Saturday, February 3

update to a free screen reader

Greetings. Here's an announcement of another free screen reader that is open-source, so anyone can modify or suggest changes to it. Try at your own risk, but have fun. Please pardon any formatting errors. Enjoy.

Today I posted revision 315 of NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) to the NVDA website:

NonVisual Desktop Access is an entirely free (and open-source) screen reader for Windows XP and Windows Vista.

It does much more than Microsoft's Narator (including support for Internet Explorer 6 and 7, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Outlook Express, Dos console windows, and much more).

I'm sure there are still bugs, and support for some applications could be a little better, but I personally now use NVDA as my day-to-day screen reader, and I know of others who are now starting to do the same.

Of course the only way for NVDA to grow and become better is for people to use it, and report bugs and suggest new features. Also, I am always interested in help from other programmers who have skills in either the Python programming language, or skills in programming with MSAA and other accessibility APIs.

There have been many changes since revision 164 including:

*Much improved responsiveness for sapi5 synths.
*Much improved support for both Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.
*The addition of easy-to use dialogs, to configure many settings such as voice, pitch, rate, key echo, mouse navigation, object presentation and more.
*A built-in quick-start guide right in the NVDA user interface.
*Massive improvements to the NVDA user interface as far as focus issues are concerned.
*Password protection by saying stars when typing in to protected edit fields.
*All objects are reviewable so you are able to check the spelling of things as you navigate around.
*NVDA can report the groupbox that the object with focus is in (example: advanced page in system dialog, control pannel).
*Beeps are now used to notify the user of changes on progress bars (such as when loading a page in Internet Explorer or Firefox, copying a large file in Windows Explorer, or checking for new email in Outlook Express etc).
*New wave sounds are now used to denote startup, errors, crashes and exit, in NVDA. Previously the PC speaker was used.
*insert+s used to turn speech on and off, but now it toggles between 3 speech modes: talk, beeps and off. Talk is just normal speech, off is off, but beeps, is an idea that came from the Dos screen reader, ASAP. This mode plays a 5ms 10000HZ tone (very high and very short) each time an item of speech is supposed to happen. It is very responsive, and it allows you to deal with the situation when you are doing something that is constantly changing the screen, as in millions of files are scrolling up a dos console, or perhaps you are running a setup program that is constantly telling you what file it is copying etc. If you switch to the beeps speech mode, you only have to wait until the flood of beeps stop and you know the task is finished. This is much faster than having to keep pressing control, or waiting for all the speech to finish.
*Reading of new text on Dos consoles has been much improved. Also NVDA no longer crashes when pressing control+c or exiting a dos console.
*Improved the reading of objects under the mouse more so that hopefully NVDA will not freeze if using the mouse to close a window.
*Improved responsiveness and memory management in some parts of NVDA. Most noticeably NVDA no longer will sometimes freeze up for a second or two when closing some applications.
*When leaving the menu bar or context menu of an application, NVDA now moves back to the correct place of focus and reports it.
*Removed the sapi4 driver because it was causing trouble on a lot of systems, plus it has to be rewritten to solve some problems to do with threading. Now NVDA only supports sapi5.
*Removed the Viavoice driver due to licencing issues.
*Added a say 'cap' before capitals option to NVDA. When on (check the checkbox in voice settings) the word 'cap' will be prepended to any single capital letter spoken. This means either when typing a capital letter with sayTypedCharacters on, or when arrowing on to a capital letter. This was added because some synthesizers may not support pitch and therefore have no way of denoting capital letters.
*Caps lock and Num lock now speak when being turned on and off.
*NVDA no longer hides its user interface on startup by default. If you want it to hide by default, check the "Hide user interface on startup" checkbox in the User Interface settings dialog on the preferences menu.
*Added an option to automatically save the current configuration on exit. (Found in the User Interface settings dialog)
*The NVDA interface now contains a navigatable text control in the main part of its window, which contains a quick-start document explaining how the User interface works, and also documents many useful NVDA key strokes.
*Added a script to report the title of the active window (insert+t). Like speak title in many other screen readers.
*The navigator where am I script (insert+numpadAdd) now starts from the object that is a parent to the current navigator object, rather than starting from the actual current navigator object. This is to make it quicker to find out where you are since you can already report the current navigator object with insert+numpad5. The script now also says the word 'in' before each object to separate the objects more clearly.
*Added a script to report the dimentions and location (in pixles)of the current navigator object (shift+insert+numpad5)


  1. Hi Wayne. I know this is a bit late for your post about the latest version of NVDA, but I thought I'd give you my impressions. I use JFW as my default screen reader at home, but I also have the latest version of NVDA on here. I really like it. I'm glad that a talking installer was finally included, and I'm also glad not to have to use a separate SAPI driver now. I got a part-time job this summer, and I have installed the latest version of NVDA on two computers at work. That's one thing which I don't like about JAWS, i.e., a single user can no longer install his or her copy of JAWS on more than one computer at once. But I suppose this new policy had to be implemented due to piracy concerns. But I did get to use NVDA after I had installed it at work, and everything is functioning just as it should.

  2. Anonymous9:05 PM

    I don't know if you guys know about this one, but NVDA now has a portable version of its screen reader application. It also comes with ESpeak, wich is the screen reader's new default voice that loads when the program loads into memory.

    NVDA is truly a great little free screen reader and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a screen reader without having to pay the high cost of something like Window Eyes, or Jaws. Maybe Bill Gates needs to incorporate NVDA into his Windows operating system, rather than that good for nothing narator. Quite frankly, I don't know why Narator was even put in there. Maybe it was an after thought?

    Anyway, I am a firm believer in the NVDA screen reader, and I plan to distribute it to anyone and every one I possibly can who needs their own screen reader.

    You see, I am the Co-founder of an Internet marketing apprenticeship and coaching program for the blind and visually impaired, and I have already placed the NVDA screen reader as a download on our server for our members.

    After trying out the Thunder screen reader, and then locating the NVDA screen reader, I quickly uninstalled the Thunder screen reader and went with NVDA instead, especially the portable version of it. I can't believe that they're offering this screen reader for free. As a blind Internet marketer, I can automatically see the value in having screen access. I can't run my business without it, and neither can the members of our apprenticeship and coaching program. So for those of you who haven't yet checked out the NVDA screen reader, go and check it out. It is definitely well worth it.