Reading radio scripts out loud with a screen reader

Photo of on-air lights

In my work with the CMTO I’ve been developing techniques to best assist learners in community radio who are using screen readers – ie.  people who are blind or have a vision impairment. Screen readers convert written text into voice, so that a user who is blind can ‘read’ the text, from top to bottom (as long as that text is formatted to be accessible, more about that here). Using a screen reader to read back a pre-written script in real time can be a challenge for some screen reader users, but worth the effort to become confident on-air.

In 2018 I talked to Stephen Jolley, one of the founders of the RPH Radio Reading network of stations, who has been a radio producer for over 40 years and is blind.  Jolley emphasises the need for new community radio producers to first develop their on-air sound – learn to intonate and speak well – before they move on to reading scripts.  If this is you, practicing reading out loud is one method of developing your voice, and doing it with a screen reader, or from braille, is a good way to practice. However, not every person is a fast braille user, and others may be slower at relaying the words of the screen read script into voice.

Reading a script you have written for on-air with a screen reader also presents some challenges that can be to some extent mitigated by work-arounds. Paul Price, who has been a producer at 4RPH for nearly two decades, and is blind, tried doing this for the first time recently with good success. Paul uses Job Access With Speech or JAWS, a top end screen reader that intonates sentences well. A free screen reader, Non-Visual Desktop Access or NVDA is also available.

To use a screen reader well for on-air live reads, my students have come up with some solutions that can help trainers and users:

  • adjust the speed of your screen reader to a slower than speaking voice (many long term users like their screen reader fast);
  • punctuate correctly – screen readers use punctuation to adjust reading fluency
  • adjust spelling of words the reader doesn’t know to pronounce it correctly (even if it is then spelled wrong);
  • use line breaks to break up your sentences into small sections that are easily remembered for repeating
  • use digits instead of spelled out numbers, as screen readers read them correctly
  • practice!

Good luck with your script reading and feel free to let me know what works for you via the contact page on this website.

NB. Not all screen readers work with all software!

Find out more about screen readers and assistive technologies on the Vision Australia website.

Read about how Triple J news reader Naz Campanella uses a screen reader for her work

Author: kim4zzz

Social Worker, Radio Producer and Researcher. Sometimes all three at once.

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