How to use Windows 11’s screen readeron September 14, 2022 at 15:38 Tech Advisor

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Most of us don’t think twice about using a laptop or desktop PC every day, but that’s not a simple task for everyone.

According to the World Health Organization, around one billion people worldwide live with a visual impairment that could’ve been prevented or is yet to be addressed. For those who are blind or partially sighted, that makes using a computer in the traditional sense almost impossible.  

Fortunately, plenty of companies are designing software with these people in mind. Microsoft recommends several screen readers on its website, with JAWS and NVDA among the most popular.  

But did you know that Windows 11 has a built-in screen reader tool that’s completely free? Narrator has been available Windows since 2000, but it’s a lot easier to use these days. It works across all your apps, although there’s a separate method if you’d like articles on the web to be read aloud. 

How to turn on Windows 11’s screen reader

There are three different ways to turn on Narrator in Windows 11 – choose whichever is easiest for you. 

The first is a simple keyboard shortcut. Provided you haven’t remapped the keyboard, hitting Windows + Ctrl + Enter will launch the Narrator app.  

Alternatively, just head to Settings and choose ‘Accessibility’ from the left pane. Select ‘Narrator’, the last option within the ‘Vision’ section. Next to ‘Narrator’, click the toggle to turn it on.

Anyron Copeman / Foundry

If you’d prefer, you can launch Narrator like you would any other app. The simplest way is to click the search icon in the taskbar, then type ‘narrator’ and click the relevant option to open it.

Anyron Copeman / Foundry

Regardless of the method chosen, you may see a pop-up highlighting some of the recent changes – click ‘OK’ to continue.  

By default, you’ll then see a screen that looks like the one below. If you’d rather not in future, just uncheck the box labelled ‘Show Narrator Home when Narrator starts’.  

As you may have noticed, Narrator is already active at this stage and describing everything you do. But there are ways to get it set up to your liking. 

How to customise Windows 11’s screen reader

Microsoft offers an extensive range of customisation options for the Narrator, which also show just how capable it is. 

Just head to Settings > Accessibility > Narrator to find them all. Your first decision is whether Narrator should be automatically enabled when turning on your PC, either before or after you sign in.

Anyron Copeman / Foundry

There are now five different voices to choose from by default – three male, two female. All speak in US English, but you can download voice packages for other languages and add your own. 

From the same page, you’ll also find sliders to control the speed, pitch and volume of the voice, plus lowering the volume of any other audio when narration is taking place. There are also in-depth controls for verbosity and context, reducing the chances of it becoming more annoying than useful. 

Anyron Copeman / Foundry

But there are loads more options available – it’s worth trying out a few to see what works for you. 

How to get Microsoft Edge to read to you 

Windows 11’s Narrator works well in most scenarios, but what about if you want to read articles online? You shouldn’t have to exclusively rely on audio content, and Microsoft’s Edge browser ensures you don’t have to.  

When you land on any text-based article, Edge includes the option for it to be ‘Read aloud’ to you. Just select the icon which looks like an A with sound waves coming off it (from within the address bar) and it will automatically start playing. You can pause this at any time or use the icons on either side to move between paragraphs.  

Under ‘Voice options’, you can also choose from a range of different voices and set its speed. 

Anyron Copeman / Foundry

Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox don’t have this feature by default, but it is still available via the Read Aloud extension

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