Browser-based screen reader

by S. Smith, Student Access Center
published Feb. 13, 2007

Ever wonder what it's like to navigate the Internet if you can't see what you're doing? Do your eyes get tired, staring at the computer screen for hours on end? Do you learn better by listening than by reading? Would you like to have some webpages read to you?

Check out Fire Vox, an extension for the Mozilla Firefox browser (download and more information is at firevox.clcworld.net). Fire Vox is a simplified text-to-speech reader that is managed through customizable keyboard shortcuts. For users who want to use their mouse to control the reader, they can download an alternate version of the reader called .CliCk, Speak. (see web page listed above). If you missed it in the Jan. 30 article in InfoTech Tuesday, WebAIM.org (Web Accessibility in Mind) has a great article on Firefox accessibility issues.

Fire Vox will work with K-State Online. Let's say, for example, that you are taking an online exam. Simply highlight the question text, press Ctrl+Shift+O, and listen. It may take some getting used to (and doesn't work so well with multiple-choice questions) but it can be a help.

Web developers. Fire Vox can be a quick and easy way to see how a reader will react to the structure of your page -- for example, how a reader will handle those multiple-choice questions (see above) that you formatted so nicely in a table. It will not replace the necessity of testing your pages with popular screen-reading software such as JAWS and WindowEyes, but it can be handy.

The down side? Fire Vox relies on keyboard shortcuts to control the program, and these seem to interfere with the Developer's Toolbar extension. To work around this, you can create multiple profiles in Firefox. This will allow you to choose "versions" of Firefox with different extensions, themes, etc. installed just by selecting it when you launch the browser. For details, see How to Manage Profiles in Firefox.

And most importantly, remember Ctrl+Shift+C. This command makes the browser STOP talking!