Can screen readers speak Irish?

JAWS logo on a green background with text "Tá JAWS For Windows réidh", in English this means JAWS for Windows is ready.

It’s currently Seachtain na Gaeilge [1], the annual festival celebrating Irish language and culture, and we’re taking the opportunity to answer a simple but important question: can screen readers speak Irish?

Traditionally the answer to this question was no, but in recent times, things have started to change.

It began with a project called Abair [2], which started its life in the Phonetics and Speech Laboratory in Trinity College Dublin. Abair, the Irish word meaning “say”, offers a plugin for the NVDA screen reader. It gives you access to the three major Irish dialects: Ulster (Gaoth Dobhair), Connacht (Connemara), and Munster (Corca Dhuibhne). It’s great in that it’s available for free and can provide vital access to those looking to do Irish homework for example.

Abair was a huge step forward when it first launched, but I think even its creators would openly say it wasn’t perfect. It couldn’t jump between English and Irish so you had to pick one or the other. Abair did let you switch all NVDA menus to Gaeilge, but realistically you were always going to stumble across some Béarla [3] that Abair couldn’t handle.

Abair never made its way to iOS or any other platforms for that matter, but what it did do was prove that something like this was possible.

Abair’s NVDA plugin doesn’t look to have received major upgrades in years, but it was now time for others to up the game.

Let’s make Irish videos

The development of Irish language solutions for screen readers hasn’t moved far since Abair, but video narration tool Narakeet did move things forward.

Narakeet has three Irish voices, Aoife, Eamon and Dearbhla. The first time I heard these voices back in 2022, I must say they were kind of mind blowing. The quality was exceptional, so much so that I immediately emailed the company to talk to them about screen readers. They were fully aware of screen readers, but unfortunately they were a tiny business. It simply wasn’t something they had the capacity to pursue. They also explained that their tech runs in the Cloud and unfortunately couldn’t run locally as needed by a screen reader. Narakeet was another step forward, but we still weren’t quite there.

Microsoft’s immersive reader has improved its Irish pronunciations and Alexa can also translate to Irish now. There’s certainly been progress but we still don’t have an amazing text-to-speech engine that can enable Irish language screen reader access.

I’m confident that eventually we’ll get there, but I do think we need to see a company like Apple make the first move and introduce Irish language support for VoiceOver.

Irish language accessibility

So if screen readers aren’t great at Irish, can you make Irish language content accessible? You absolutely can, by providing alternative ways to get the Irish language content. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to provide everything in English, but you might decide to provide your own Irish language audio.

Make your website accessible to Irish language speakers

We have the knowhow to help you make your website accessible, no matter the language spoken by your users. Email to get in touch with us.

Pronunciation Guide

[1] Seachtain na Gaeilge
[2] Abair
[3] Béarla, meaning “English”