Screen Reader to use for Testing

Hello everyone,

We’re getting ready to start on a rather large project which we want to have full (or as much as possible) support for screen readers. Normally I just make sure my markup is good and guess at what the screen reader will do.

However, for this project I want to do regular screen reader testing.

Does anyone know of a good free (or cheap) screen reader that will give similar results to the most commonly used ones?


Yes. NVDA. No front-end developer/designer (using Windows) has any excuse for not at least trying NVDA once, though installing it would be advisable. You can run it from USB as well, if that’s what you need. Linux users should find that Orca is preinstalled, just as the worshippers of shiny white things will have VoiceOver to play with.

At, I think.

Edit: You can never reliably guess at what any kind of AT will do!

For JAWS, go to Freedom Scientific and they have a demo for thumb drive. You’ll need to be admin on the Windows box in order to install the Video Intercept.
What’s cool is you can put the thumb drive on any machine that has the video intercept, portable screen reader. Comes with MAGic for screen mag testing (which you want to do). Yahoo! has a horrid, hard to hear and understand video showing a screen mag user (using the bigger name, ZoomText), still cool to see tho:
MAGic works well with JAWS tho.

Handy Guide to get you started:

-It’s a real product used by real people (I’m not comparing this to NVDA or VoiceOver, but to things like FireVox and Fangs).
-As a real product, it has real bugs. For this reason, I’ll say you may want to strongly consider testing in many screen readers. If you have a Mac, test in VoiceOver (remember in-page skip links won’t let you jump large menus or anything… a known webkit bug tho, you can’t do anything about, get NVDA and test (way easier than getting JAWS and very easy to get started) and if there’s a demo of Window-Eyes, HAL or that SystemAccess To Go… try them too.

Screen readers are like browsers, in the bad way (all have bugs). If you suspect your audience is in a particular country or region this can help you decide where to do heavier testing.

-According to Freedom Scientific, the JAWS demo is not for developers to test things in.
-The demo lasts 40 minutes. To get more time, you have to reboot. Or, I’m sure some clever 12-year-old found a way around that.
-The current version is 13. Be aware of major bugs of older versions: as expensive software, and JAWS being quite popular, assume you have users with older versions. I would think version 9 would be reasonable to support. My first version was 7.something, which only worked in IE6 and barely in IE7.

NVDA is great, and it has probably the best ARIA support out there. It’s also less-well-known, is developed by just 2 dudes (very cool ones, but just 2), and JAWS has been hacking (and reverse-engineering) windows software for much, much longer and can just do more. And the JAWS voices are better. If NVDA’s grate (like Orca’s) and you’ll be doing a lot of testing, see if you can get some better voices somewhere.

Window-Eyes, from what I hear, while being very popular (maybe #2 after JAWS?) is very behind the times with things like HTML5 and ARIA.

Orca may not be on your Linux system. You can either use your packaging system or, if you’re using a newer Gnome version (Orca works primarily with Gnome), you could try pulling from master.
Orca works best on Gecko. They’re working on webkit, as Gnome apps are slowly switching over to that engine. But testing in Chrome or Epiphany will disappoint. Use Firefox for testing web pages. Keep in mind that unlike most other screen readers, Orca does not use a virtual buffer. Live changes are live, dawg!

VoiceOver: if you are testing non-English, you have to go get the non-English voices yourself. This sucks. Then you have to set that language in the Accessibility section or something. I don’t have a Mac, but we discovered this when a colleague got one. Mac was bought in a Dutch Apple shop. OS came with Dutch settings, everything in Dutch. Except the Accessibility, and VO couldn’t speak Dutch. That’s horrid. Easiest voice to listen to seemed to be Vicki. Kinda Portal-ish. About half the voices on the Mac are novelty voices and completely worthless :slight_smile:

++ to that

Great, thanks.

So, just to recap, sounds like I probably want to get a handful of screen readers at different versions to do some testing with.

Sounds like Orca, VoiceOver, JAWS, and NVDA would be a pretty good set, some for Mac/Nix, some for Windows.

Exactly what I needed.


(P.S., I was hoping you’d spot this post, Stomme. ;))

What mmight be even better is if you can get some people who are already using those to test. I still have trouble getting around in Orca because it’s so different from the other readers

Yes, a lack of experience can get in the way when people are trying to test with ATs for the first time. I found that VO is quite easy to use; NVDA is fairly OK; the others not so much. And if you can find some users with disabilities (not just screen-reader users) who are happy for you to occasionally call upon them for some real-world testing and feedback, that can be hugely helpful. It can ease the task of persuading stakeholders as well.

That’s not a bad idea at all. In the area I live in, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a few people willing to do some user testing for us.