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Using Windows Narrator as a Simple but Effective Text Reader

by Craig Mill

on Wed Sep 16, 2020

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Windows Narrator has been a Windows accessibility feature as far back as Windows 2000. Narrator was designed to open up accessibility as a screen reader for visually impaired users, but sadly lacked the power and features of its contemporaries such as JAWS and the now-defunct Windows Eyes.

With the release of Windows 10 (version 1903) in May 2019, a new updated, fully-fledged Narrator screen reader was included as part of the release.

Like most screen readers, Narrator requires a knowledge of keyboard shortcuts to maximise its use, particularly for navigating the desktop and accessing folders, files and documents.

However, with a bit of tinkering with Narrator’s Settings, you can use it as a free and effective text reader, which will read aloud as you type or read content in Word and other Microsoft applications such as PowerPoint as well as Office 365 online applications, even with a simple mouse click.

Once everything is set up in Narrator’s Settings you can use a quick keystroke ‘Ctrl + Win + Enter’ to open and close Narrator. You only need to make the following adjustments once and everything is located in the same panel, just scroll down, following each of the 8 stages until you come to the end, then finally close the panel.

1. Adjusting Narrator’s Settings

To get started the first thing to do is to open Narrator’s Settings Panel and adjust the Settings.

  1. Narrator’s Settings Panel is opened by pressing and holding the keyboard keys Ctrl + Win + N.

Shortcut keys to open Narrator panel

(If Narrator’s Setting Panel doesn’t appear it could be turned off by default – you may need to contact your IT department).

2. Start-up options

The next stage is to set up the Settings in a similar way to the illustrations below. Do not turn on Narrator until all the settings have been adjusted.

  1. Ensure Narrator is Off
  2. Tick the ‘Allow the shortcut key to start Narrator’
  3. Tick ‘Minimise Narrator Home to the system tray’

Start-up Narrator options

3. Personalise Narrator’s voice

Scroll down until you come to the section ‘Personalise Narrator’s voice’ Here you can choose a voice (including any of the Scottish voices) and set the voice speed, pitch and volume.  

Personalise Narrator's voice

4. Change what you can hear when reading and interacting

Scroll down to the next section ‘Change what you hear when reading and interacting’. Narrator can be adjusted to read different amounts of information, for example, when used as a screen reader by a visually impaired or blind learner the level of detail can be set to ‘All Controls’ thereby allowing the user to navigate by voice alone.

  1. Set the level of detail to ‘1-Text only’
  2. Uncheck all the boxes except ‘Make the Narrator use punctuation to determine pauses when reading’. This will ensure that information on web pages and documents is read more naturally.

Change what you can hear when interacting

5. Change what you hear when typing

Scroll down until you come to ‘Change what you hear when typing’. Here you can choose what the learner will hear when typing; individual characters, words etc. You should set this to meet the needs of your learner. You can always go back and change the settings if you wish.

Change what you can hear when typing

6. Use Narrator cursor

Scroll down until you come to ‘Use Narrator cursor. Narrator cursor is a blue box that follows the focus of words which are either typed or read aloud. Narrator cursor may help those who have difficulties with concentration to focus on individual words in sync with the voice.

You should experiment with this section to see what setup best suits your learner. You can always adjust as required. However, I recommend that ‘Read and interact with the screen using the mouse’ is ticked as this allows learners to click to hear the words spoken aloud.

After completing this stage close the Narrator Settings Panel.

Use Narrator cursor

7. Practice turning Narrator on and off using the keyboard shortcut

Now you are all set to go. Press and hold the keys Ctrl + Win + Enter to turn on Narrator and turn it off. Practice this a couple of times, but make sure you turn Narrator off before moving to stage 8.

Turn Narrator on shortcut key

8. Open a Word document and turn on Narrator

Open a new Word document and when you see the cursor flashing at the beginning of document turn on Narrator using the shortcut keys  Ctrl + Win + Enter – now try typing some text.

Type text in word

You can also use Narrator to read aloud existing documents or webpages by clicking the sections you want to be read aloud. Narrator will highlight words and sections with the blue Narrator cursor.

Narrator using a webpage

Narrator may struggle to read PDF documents but you can open PDF files in Word or Edge instead, right-click on the PDF file and choose ‘Open With’ and select ‘Edge’ from the available choices or simply open the PDF from within Word. 

Tags: narrator, text reader, literacy support

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