Welcome to the 'FREE' Scoop!

March 2013
By Michael Mello, Access Technology (AT) Specialist

Everyone likes learning about free options, so in this month’s installment of the AT Scoop, I am taking a look at NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA).

NVDA is a free and open alternative to mainstream screen reading applications for Microsoft Windows. NVDA provides the same level of support in most typical applications that you would come to expect from a modern screen reader. The only difference is that NVDA is free software and developed by NV Access free of charge.

I decided to take NVDA for a test drive with Version 2012.3.1, the latest stable release of NVDA. The first thing that you will notice is that when you install NVDA the program begins speaking right away; you are able to install NVDA without any assistance. In addition, NVDA supports over 30 languages and several Refreshable Braille displays right out of the box. You have the option to install NVDA on your computer or, if you would like, you can install a portable version on a USB Flash Drive. The portable option is handy if you would like to temporarily have access on a computer that is not your own such as your friend’s laptop.

NVDA comes with several Text to Speech (TTS) voices and, if you would like to use your own, NVDA does support both SAPI4 and SAPI5 voices. NVDA uses modified keystrokes to perform NVDA specific commands; users are able to select what key to use as the “NVDA key” the first time the program starts.

Some of the most common questions I get from people who are interested in NVDA are:

Does NVDA work with Microsoft Office applications like Word and Outlook?

NVDA works quite well in Microsoft Word for writing and editing a document and in accessing the ribbon toolbar of Office 2010. NVDA will detect spelling mistakes as you type. In Outlook, reading and responding to messages also works well.

OK, so what about using the Web?

NVDA was designed from the ground up to work with the Web.  Using NVDA, I have performed several Google searches, visited social media sites, and read the latest news from the Seattle Times. NVDA uses keystrokes that users of popular screen readers will be familiar with when navigating around websites, such as the “H” to move between headings on a web page. NVDA works with the popular Firefox web browser as well as with Internet Explorer.

Bottom line, does it work?

NVDA is a promising option for users who are looking for a solution that provides intermediate access to most Windows functions and the Web in a free package. For more advanced functions, for now, you may want to stick with your preferred mainstream screen reader. As an alternative, NVDA is quite viable for most users, and if nothing else, give it a try—after all, it is free!

In the AT Scoop, Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) does not intend to endorse or recommend any commercial products, processes, or services. All opinions expressed in this article and in the AT Scoop are those of the individual authors. The views and opinions of authors expressed on DSB's website do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Government, and they may not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes.

For more information on Assistive Technology, email us at info@dsb.wa.gov.