Free Assistive Technology and Accessible Media Sources

Many types of assistive technology are helpful to people without diagnosed disabilities or access to accommodations. Using text-to-speech for reading or speech-to-text for writing, following along with captions during a presentation, or enlarging tiny text on a screen: these can be beneficial to learning and communicating for everyone.

The lists below include many of our favorite free tools, but there are more! Email us at if you have a favorite that’s not listed here.

Important: Students with accessible media accommodations at JMU have access to many additional services and options. Please register with the Office of Disability Services if you need accommodations.

*Note that downloading browser extensions and apps may carry some risk to your computer and privacy. Here are tips to use extensions safely and a guide to protecting your privacy on apps.

Built-in Tools on Laptops and Smart Phones

A ton of accessibility features are built into laptops, desktops, tablets, and phones. You may find you already have all the assistive technology you need.

In the sections below, watch for the Built-In! headings. These sections list tools that come standard in Apple, Microsoft, and Google products.

For general info on accessibility features, check out these links:

Speech-to-Text (Dictation) & Hands Free

Speech to text (STT), aka voice recognition, lets you dictate your writing using your voice. If you find it easier to explain your ideas out loud than to handwrite or type them, STT could be a game changer for you. Hands Free tools allow you to control computer programs with your voice.


Microsoft Dictation
Dictate words into text anywhere on your PC using speech recognition. Windows 10 and newer

Mac Dictate
Type your messages and documents on Mac using your voice. On the Dictate support page, choose your macOS version from the drop-down menu at the top of the page. Instructions for different OS may vary slightly.

Dictation for iOS
To use speech-to-text on your iPhone or iPad, use the microphone button in the bottom right of the keyboard.

Mac Voice Control
Voice Control provides hands-free control of your Mac computer. It includes dictation as well as voice commands to control and navigate computer programs. Available on operating systems beginning with macOS Catalina 10.15.



Voice Typing
Voice Typing is dictation for Google Docs and Google Slides. In the Tools menu, select Voice Typing to get started. Only available using Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge browser is automatic speech-to-text software. Use it to dictate text or create transcripts of recordings. Free “Basic” version provides 300 minutes/month. Paid versions provide more minutes and options. Mac, Windows, iOS, & Android

Gboard for Android: “You can talk to write in most places where you can type with a keyboard.” Android phones & tablets

Text-to-Speech (Audio)

Text-to-Speech (TTS) tools are everywhere these days. Most computers and mobile devices have a built-in reader that can read documents, websites, emails, and other text out loud. Free apps will do the same on your mobile device, and free extensions are available on web browsers. 

Options like voice quality, adjustable reading speeds, highlighting, enlargement, and study support tools vary between products. 


Speech for macOS
Listen to text on your Mac. To learn how to activate Speech, choose your macOS version from the drop-down menu at the top of the page. Instructions for different versions may vary slightly.

Speak for Microsoft Office
Speak will read text aloud in Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Learn how to activate Speak and make it visible in your Quick Access Toolbar.

Immersive Reader
You’ll find Immersive Reader in Microsoft Word, OneNote, Outlook, on and other Microsoft Office locations. Office also features dictation and many learning support tools. Visit the Immersive Reader support page to learn more about these tools and their availability.



Read Out Loud
The Read Out Loud feature in the free Adobe Reader software will read PDFs out loud (as long as the PDFs are formatted correctly). 

CaptiVoice is a web-based TTS reader that offers free and paid versions.  The free version has limited features but good text-to-speech support for listening to PDFs and Word docs. Mac, Windows, iOS, Android

Natural Reader
Natural Reader - Drag & drop files or paste text to be read aloud. Free & paid versions. Paid users can access very high-quality voices. Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Chrome browser extension

Thorium Reader
Thorium Reader (scroll down to view download links)
Reads PDFs, EPUB3, DAISY 3, and more. Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Linux


Free Browser Extensions

Read Aloud
Read Aloud Browser extension is a very simple TTS reader that will read web content out loud, including multiple languages. Voice speed is adjustable. Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, & Firefox

Google Read & Write
Read & Write Browser extension can read aloud web content as well as docs and files in Google Drive. Free trial of full program for 30 days and then some tools stop working. However, the text-to-speech function will continue to work. Google Chrome only

EPUB Reader
EPUB Reader - Browser extension for viewing EPUBs. Firefox



These are not free, but they are staff favorites and really good products. High quality voices, ability to read many formats, easy to use.  All three are relatively inexpensive, and they are one-time purchases (not subscriptions).

Moon+ Reader (GooglePlay)

Voice Dream Reader (iOS and Mac)

Legere Reader (same as Voice Dream but for Android)

Screen Readers

Screen reading software turns electronic text and image description into speech, braille, or both. These programs are most often used by people with visual impairments—sometimes in combination with braille displays or enlargement software—but some sighted people also use them as text-to-speech readers. JAWS, Voice Over, and NVDA are the three most widely used screen readers, & all are available for free.


Voice Over
Voice Over screen reader comes standard with all Apple laptops and iOS devices.

TalkBack screen reader is included on all Android devices.


NVDA – free, open source screen reader from NV Access. PCs running Microsoft Windows 7 and more recent

JAWS - JMU students, faculty, and staff with an active JMU email address can use JAWS, ZoomText, or Fusion for free on your personally-owned equipment. Download a free annual license. (Users at other educational institutions may also qualify if your school owns up-to-date multi-user licenses of the software.) PCs running Windows

Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

If you want to listen to a scanned, image-based document, you’ll need optical character recognition (OCR) to convert the image into actual text. Some scanners have OCR built in, but you'll probably need to enable it. If not, there are other options:


SensusAccess is a document conversion tool available on JMU Libraries’ website. Upload a scanned, inaccessible PDF, PowerPoint, or image file and the program will convert it to eText and email it to you. SensusAccess is available to anyone with an active JMU email address. 

Prizmo Go
The Prizmo Go app lets you take a picture of text (like a book page or menu) with your phone’s camera and then converts it to readable text. It also has text-to-speech built in, so it can read to you out loud. Free and paid versions. iOS (iPhone and iPad)

This mobile app has most of the same functions as Prizmo Go (above). iOS and Android
OCR Scanner at AppStore
OCR Scanner at Google Play

Text Fairy
An OCR Text Scanner app that converts images of text to text. Android
Text Fairy at Google Play

Text Scanner [OCR]
App converts images of text to text. Can also attempt to recognize and convert handwriting to text.
Text Scanner at Google Play

Automatic Captions/Transcription

Please note that automatic captions are machine generated and should not be confused with real captions, which are checked by humans and should be roughly 99% accurate.  In contrast, automatic captions’ accuracy is more like 80% on a good day.

Apps & Services
Some live captioning services and apps are provided for free by the federal government to people with hearing loss. We have not tried the apps at this link but encourage qualifying folks to explore these options. Some utilize live human captioners instead of AI.

Maestra generates free real-time auto captions from any web browser. Using an external mic improves accuracy. can be used to generate transcripts of recordings. Free “Basic” version provides 300 minutes/month. Paid versions provide more minutes and features. Mac, Windows, iOS, & Android



Zoom’s live transcription feature generates automatic captions. Select the “CC” button from the meeting controls. Host must enabled live transcripts.

When in a meeting, participants can click the “CC” button in the bottom left side of the video call to view automatic captions in WebEx.

Google Meet
Turning captions on in Google Meet is as simple as clicking the “CC” button at the bottom of the video call.

Microsoft Teams
To turn on captions in a Teams meeting, click the three dots for more options and choose “Turn on live captions.”

Other platforms with automatic captions

Google Slides

PowerPoint (Microsoft 365/web)

Live captions using One Note + Translator

Digital Books

For students without ODS accommodations, it can be tricky to find digital versions of books. Although most are not free, ebooks can be a great resource. If you wish to listen to your ebook, check before you buy to make sure that audio is available. 

VitalSource and RedShelf both sell and rent ebooks with audio, although the quality of accessibility tools may vary. Make sure to check before purchasing.

You may find electronic versions of older, public domain books on the internet by doing a simple search. However, we do not recommend downloading books from unknown sites.


  • JMU Library Catalog has an extensive collection of subscription journals and ebooks in addition to the print collection.
  • Hathi Trust - partnership of academic and research institutions, offering a collection of millions of titles digitized from libraries around the world.
  • LibriVox – free public domain audio books.
  • Internet Archive - non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.
  • Project Gutenberg – extensive library of books that are in the public domain. View as HTML, or download as EPUB, Kindle eBook, or plaintext.
  • ManyBooks - free ebooks available in multiple formats
  • ReadAnyBook - digital library of ebooks

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