In this episode, James Oates demonstrates how to stream music and play a radio station using an Xbox Music Pass subscription. He shows us how to play a movie on Netflix and pin a favorite TV show to the start screen. Finally, he reviews the accessibility of the popular Twitter client, Tweetium. Throughout the episode, James is relying heavily on Cortana, Microsoft’s personal assistant. Since Cortana is integrated into the Music and Netflix applications, it makes the experience quite simple.
As a visually impaired Windows user, there’s quite a few options out there when it comes to screen reading software for you to choose from… JAWS, Window-Eyes and System Access might be the best known of the commercial screen readers on the market, while in the open-source space there’s one screen reader most visually impaired users have heard of… NVDA, or Non-Visual Desktop Access. While JAWS and it’s brethren are carefully designed, well tested and well supported by their respective creators, they also generally are a bit expensive, especially when factoring in the software maintenance agreements that keep these screen readers up to date. On the other hand, NVDA is a high-quality, open-source and most importantly, free screen reader that I’ve used exclusively for the last 90 days and would highly recommend to Windows users looking for an alternative to the commercial screen readers.
When it comes to installation, NVDA is quite straightforward to install, with an installation wizard that walks you through the process with speech, even if no other screen reader is installed on your system. Basically it’s agreeing to the license, clicking a few buttons and clicking Finish when it’s done. Dead simple… and you’re back to your normal routine.
The experience with NVDA is a bit different than the commercial screen readers, as there’s no special display driver required to make things accessible. NVDA uses the built-in accessibility frameworks in Windows to provide the information it needs to provide spoken feedback of what’s on screen at the moment. What this means is that in some cases, applications that may not have been very accessible under the commercial screen readers might become accessible under NVDA. It’s not always perfect, but I’ve had some applications that I thought were inaccessible using a commercial screen reader become useful to various degrees under NVDA. Your mileage may vary, so don’t be afraid to test out the accessibility of your favorite application.
So, what works well with NVDA? Here’s a short list of applications I use that work quite well, and that you might find useful:
There’s more than just these applications, but these are applications I use, and have found to be quite accessible. Unfortunately, not all applications will work with NVDA, but it’s not due to something with NVDA itself, but the fact that whomever develops the inaccessible application didn’t use any of the accessibility frameworks that Windows or NVDA supports, thereby making the application difficult to use by the visually impaired. This isn’t a problem exclusive to NVDA, but it’s common enough to preclude visually impaired Windows users from using some Windows applications.
NVDA and Plug-Ins
Extensibility is a great thing when it comes to screen readers, and NVDA has a modular plug-in system that adds additional functionality to your NVDA installation. Yes, the commercial screen readers are extensible as well, but it’s a bit less intuitive to add extra functionality to them. With NVDA, it’s simple as downloading a prepackaged add-on, double click, and NVDA handles the rest, even offering to restart so the plug-ins you installed are ready to use. There’s everything from add-ons to enhance your favorite applications to speech synths for better sounding spoken feedback and beyond. It’s up to you which plug-ins you want installed, so go ahead and experiment… NVDA also offers an easy way to remove those pesky plug-ins that you don’t need anymore.
If I had to end this article in one sentence, it would be this: NVDA is a high-quality, free screen reader for the Windows platform worth installing. To expand on that, NV Access has done a quite good job with NVDA, and I strongly encourage you to try it out. participate in the community to make it better and donate if you can afford to do so. Happy accessible computing!
Microsoft announced yesterday that desktop applications will only be supported on devices that have displays of 8inches or above.
Introducing a new application for blind and visually impaired users of iOS devices. “Be My Eyes: delivers as promised. I have used it, and it is amazing! Here is a description from the developer:
What did we learn from Microsoft’s Windows10 press briefing? Let me summarize the event for those of you who have a life and don’t have the time to watch a more than two hour event. Windows10 is coming to PC’s later this year as a free upgrade. Microsoft’s personal assistant, Cortana, is built into the operating system and is voice activated. Many of the features available currently with Microsoft’s Speech Recognition software are now built into Cortana as well.
Join us right here on January 21 at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time to learn about the next chapter for Windows 10.
I am excited to announce how easy it is to compose and post a Tweet on Windows Phone using Cortana. Just activate Cortana, say Twitter-new Tweet. Wait for a sound effect that indicates the microphone is active and awaiting input. Dictate your post. Wait for Narrator to read back your message. If it is correct, press the Tweet button on your app bar, and your Twitter composition is posted. It is very easy and very quick. The Twitter app on Windows Phone still has many other accessibility problems, but this feature works incredibly well.
Introducing GoogleÕs Nexus Player, a streaming media and gaming device that displays content on your television by way of a Wi-Fi connection and a HDMI cable. In this episode, James Oates demonstrates how to perform a voice search using the remote controlÕs built in microphone. He shows us which applications come pre-installed, and how to download and install additional applications. Most importantly, he shows us how to activate and use Talkback, a built in screen reader for devices running Android.
In this episode, James Oates shows us how to add a Skype contact and make a Skype call using Cortana. He shows us how to compose a Tweet and check our timeline on Twitter. Finally, he demonstrates the functionality of the email application. Threw out the episode, he is using the built in screen reader, Narrator, on a Nokia Lumia 635 running Windows Phone 8.1.