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Over the years, we have looked at a lot of the free accessibility software available to download on-line. In our experience, many people with disabilities simply cannot afford some of the premium, commercial products available. These are some of our favourites for use on your computer or laptop.
It's worth remembering that you will already have a range of accessibility options including, screen reader, magnifier, sticky-keys, high contrast themes and colour inversions, built in to you computers Operating System - whether that's Windows, MacOS or Chrome OS found on Google Chromebooks. If you need help finding these just give us a call!
There are a wide range of screen readers available now and some such as Jaws and Dolphins range, whilst very clever with super sounding voices, they unfortunately cost hundreds of pounds to buy. But fear not - there are some great free options out there!
Remember that Windows comes with its own free Screen Reader - Microsoft Narrator. It is activated on a Windows 10 machine by pressing the windows logo key, Ctrl and Enter. Or, you can manually start it from the Windows accessibility centre via the Windows Control Panel. A full guide to its use can be downloaded here.
If you have a Mac book then 'Voice Over' is Apples answer to an inbuilt screen reader.
How to enable VoiceOver:
Click the Apple menu button in the top left corner of your screen.
Click System Preferences.
Click Accessibility. It's on the very bottom right of the System Preferences pane.
Click the checkbox next to Enable VoiceOver.
This piece of software has been around for a long time now and appears to be actively being worked on and improve - which is always a good sign. It's most recent release is NVDA 2020 and works on all Windows 7 and Windows 10 machines. If you have an older Windows Operating System, you can still access their older versions, which will work with them. We have used NVDA over the years and although its voice is rather robotic, it works well. It can be downloaded here
System Access To Go
This one is not as easy to install as NVDA with lots of pop up boxes, plus it requires you to create a free account as part of the process. Whilst the basic program is free, it also offers chargeable addons such as better voices. I tried it out on Windows 7 and it interfered with the smooth movement of my mouse so I'm not sold on this one but by all means, give it a go - You can download this one here.
In addition to the above, you can also install a screen-reader extension to some internet browsers which will read your web-pages to you.
If you use Google's Chrome internet browser then try out their Google Vox extension available here
Microsoft Edge can read aloud news, sports stories, and other webpages to you. With your webpage open, right-click or press and hold anywhere on the page and select Read aloud. You can also select Settings - and more - and then Read aloud. Or use the following keyboard shortcut: Ctrl + Shift + U
I struggled to find a screen reader add on that worked well on the Firefox browser.
Like Screen Readers, there are several free magnifiers available for Windows but they do generally lack the better functionality that a paid version would give you. These do all require the user to have some degree of vision. It is worth trying several of them to find the one that has the magnification capability and user-friendliness that suits you.
A good inbuilt Magnifier that comes with Windows:
Open Magnifier by clicking the Start button , clicking All Programs, clicking Accessories, clicking Ease of Access, and then clicking Magnifier. On the Views menu, click the mode that you want to use. Move the pointer to the part of the screen that you want to magnify.
There are actually several ways to start Windows Magnifier - take a look here for more on that.
MacOS Zoom Magnifier
Every Mac comes as standard with assistive technologies that can help you use macOS.
macOS features an Accessibility Options window that lets you quickly turn on or off common accessibility features like Zoom magnifier, VoiceOver, Sticky Keys and more. You can bring up this window anytime with a simple shortcut.
On the built-in keyboard of a Mac notebook computer, press Fn-Option-Command-F5.
On a Mac notebook with Touch ID (power button),* triple-press Touch ID.
On an external keyboard, press Option-Command-F5.
This piece of software has been around for a long time. Its simple, easy to use and certainly worth a look.
Another basic magnifier. Download it here
Magnifixer is a newer free magnifier that is bang up to date for use with Windows 10. Download it here
Virtual Magnifier Glass
Another oldie but goodie that works with Windows 10. Download it here
This is unrelated to the commercial screen-reader & magnifier 'ZoomText' which cost several hundred pounds and is definitely worth checking out. Download it here