Here are the notes for the December meeting.
Jason Fayre, the Adaptive technology specialist at CNIB, opened the meeting. He began by letting the group know that the next meeting, on January 21, will be on social media with Chelsey Mollar.
There was a go round to introduce ourselves.
Jason began his presentation on comparing screen readers by inviting questions at any time. He said that in the second half, there would be time for small group question and answer. Jason gave some background on his experience with access technology. He worked for Arkenstone, who did early OCR, worked as a tech support representative for Freedom Scientific who makes Jaws, and now works for CNIB.
His concentration will be on Jaws, NVDA and Window Eyes, which are the 3 major screen readers. The intention is to give a clear idea of what each one does, why one might choose one over the other, and what’s good and bad about each one.
Job Access with Speech, or Jaws, has been around as long as DOS in the 80’s. In the mid 90’s they released the first versions for Windows with Windows 3.1 the latest version is Jaws 17. It’s a good product. One deterrent can be cost: around $1100. Moving up from one version to another is about $250, up two versions will be more. If you buy a copy, you can buy an SMA, about $300, which gives you the next 2 upgrades for free. You’re allowed to install Jaws on up to 3 different systems. One of its strengths is efficiency on the internet. Another is the variety of voices available. He demonstrated the default Eloquence voice, then pointed out that the newer voices have greatly improved responsiveness. Insert control S is the keystroke to switch voices. He demonstrated Vocalizer Expressive Ava, a female voice, and pointed out its clarity. You have to have the voice installed before the keystroke will work. Go to help, web resources, then vocalizer expressive if you’re on a version before Jaws 17.
Another place where Jaws really shines is with using Braille. If you want or need to use Jaws without speech, you can do so with a Braille display effectively after some initial configuration. The other area where it excels is training. You get about 16 hours of training materials when you buy the product. Web Aim does a survey each year to rank screen readers. When they started in 2010 or so, Jaws was at 75% use among blind people. It’s now at 30% because more options are available.
A group member asked if Windows 10 is compatible with Jaws 16. Jason answered that as of July this year, Jaws released a version of 16 that does work, so get the latest version of 16.
Another question was what makes Jaws better with the Internet. Jason replied that it’s mostly because they’ve been doing it for a long time, and are constantly updating. Also, a new feature called smart navigation improves access to complex websites.
Another question was about PDF documents. Jason said that Jaws now has a feature that allows you to scan a document and run it through OCR. This is in Jaws 17. With any version of Jaws, go to the help menu where you’ll find an option for What’s New.
Someone asked whether it’s possible to use voice input rather than the keyboard. Jason said that it’s always advisable to know the keyboard, but there are two products called JSay and Dragon Dictate that, used together, will allow you to use speech input. This option is very expensive however, so if you don’t actually need to dictate, you’re better off learning to type if you can. A group member noted that ADP will pay for these products if they’re necessary.
Jason continued with NVDA. He said that NVDA nonvisual desktop access, is what he uses himself. NV access out of Australia produces it. It’s free, and it’s very good. A couple of blind guys started developing it in 2006 to level the playing field. In many countries access technology is prohibitively expensive. Currently NVDA is available in 40 languages and run in 120 countries. It has about 20% of the screen reader market. NVDA is totally free. They do ask for donations, because its development is run on grants and donations. Jason said he donates regularly. Because it’s free, the voice used has to be free. The voices Jaws uses are owned by Nuance Communications Jaws pays them for their voices. NVDA has to use a free voice; the one they use is called ESpeak. Newcomers to synthetic voices can be easily turned off by it. There are options. One is to use voices that come built into Windows. They’re free but not very responsive. There are also companies who have made better voices available for NVDA. About $90 will buy you a range of voices to choose from. These are the same voices you can get on the IPhone. A good thing about NVDA is that it’s snappy and responsive, even more so than Jaws. It’s as good as Jaws or better on the internet, particularly with firefox. Jason said he liked to use NVDA partly because he likes to support an organization run by blind people. One of its drawbacks is working in corporate environments. PowerPoint and Microsoft Excel are difficult or undoable. For most things people do at home, NVDA is perfectly functional. NVDA made a point of making its interface similar to what Jaws uses. ESpeak can go very very fast if you like high speed speech. Microsoft Office support is getting better, but it’s not there yet. Braille support is coming along too. It can support Braille input in grade 1. Output is sketchy, it depends what display you’re using. It’s still not seamless. NVDA on the internet uses very much like Jaws, headings is H, buttons is B, they made an effort so that there would be less of a learning curve. NVDA works quite well with Windows 10, maybe a bit better than Jaws. He advises not to upgrade to Windows 10 if you can help it. You have 30 days to back out if you do upgrade.
A group member asked for a demo of NVDA on a web page. He did a Google search. He demonstrated using H to move between headings, and showed using F7 to get a links list. The links list is called an elements list, because you can get lists of other elements like headings, not just a list of links. The best experience with NVDA on the internet will be with Firefox. It also works with Crone. Chrome is generally not good for accessibility. One drawback of NVDA is the lack of technical support, because it’s a free utility. They’re working on some paid options for support, but there are many online groups for peer support. Their website has resources to link you to paid training, remote or in person. The question was asked whether NVDA has remote access capability. Jason replied that there’s an add on called NVDA remote, which allows someone to remote into your system, or visa versa, for training or troubleshooting purposes. Jaws has a version of this too.
The third option for screen readers is Window Eyes. It is produced by A I Squared, which used to be called GW Micro. It’s been around since about 1998. In the last few years they made an agreement with Microsoft such that, if you own a copy of Microsoft Office, you can get Window Eyes for free. http://www.windoweyesforoffice.com. It will make sure you have a licensed copy of Office, then you can download Window Eyes. Their web support has improved significantly lately so that it’s on par with Jaws and NVDA. Many companies are moving to a model of subscribing rather than downright ownership. For example, a $7 per month fee will get you access to Microsoft Office. This can be a more financially accessible option. Window Eyes comes with training materials available online. There were stability issues with Window Eyes in the past, but that’s mostly ironed out now. There’s a new product called Zoomtext fusion, Zoomtext combined and integrated with a functional screen reader. Someone transitioning from large print to speech would find this useful. It’s new in the past few months. The agreement with Microsoft Office doesn’t apply to the fusion product. The cost might be somewhere around $1000 U.S.. Window Eyes is used in corporate environments, but not as commonly as Jaws.
Each of these 3 products has in common that they’re supported by scripting. This means that if you have to use a product that isn’t compatible by default, it’s possible to write code to make the screen reader interact properly. A group member pointed out that Apple endorses the use of Window Eyes over any other screen reader for using ITunes.
You can find some podcasts about using Jaws with various products at
The group broke up into informal conversation.
Yin gave a report of a phone meeting with gtt people from around the country.
Monthly there’s a phone call between the leaders of the various gtt groups. In the last one, Kim gave a history, in 2012 the first meeting in Ottawa took place. Kim got a grant to expand the gtt groups. This is how groups in various provinces and cities started. The latest Ontario gtt group is in Northern Ontario. Communities are pretty spread out, so they host phone meetings.
The needs identified for groups as a whole at the moment are: how to use an Android phone, magnifying devices. How can we accumulate all this information in one place that’s accessible, and how to keep this data base up to date. They mentioned there’s an IPhone 1-800 number, and a Microsoft accessibility line. This information will be made available soon. Apple accessibility and Microsoft answer accessibility desk. The group in Ottawa sometimes breaks up into small groups, or sometimes just operates informally.
Ian asked our group at large how people would like to structure the second half of meetings. Are we happy with informal, or do we want more structure? The trend seemed to be toward less formality. A suggestion was made that during introductions, people might give their name, plus what they are hoping to get out of the meeting as a way to identify themselves to the group. Also, there might be meetings without pre-defined topics to allow people to get specific things addressed. The third idea was for a phone meeting.
Tom Decker was the minute taker for the phone meeting of group leaders from across the country, so information about that phone meeting will show up on Facebook. Kim is a faithful blog writer. Contact her to subscribe, we will post her email address. Gtt.firstname.lastname@example.org is how our information gets distributed. Subscribing there will get you access to all information. There’s a monthly open conference call for any participants.