Which are the most used screen readers

Since I am often asked which screen reader is most used among blind persons, I will address this question here. Please also read my article: Why sighted persons should not test with screen readers.

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No official statistics

There are no official statistics. The only survey I know of is the one by WebAIM. However, it is not representative because it mainly reaches the Anglo-American language area. In addition, users of a particular screen reader are specifically asked by its provider to take part in the survey. With a few thousand responses, this clearly distorts the results. In my opinion, the number of Jaws users in particular is distorted in relation to NVDA. Jaws is overpriced and not affordable for most blind persons. Jaws is also criticised for its pricing policy outside the US. It charges for every major update, including bug fixes.

The different OS and screen readers

In Germany, there are currently three major systems under Windows: Jaws, NVDA and the Narrator, which has only been more than rudimentary since Windows 10.

There is also VoiceOver on the Mac, which seems to be as widespread among blind persons as it is among sighted persons. The market share among blind persons is about 10 per cent.

On Linux, there are several assistive technologies. Orca is certainly the most important, but not the only screen reader. Here, too, the proportion of blind users is similar to that among sighted persons, i.e. practically non-existent.

Mobile market

The situation is clearer under mobile operating systems. On iOS, there is only VoiceOver. On Android there is TalkBack, Voiceview on Amazon devices and the Samsung screen reader on Samsung devices. TalkBack is the only system that is consistently developed and used the most. In fact, VoiceView and the Samsung screen reader are forks of Talkback. The Samsung screen reader is no longer being developed, and Samsung relies on Talkback instead. Samsung's Talkback is implemented differently because Samsung has its own strategy. If you want to test with Talkback, the devices with the most naked Android possible, for example from Google, are recommended.

Blind persons are almost exclusively iOS users. The number of blind persons who use TalkBack in parallel with iOS or as their only system I would estimate at a few thousand in Germany and a few 10,000 worldwide, a fraction of the blind iOS users.

Desktop market

On the desktop, there have been five major upheavals in recent years:

  • The entry of the open-source screen reader NVDA on the Windows platform.
  • The emergence of the screen reader VoiceOver on the Mac.
  • The becoming free and subsequent disappearance of Window Eyes.
  • The bankruptcy of the Baum company and the subsequent demise of the screen reader Cobra. Cobra had quite a substantial market share in Germany.
  • - The steady development of the screen reader Narrator under Windows 10 and 11.

Jaws killed Window Eyes

The end of Window Eyes and Cobra has brought back significant market share to the otherwise weaker Jaws, especially in the work sector.

In the Anglo-American sector, the screen readers System Access and Dolhin are of some importance, but do not play a role in Germany. Many blind persons work in the public sector, so most likely with Windows, so Mac VoiceOver hardly plays a role either.

Work versus private

In the private sector, the situation is probably more differentiated: Getting Jaws financed by health insurance is still difficult. That's why NVDA plays a bigger role here.

Many typical tasks that used to be done on a PC can now often be done more easily with a smartphone or tablet. iPads and iPhones have therefore probably overtaken the classic notebook or desktop PC in the private sector.

So far, I don't know of any blind person who uses Narrator as their first or only screen reader on Windows 10 or 11. Narrator is not a full feature screenreader and perhaps never will be.

The winners are VoiceOver and NVDA

In absolute numbers and regardless of the system, VoiceOver on iOS is probably the clear market leader among screen readers. For many blind persons, the iPhone and iPad are the first and often only device, and iOS VoiceOver dominates the market for smartphones and tablets.

On the desktop, Jaws and NVDA are likely to be about equal. Jaws is dominant in the work sector, NVDA in the private sector.

Mac has some market share, but I don't think it plays a key role. Narrator could become more important, but it needs some major updates for that.

Jaws users are often running outdated systems. Jaws' update policy is highly questionable and quite costly for users - at least outside the US, see also Is Jaws better than NVDA.

So if you want to test with screen readers, you should use VoiceOver on iOS and NVDA on Windows. I don't think it makes sense to buy a Jaws licence for testing purposes. However, there is also a Jaws demo that can be run for 30 minutes at a time.

In general, the differences between the individual screen readers decrease as far as support for web and PDF structures is concerned. The big advantage of Jaws is or was the relatively good support for desktop applications:If applications are not programmed accessibly, scripts can help and Jaws has quite a lot of them on board. But they don't play such a big role for web applications.

However, the new browser diversity makes it more difficult, as it often depends on the combination of browser and screen reader whether something works or not. Therefore, the recommendation is to stick to common standards in web development . NVDA is more likely to stick to the standards than Jaws.

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