different language options before committing to a particular screen reader.

Q: How do screen readers handle images and graphics?
A: Screen readers rely on alternative text (alt text) to convey the content of images and graphics. When an image has well-written alt text, the screen reader will read this description aloud, allowing the user to understand the visual content. However, if an image lacks alt text or has poorly written alt text, the screen reader may simply announce the presence of an image without providing any useful information. This is why it‘s so important for web developers and content creators to include high-quality alt text for all relevant images.

Q: Can I use a screen reader in combination with other assistive technologies?
A: Absolutely! Many screen reader users also rely on other assistive technologies to enhance their digital experience. For example, braille displays can be used in conjunction with screen readers to provide tactile output, while magnification software can help low-vision users see the screen more clearly. Some screen readers also offer built-in support for these complementary technologies, such as JAWS‘ Fusion with ZoomText Magnifier/Reader.

Q: How often do screen readers need to be updated?
A: Like any software, screen readers require periodic updates to stay compatible with the latest operating systems, applications, and web technologies. Most screen reader developers release updates on a regular basis, often multiple times per year. It‘s important to keep your screen reader up to date to ensure optimal performance and security. Many screen readers include automatic update features or will notify you when a new version is available for download.