Student communicating with female staff member through assistive technology
A male student communicating via sign language to a female staff member
Dog guiding a visually impaired student

What's the Difference?

There are several ways that voice is added to text when using a computer. Here is a short comparison to help determine which would be best based on the needs of the user.

Text to Speech

Text to speech software allows the user to have text read to them.  In some cases the words are highlighted, in others, the words are spoken without highlighting.

Some users will only need to hear pieces of text and not the entire screen. Individuals who use text to speech only are able to see the text on the screen.  They may also need to enlarge the text in order to see it.  Having to learn multiple keystrokes to navigate may be difficult. 

In most cases, the use of a mouse is required to select text before it can be read.

In some cases, but not all, settings can allow the menu items to read. 

Examples of software are: Natural Reader, Balabolka, Zabboware, Text Edit (Mac), Read/Write Gold, Kurzweil 3000, ZoomText

Screen Reading Software

Screen Reading sotware allows the user to hear everything on the screen.

Menus as well as the location on the screen are voiced so that the user can navigate through the text on a page, through a series of keystrokes without being able to see the screen.

A long list of keystroke commands must be learned in order to navigate the screen fully.  A short list of keystroke commands can be used to get started.

The user of screen reading software cannot see the screen.

If a mouse is required for use, the environment s not accessible to screen reading software.  There must be keystrokes that complete actions in addition to mouse commands.

Fluent users of screen reading software can listen to the voice at higher rates of speed, to increase efficiency and rate of use.

WCAG 2.0 A and AA guidelines are required when creating web sites and other documents in order to create accessible environments for screen reading use

Graphics must be described, links must have logical descriptions and document structure must be used.

Examples of software: NVDA, WindowEyes, VoiceOver and JAWS