I went to Texpo 2012 last week (7 September) at the Vision Australia office in Brisbane and learnt heaps. So much so that this post is going to be broken into three parts.
Texpo is Vision Australia’s annual expo for blindness, low vision and disability services. Suppliers showcased a range of blindness and low vision support products such as magnifiers, Braille output devices, phones and scanners. But being a web guy, the stuff that interested me most was the NVDA screenreader demo, accessible mobile apps, the Vision Australia library ebook collection and audio descriptions (pre-recorded for DVDs and live descriptions for theatre), so that’s what I’ll focus on. This post will focus on NVDA.
I got to Texpo just as it was being opened by Tracy Davis, the QLD Minister for Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services. This was interesting to see Tracy after the announcement by the Queensland government to run their own trial of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Tracy didn’t mention it much apart from the say that the Queensland government wants to allow individuals to manage their own disability services.
The demo of the NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) screenreader was by its developers – Michael Curran and Jamie Teh from NVaccess.
NVDA is open source and is free to download, use and update. As 69% of working age blind or low vision Australians are not in paid employment, this makes it a great alternative to JAWS (currently the most popular screenreader in Australia) and other screen readers that come at price tags of around $600. There are other free screenreaders around such as WebAnywhere, a web-based solution, and Media Access Australia has a review of free and low cost screenreaders on their website.
Getting to NVDA’s features, it supports around 38 languages and runs on Windows platforms from XP up to the soon to be released Windows 8.
Other features are that it can output to Braille devices and reads out text the mouse is hovering over, which is very helpful for low vision users. It can also run portably from a USB drive so a user can take it anywhere and have access to a screenreader without having to install any software. I think that’s particularly cool and helpful because assistive technology users often have a hard time using machines other than their own because they have so many customised settings that are difficult to replicate.
For me as an accessibility consultant, NVDA is great for doing screenreader testing because it free (but you should really make a donation to NVaccess since Mick and Jamie live from this). This means it’s also really helpful for web teams to install and use as part of their accessibility testing procedures. Something that’s also really useful for sighted users doing testing (since we’re not used to listening to a screenreader and can find it overwhelming even if it’s using the default speaking speed – which pretty fast) is the Speech Viewer feature which opens a floating window that displays the text that NVDA is currently speaking.
Part 2 of this post will cover accessible mobile apps and part 3 will cover digital publishing, audio descriptions and anything else I picked up.
Richard Corby is a web accessibility expert and is a partner at Webbism.