My Attempt to Use a Screen Reader for Google Docs

The job of a screen reader is just that: to read what is on the screen you are looking at which is certainly quite a good thing when you can't read it. The screen can be attached to a desktop or laptop computer, a smartphone, or a tablet.

How do screen readers work?

There is not just one screen reader, unfortunately. There are many. Some are controlled by features built into a device. On tablets and smartphones, they are often called 'accessibility features' or in specialized apps. On desktop and laptop computers, it can be a little more complicated.

I do the first drafts of my articles on my Windows 10 laptop in Google Docs. I was trying to get Google Docs to read my text to me to see how it sounded and maybe to catch some errors. How hard can it be? Remember that I said that.

I decided to try something different in this article. I'm taking you through what I went through to try to get this to work.

My first attempt

I’ve been working with computers for a LONG time (longer than I want to admit) so I figured this was going to be a quick thing.

I didn't see anything obvious in Google Docs. I went to Google (my preferred search engine) and typed 'google docs screen reader windows 2019.’ I included 2019 to make sure I got information for the newest version of Google Docs and included Windows because I’m working on the Windows 10 version of it.

I found what I thought I needed which told me that all I had to do was to highlight an area of text, find 'accessibility' at the top of the screen, choose 'speak' and then 'speak selection.'

It looked easy!

Even more instructions

Back to searching. This time I went to the Help option in Google Docs. I typed ‘accessibility.’ I found a page that told me I had to ‘enable screen reader’ in my Google account. OK, I can do that.

I went to My Account in Google and there was no accessibility option. There's a search option there so I entered 'accessibility.' I found an article that told me to go back to another account option. I eventually found an option that said 'Applies to Google Docs (web only)’ with a grayed-out switch (some of you probably can’t even see it!). So I clicked and it turned blue.

I went back to my document.

It’s still not there!!??

OK, maybe I had to reload the Google Docs page. I did that and lo and behold 'accessibility' was now there! I highlighted a paragraph, and went back to the beginning where I was told to go to 'accessibility', find 'speak' and choose 'speak selection.' I did that.

It doesn’t work!!!???

The number of !s and ?s in these recent headings indicate that my level of frustration was mounting.

Break time

I had to take a break. Time for an orange and hot chocolate. Take it from me, never sit too long fussing about something like this. Go away, clear your head, and come back.

Moving on

I was back from my break and ready to tackle this again. I was doing this with good vision. I can only imagine how frustrating this type of thing is for those of you with a visual impairment!

Are you kidding me!!!!????

I found the bad news for me: Google Docs 'accessibility' does NOT WORK with every web browser, including the one I use which is Opera. It turns out that it works with browsers that have a screen reader built into them.1 I don’t have any of them so this is the end of my attempt to use a screen reader in Google Docs on a Windows 10 computer. ::sigh::

I started at the wrong end!

I started at the wrong end of trying to get my text read to me in Google Docs. I started at the “look at the options in Google Docs first.”

I SHOULD have started with the question:

In Windows 10, using the browser that I have, can I use the 'speak' option under 'accessibility' in Google Docs?

I would have saved myself a lot of frustration. My advice is that if you want to try a screen reader or other assistive technique, first ask if it can be done with what you have. Sometimes the answer is "no."

There IS good news!

There are people who are much smarter than me who design software (also called apps). They realized that for those with a visual impairment, there's a need to be able to do certain things like magnify and read the screen for everything they're working with. It would be a big problem to have to set up separate screen readers for all the software that is used.

There are specialized software packages (groups of apps, let's say). Here are some of the most popular:

  • Narrator: built into Windows2
  • NVDIA: free screen reader3
  • ZoomText: not free (currently $80/year for the home version), but it's a magnifier and screen reader in one.4
  • JAWS (Job Access with Speech): not free (currently $90/year for the home version). You can get speech output or Braille output.5

There is MORE good news!

If you are interested in one of these products, there is a training available in the form of online materials, one-on-one training or classroom training. I've been told that the first thing to do is to contact your State Department of Rehabilitation or Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Not only do some states offer training. Some states will supply you with JAWS or ZoomText at no cost. The other option is to contact the company that makes the software package and ask if they have training available.

Do as I say, not as I do

Remember that at the beginning of this article I told you to remember that I said, "How hard can it be?" It's only hard if you start at the wrong end of the question and instead first ask, "Will a screen reader work with what I have and what I know?"

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