NVDA 101

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Due to the current pandemic, I have become more thankful for screen readers, instead of taking them for granted. A screen reader allows a person who is blind or visually impaired the ability to access text on-screen in braille and/or by listening to text converted to computerized speech. In September, I wrote a blog article about

useful features in the JAWS screen reader

for Windows operating system. Since I find a free screen reader called NVDA useful as well, I decided to write an article about NVDA. In this blog post, I will focus on features of NVDA which I value.

NVDA,

referenced throughout this article, stands for non-visual desktop access. Before discussing features, I will give a brief overview of this free screen reader. According to the relevant

“about” page,

development of NVDA began in 2006 with the work of two blind people. To support further development, they founded a not-for-profit company,

NV Access.

If you would like to try NVDA for yourself, I provided a link to the NVDA download page in the first sentence of this paragraph. My discussion of NVDA features focuses on some features mentioned in section 1.1 of the

NVDA User Guide.

As of this writing, NVDA is currently version 2020.3. I will now begin discussing some NVDA features.

One NVDA feature which caught my attention years ago is the ability to install the screen reader on a USB thumb drive so installation on a computer is not mandatory. This means that after successful portable installation on the USB, a blind person can access a Windows computer simply by plugging in the drive. I myself have not needed to create a portable version of NVDA during the screen reader’s installation. However, the feature may be useful for other blind people. A feature which I find useful is NVDA’s ability to access secure Windows screens.

When I referenced secure screens above, I refer to situations such as the lock screen or sign-in screen. Granted, JAWS has essentially the same functionality in this area. However, if I walk away for a time while NVDA is loaded, I don’t need to worry about a lack of speech upon my return. After I press a key to wake the computer up, NVDA tells me I am on the lock screen. I can then press escape, press the sign-in button and return to what I was doing. This may seem like a small feature to some people, but for me access to secure screens gives me peace of mind in such situations. The final NVDA feature I will discuss pertains to the command prompt.

The Command Prompt reminds me of the Microsoft DOS operating system which I used two decades ago, although I know the Windows Command Prompt is different. Readers can get there by typing “command prompt” in the start menu search box, without the quotes, and press enter. You can get out of Command Prompt by typing “exit” without quotes. A simple example of using NVDA on Command Prompt is the Windows system file checker (SFC). When I use SFC with NVDA to scan for and automatically repair any problems found in system files, I can hear the progress. I hear when the process has started, then the percentage of completion as long as the command prompt is the active window. If I alt+tab away from it, NVDA will read the percentage of scan completion when I put focus back on the Command Prompt. The ability to hear information about SFC is definitely useful for me because I know what is happening. The features which I wrote about here only scratch the surface of NVDA’s capabilities. For more, I recommend consulting the NVDA User’s Guide linked to above.

Question for readers: If you use assistive technology, whether a screen reader or something else, what technology do you find useful and what features do you find valuable? I will return next week with another article.

1 thought on “NVDA 101”

  1. Thanks Blake, great piece! Here are a couple more NVDA resources people might be interested in:

    – A reference page for those switching from Jaws to NVDA at: https://github.com/nvaccess/nvda-community/wiki/SwitchingFromJawsToNVDA

    – Comprehensive, official training material available: https://www.nvaccess.org/shop/

    – There is an online conference coming up: https://www.nvdacon.org/

    – And an email user group: https://nvda.groups.io/g/nvda

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