Getting Started with Window-Eyes


Written by Misty Williams

A screen reader is a piece of software that works with your operating system to provide speech or braille (when used with a refreshable braille display) feedback to the visually impaired computer user. The user interacts with a screen reader through various keyboard combinations. Each screen reader uses its own variation of “commands”, in conjunction with Windows keyboard shortcuts for basic computer navigation, document editing, etc.  I generally recommend a screen reader for those who need screen magnification greater than 5X. For a more detailed description of screen readers, check out What Is a Screen Reader by Leonie Watson or the Screen Reader article on AFB . There are many options for screen readers for various operating systems (Windows, Linux, Mac), but most are fairly pricey. Others are free, but difficult for some users to understand.

Are you looking for a FREE screen reader for Windows that does not sound like a Tin Man?

Wizard of Oz flier displaying the Tin Man.


Why not try Window-Eyes, the screen reader with a heart?

Ai Squared and Microsoft collaborated in 2014 in order to enable anyone using Microsoft Office 2010 or later to also have a “fully functional” version of Window-Eyes for free.

Let's Get Started!

Step 1: Verify that your student has Microsoft Office 2010 or later installed on their computer and check the system requirements  to make sure that you are good to go! Any K-12 schools, colleges, universities, learning centers, and individual users are eligible for this offer, as long as a valid version of Microsoft Office is installed. Beware skipping this step because Window-Eyes will run in a 30-minute demonstration mode if a valid Microsoft Office license is not detected.

Step 2: Download Window-Eyes.

Step 3: Install Window-Eyes from the downloaded file. The “Install Shield Wizard” politely sets up speech initially, so Window-Eyes can be installed with or without sighted assistance. Choose the Quick Install to save yourself some headache. When installed, you will be prompted to restart your computer.

Step 4: You will hear a lovely chime when your computer starts up, indicating the beginning of the “Start-Up Wizard”. Here is where we first meet Zira, the very nice speech synthesizer installed with Window-Eyes. This is where you can configure your basic settings, like voice (because you do not HAVE to use Zira if you have a preferred speech synthesizer on your computer) and speech rate. For more options after the startup wizard, check out the other settings you can change in the Window-Eyes Control Panel. You can even set the modifier key to be Insert, instead of CTRL there! If you need the Window-Eyes Control Panel “on the fly”, just press CTRL + \ .

**Pro Tip: On the Window-Eyes Icon, right-click (or press the application key) and select Properties. From here you can set a Shortcut Key to start the program- I usually use Control + Alt + W.**

If most tutorials are just too involved, try watching a Youtube Video and following step-by-step:

This video, Getting Started with Window-Eyes, from GW Micro describes the installation process.

Now that you have Window-Eyes installed, set, and saved- just the way you like it!- you will want to learn how to use your shiny new screen reader. The good news is that Ai Squared provides TONS of free training as well, most in audio format!

Window-Eyes Tutorials and Help

Some basic Window-Eyes commands to get you started

  • Read All = CTRL + SHIFT + R
  • Read Active Window = CTRL + SHIFT + W
  • The “hush” key = CTRL
  • Application Help = CTRL + SHIFT +?

For a comprehensive list of keyboard commands for Window-Eyes, download the Window-Eyes Hot Keys  file.

Going through the tutorials after the installation, then having the student follow suit, really works well to reinforce the concepts you cover daily. I also suggest introducing your student to the Key Describer mode, which will explain what each key combination does in the world of Window-Eyes. Of course, you will need your handy Windows shortcut keys to supplement those new Window-Eyes commands, but we will save that crash course for another day! 

Editor's Note: Working with a young student? Be sure to check out "Lessons for Beginners Using Screen Readers" post.