I’m not blind, but after reading Graham’s McCreath’s The Politics of Blindness I’ve been trying to be more aware of their problems with viewing data online. For example, I can’t figure out how a blind person makes sense of Windows – after all, many sighted people have problems!
I also can’t understand how blind people can afford to use the Internet or a computer – after all, screen reader programs like Jaws are in the thousands of dollars, and devices that ‘print’ online text in Braille form are likewise incredibly high priced for the average person – blind or not.
So I was pleased to notice while doing some research that there is one free solution – a Windows screen reader for the blind called NVDA, from the NVDA Project.
This program (which you can download from their site), is a real treat to play with – run it, install, and then move your mouse around the screen. Incredibly, it speaks back to your whatever you put the mouse over! It’s not perfect, but I found it very informative when I closed my eyes – which I guess is where it is especially useful.
The program resides as a tray icon, which you right click to stop when you’re done, or to play with settings. For example, I did find the default voice, while fun, could be improved. Using these settings, you can choose Preferences; Synthesizer; Synthesizer from the menu and select “Microsoft API version 5″ (in Windows 7, at least). The result is a much improved female voice. However, even if that’s not available, there is a huge selection of voices to change to – go to Preferences; Voice settings; Variant and choose ‘Mr.Serious’ for example.
Apparently, it also connects to Braille displays for tactile output of the text using brltty (a Linux braille reader device driver) – however, not having one, I couldn’t try that feature out.
So if you know someone who could benefit from this, please pass on the information and links – and of course, feel free to visit NVDA’s website and donate – I’m sure it will help!