Guest Post: Getting the Job Done with Assistive Technology: It May Be Easier Than You Think, AccessWorld

Getting the Job Done with Assistive Technology: It May Be Easier Than You Think | AccessWorld
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Getting the Job Done with Assistive Technology: It May Be Easier Than You Think | AccessWorld
Author Jamie Pauls
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Jamie Pauls

I remember getting my first computer back in the early 90s almost like it was yesterday. A friend of mine was receiving regular treatments from a massage
therapist who happened to be blind. My friend mentioned that this gentleman used a computer with a screen reader. I was vaguely aware that this technology
existed, but I never really considered using a computer myself until that first conversation I had with my friend. I began doing some research, and eventually
purchased my first computer with a screen reader and one program included. I’m sure there were a few other programs on that computer, but WordPerfect is
the only one I recall today. The vendor from whom I purchased the computer came to my home, helped me get the computer up and running, and gave me about
a half-hour of training on how to use the thing. A few books from what is now
Learning Ally
as well as the
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
along with some really late nights were what truly started me on my journey. I sought guidance from a few sighted friends who were more than willing to
help, but didn’t have any knowledge about assistive technology. There were times when I thought I had wasted a lot of money and time, but I eventually
grew to truly enjoy using my computer.

I eventually became aware of a whole community of blind people who used assistive technology. They all had their preferred screen reader, and most people
used only one. Screen readers cost a lot of money and hardware-based speech synthesizers increased the cost of owning assistive tech. Unless the user was
willing to learn how to write configuration files that made their screen reader work with specific programs they wanted or needed to use, it was important
to find out what computer software worked best with one’s chosen screen reader. I eventually outgrew that first screen reader, and spent money to switch
to others as I learned about them. I have no idea how much money I spent on technology in those early years, and that is probably for the best!

Fast forward 25 years or so, and the landscape is totally different. I have a primary desktop PC and a couple laptop computers all running Windows 10.
I have one paid screen reader—JAWS for Windows from
Vispero
—and I use two free screen-reading solutions—NVDA, from
NVAccess
and Microsoft’s built-in screen reader called Narrator.

I also have a MacBook Pro running the latest version of Apple’s Mac operating system that comes with the free VoiceOver screen reader built in. I have
access to my wife’s iPad if I need to use it, and I own an iPhone 8 Plus. These devices also run VoiceOver. Finally, I own a BrailleNote Touch Plus,
HumanWare’s
Android-based notetaker designed especially for the blind.

Gone are the days when I must limit myself to only one screen reader and one program to get a task accomplished. If a website isn’t behaving well using
JAWS and Google’s Chrome browser, I might try the same site using the Firefox browser. If I don’t like the way JAWS is presenting text to me on that website,
maybe I’ll switch to NVDA. If the desktop version of a website is too cluttered for my liking, I’ll often try the mobile version using either Safari on
my iPhone, or Chrome on my BrailleNote Touch.

The lines between desktop application and Internet site have blurred to the point that I honestly don’t think about it much anymore. It is often possible
to use either a computer or a mobile device to conduct banking and purchase goods.

So what makes all this added flexibility and increased choice possible, anyway? In many cases, the actual hardware in use is less expensive than it used
to be, although admittedly products such as the BrailleNote Touch are still on the high end of the price spectrum. Along with the availability of more
screen readers and magnification solutions than ever before, the cost of most of these solutions has come down greatly. Even companies like Vispero that
still sell a screen reader that can cost over a thousand dollars if purchased outright are now offering software-as-a-service options that allow you to
pay a yearly fee that provides the latest version of their software complete with updates for as long as you keep your subscription active.

While some may not consider free options such as NVDA or Narrator to be as powerful and flexible as JAWS, they will be perfectly adequate for other people
who aren’t using a computer on the job complete with specialized software that requires customized screen reader applications to make it work properly.
There are those who will rightly point out that free isn’t really free. You are in fact purchasing the screen reader when you buy a new computer as is
the case with VoiceOver on the Mac. While this may be true, the shock to the pocketbook may not be as noticeable as it would be if you had to plunk down
another thousand bucks or so for assistive technology after you had just purchased a new computer.

In addition to the advancements in screen reading technology along with the reduced cost of these products, app and website developers are becoming increasingly
educated about the needs of the blind community. I once spoke with a game developer who told me that he played one of his games using VoiceOver on the
iPhone for six weeks so he could really get a feel for how the game behaved when played by a blind person. Rather than throwing up their hands in frustration
and venting on social media about how sighted developers don’t care about the needs of blind people, many in the blind community are respectfully reaching
out to developers, educating them about the needs of those who use assistive technology, and giving them well-deserved recognition on social media when
they produce a product that is usable by blind and sighted people alike. Also, companies like Microsoft and Apple work to ensure that their screen readers
work with the company’s own including Safari and Microsoft Edge. Google and Amazon continue to make strides in the area of accessibility as well. Better
design and standards make it more likely that multiple screen readers will work well in an increasing number of online and offline scenarios.

You may be someone who is currently comfortable using only one screen reader with one web browser and just a few recommended programs on your computer.
You may be thinking that everything you have just read in this article sounds great, but you may be wondering how to actually apply any of it in your life.
First, I would say that if you are happy with your current technology then don’t feel intimidated by someone else who uses other solutions. That said,
I would urge you to keep your screen reading technology up to date as far as is possible. Also, make sure that you are using an Internet browser that is
fully supported by the websites you frequently visit. This will ensure that your experience is as fulfilling as it should be. For example, though Microsoft
Internet Explorer has been a recommended browser for many years for those using screen access technology due to its accessibility, it is no longer receiving
feature updates from Microsoft, and therefore many modern websites will not display properly when viewed using it.

If you think you would like to try new applications and possibly different assistive technology solutions but you don’t know where to start, keep reading.

Back when I first started using a computer, I knew of very few resources to which I could turn in order to gain skills in using assistive technology. Today,
there are many ebooks, tutorials, webinars, podcasts, and even paid individual training services available for anyone who wishes to expand their knowledge
of computers and the like. One excellent resource that has been referenced many times in past issues of AccessWorld is
Mystic Access,
where you can obtain almost every kind of training mentioned in the previous sentences. Another resource you may recognize is the
National Braille Press,
which has published many books that provide guidance on using various types of technology. Books from National Braille Press can generally be purchased
in both braille or in electronic formats.

There are also many online communities of people with vision loss who use a specific technology. Two of the most well known are
AppleVis
for users of iOS devices and the
Eyes-Free Google Group
for users of the Android platform. Both communities are places where new and long time users of these platforms can go to find assistance getting started
with the technology or for help troubleshooting issues they may encounter.

While I vividly recall my first experiences as a novice computer user, it is almost impossible for me to imagine actually going back to those days. Today,
the landscape is rich and the possibilities are endless for anyone who wishes to join their sighted counterparts in using today’s technology. While there
are still many hurdles to jump, I am confident that things will only continue to improve as we move forward.

So fear not, intrepid adventurer. Let’s explore this exciting world together. In the meantime, happy computing!

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

Comment on this article.

Related articles:

list of 2 items
• Looking Back on 20 Years of Assistive Technology: Where We’ve Been and How Far and Fast We’ve Come
by Bill Holton
• Getting the Most out of Sighted Computer Assistance: How to Help the Helpers
by Bill Holton
list end

More by this author:

list of 2 items
• Pinterest Takes Steps Toward Accessibility
• A Review of “Stress Less, Browse Happy: Your Guide to More Easily and Effectively Navigating the Internet with a Screen Reader,” an audio tutorial from
Mystic Access
list end

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GTT Beginners National Conference Call Summary Notes, NVDA Session One, January 22, 2019

GTT Beginners National Conference Call

The NVDA Screen Reader, Session One

 

Summary Notes

 

January 22, 2019

 

What is NVDA,

NVDA is a screen reader.

 

What does NVDA stand for.

Non visual desktop access.

 

Where do i get NVDA.

You can do a google search for NVDA free download or you can go to NVaccess.org and hit enter on the download which will take you to a donate page and if you hit the up arrow on the thirty dollar field you will see it change to not this time, now tab twice to download now.

Remember that NVDA relies on donations so if you can afford it send a donation to support and they also have a tutorial and language pack you can purchase.

 

During the install process you will get the option to select capslock as the NVDA modifier key; by default the insert key is the modifier key.

To get into the menu after completing the instal press the NVDA key and the letter n at the same time then down arrow  which will be preference, then right arrow to settings and hit enter.  You are now into a tree view of all your NVDA settings.

 

In the tree view the first item is general, use the tab key to go through the items for your general settings.

To move to different settings, ie from general to speech, use the down arrow.

 

 

Now lets talk a little about addons. An addon allows you to enhance NVDA.  You can get add ons at the following link,

https://addons.nvda-project.org/index.en.html

The first add on you should install is the windows 10 essential, after you have downloaded the add on just go to your download folder and install it as you would any program or app.

 

Now lets go back to the NVDA settings,

Below preferences

You will have tools and right arrow and up arrow to addons. There you will see all the addons you have installed and there you can uninstall or disable the ones you wish. We will expand on our next call.

 

Ok if you are not bored to death yet lets talk about shortcut keys, don’t run away just yet i will only give you a few and you can go to the user guide for specific ones.

To start NVDA, control+alt+N

To close NVDA, NVDA+Q

To learn what keys do what and learn your keyboard layout, NVDA+1.

To put NVDA in sleep mode, handy for applications with built inreaders, NVDA+S.

To wake up NVDA, NVDA+S twice.

To check battery level, NVDA+shift+B.

To check the time and date, NVDA+F12 will give you the time, press twice for the date.

 

I hope this was helpfull and join us February 26th for our NVDA beginners session part 2.

 

GTT WordPress Blog, Facebook and Twitter Feeds:

 

If you wish to follow the CCB-GTT Groups now starting to gather all over Canada, you can do so by registering your email address as follows.  Registering will have you receiving each announcement in your email inbox without any effort on your part.

 

Here’s how to register:

 

  1. Point your Web Browser to,

www.GTTProgram.Blog

  1. Find the link near the bottom of the Web Page called “Follow” and press the Enter Key.
  2. This will take you to a page where you may type in your email address.
  3. Tab to the “Sign Me Up” Button and Press the Space Bar or Enter Key. This will prompt the sending of a message to the email address provided.
  4. Launch your Email Program and find an email message from the GTT Program Blog and open it.
  5. Scroll through the message to find the Confirm Link and Press the Enter Key.
  6. This will take you to the GTT Program Blog and should display a message confirming that you have been successfully registered to receive ongoing Blog Posts.

 

Congratulations!  You’re part of the GTT Team.    Welcome aboard.

 

To stay in touch with the CCB and GTT on Twitter please follow the three Twitter Feeds listed below:

 

@GTTWest @GTTProgram @CCBNational

 

To see what GTT is up to across Canada, and to ask your burning questions you can become a member of the Facebook Group at:

 

https://m.facebook.com/groups/414313508657159?refid=27

 

For more information please contact:

 

Albert Ruel on the West Coast:                   or          Kim Kilpatrick in Ottawa

Email: Albert.GTT@CCBNational.net                              Email: gttprogram@gmail.com

Or Toll Free: 1-877-304-0968

 

 

 

GTT Toronto Summary Notes, NVDA Session One, November 15, 2018

Summary Notes

 

GTT Toronto Adaptive Technology User Group

November 15, 2018

 

An Initiative of the Canadian Council of the Blind

In Partnership with the CNIB

 

The most recent meeting of the Get Together with Technology (GTT) Toronto Group was held on Thursday, November 15 at the CNIB Community Hub.

 

*Note: Reading Tip: These summary notes apply HTML headings to help navigate the document. With screen readers, you may press the H key to jump forward or Shift H to jump backward from heading to heading.

 

November Topic: NVDA Session One

 

GTT Toronto Meeting Summary Notes can be found at this link:

 

Ian White (Facilatator, GTT)

Jason Fayre (Presenter, CNIB)

Chris Malec (Note taker)

 

Ian opened the meeting:

The meeting began with a roundtable discussion. A member is getting a new computer soon, and asked about what software is compatible with what. Jason answered that Jaws 2018 and Office 365 work well together, as do Office and NVDA. For browsers, Microsoft Edge isn’t quite there yet in terms of accessibility. Chrome is quite reliable, and Internet Explorer is increasingly not useful. It’s not being updated, so it can’t support new web technologies. It’s really important, if you can, to keep your screen reader up-to-date, because browsers and websites are constantly being updated. Office 365 updates monthly for example. The latest version of Jaws is 2019, which came out two weeks ago. Jaws has always done the typical upgrade system, where you can purchase a maintenance agreement that gives you the next two upgrades. In the U.S. they’re going to an annual subscription fee around $60, which gives you regular upgrades. This plan isn’t in Canada yet.

Jason then demonstrated the small speaker he will be using for his presentation. It’s called an Anker SoundCore Mini. It’s about the size of a tennis ball, and they’re quite cheap, $30 on Amazon. Anker makes iPhone chargers and speakers. It’s Bluetooth enabled, has an audio jack, an FM radio built in, and a micro SD slot. It has a really good battery life too.

Jason also demonstrated a new type of Bluetooth keyboard available for the iPhone, called a Tap keyboard. You wear it on your hand. It looks like five rings connected by a cable, and goes on your thumb and each finger. You type by using defined gestures, tapping on a hard surface. For example, each finger is a vowel, and other letters are made by various finger combinations. It’s possible to get quite fast with it. It’s fully accessible. It’s useful for typing on the go. It’s about $200 off Amazon. The company is called Tap Systems. There were some blind people involved in designing it. It allows you to type with one hand. It has a VoiceOver mode, so that you can control your phone with it. It’s gotten a lot of mainstream press related to virtual reality systems. A member asked about the best browser to use with Jaws. Jason said Chrome is the safest, but that FireFox works well too. There was an issue with FireFox for a couple of weeks, but it’s resolved now. Compatibility can be a problem; FireFox won’t work with Jaws16 for example.

 

 

Primary Presentation, NVDA:

Ian introduced the topic. NVDA is an acronym for Non-Visual Desktop Access. According to their website, it was the idea of a couple of Australian developers who have vision loss. They wanted to design a free screen reader as a social justice cause; many people in the developing world need screen readers, but can’t afford what was available. Whole sectors of the populations were cut off from computer technology. They decided to build an open-source screen reader, so that anyone who wants to, can add content. It’s available as a free download. They now occupy about 31% of the screen reader market globally.. Jaws has about 48%. This trend has been steady. It’s been translated into 43 languages, and is being used in 128 countries world wide, by millions of users. They do ask for donations if you’re able, because that helps keep it going. The updates come automatically, and are free as well.

Jason discussed making the topic of NVDA a multi-evening topic, in order to focus on different aspects of using it.

You can find NVDA at NVAccess.com or dot org. From the site, there’s a download link. When you do this, the first screen asks for donations, either one-time, or on-going. The default is a one-time $30 donation, so you need to find the button on the page that says “I don’t want to donate at this time.” You have to have Windows7 or better to run it. NVDA is labelled by year, then by version, so that NVDA 2018.3 is the third release for this year. There are usually four releases per year.

Jason then demonstrated the installation process. In response to a member question, Jason said that you can also download it to something like a Microsoft Surface. It does have limited touch control. It works on Windows only, not Apple or Linyx. The installation process is a series of simple steps, and then a very short installation time compared to Jaws. Jaws typically takes 5-10 minutes, and NVDA took less than a minute. Once you start the installer, NVDA will talk to you in its own voice during the install.

A dialogue comes up inviting you to configure. You’ll be asked which keyboard layout you want to use: laptop or desktop. The desktop layout uses a numeric keypad for many functions. Laptop mode uses other key combinations, assuming you don’t have a numeric keypad. If you’re installing it as your primary screen reader, check the box that says to load automatically when starting your system.

You are then asked about whether you will allow data collection about your use of NVDA, for development purposes.

The voice that came up in Jason’s demo was the default Microsoft voice. This is new. E-Speak, the voice that used to come up had a well-earned reputation for being intolerable. Though unpleasant to some, E-Speak has lightning-fast response times and speech rate compared to the Microsoft voice.

There are other options for voices. You can buy add-ons for around $100, that will allow you to use Eloquence or Vocalizer voices, some of the voices you might be used to from Jaws or on your iPhone. You could have Apple Samantha as your default NVDA voice. Even within Microsoft there are a few passable voice options.

Many navigation functions will remain the same, because they’re Windows hotkeys with no relationship to the screen reader. You can adjust the speech rate from within NVDA preferences, or there’s a shortcut keystroke.

There’s a quick-help mode that you can activate with insert1. The help mode is a toggle, and it’s the same keystroke as Jaws. NVDA has tried to reproduce as many of the same keystrokes as they could.

If you go to the NVDA menu under help, there’s a quick reference section. This brings up a webpage with all NVDA commands. All of the commands are reassignable. There’s also a “what’s new” section, and a user guide.

NVDA works with a good range of braille displays.

It will work with all the major applications that you’re likely to use. In terms of browsers, you’re still better off with Chrome or FireFox.

 

There are built-in sound effects to indicate actions like pop-up windows. The level of announcements you get is configurable. Navigation commands within documents are the same as Jaws. Just as with Jaws, insert F gives information about the font.

Because NVDA is a free product, it doesn’t have free tech support. You can, however, purchase hourly tech support, in blocks of hours, at around $13, and the block will last a year. There’s also a very high-traffic mailing list to ask questions of other users. There’s also a training guide which you can purchase. It’s more structured, and has a series of tutorials. It’s $30 Australian, and is  quite good. There are three different courses, basic, Excel, and Word. Each are $30, and worth it. You can get them in audio for a bit more money, or as braille, which is also more expensive.

Ian contributed that you can ask an NVDA question in a Google search, and will most likely find an answer.

Excel, Word, Outlook, Thunderbird, and the major browsers work well. Occasionally you’ll find an application where NVDA works better than Jaws, perhaps because the developers wanted to use it.

Because of licensing, you can’t use your Jaws Eloquence voice in NVDA. To compare, the NVDA installer is 21 meg, and the Jaws installer is well over 100. NVDA also works faster. There’s an NVDA pronunciation dictionary.

As Jaws does, opening Google lands you in the search field. NVDA has the same concept of forms mode. The home and arrow keys work the same as Jaws when navigating webpages. There’s a current Chrome bug in which entering text into the search field causes the phrase to be spoken repeatedly as you enter each keystroke.

You can use H and numbers one, two and three to move through headings. Insert F7 brings up an elements list. It defaults to a links list, but if you hit shift tab, you have the choice to switch between which elements you want a list of, headings, buttons, landmarks etc. You can use insert Q to quickly turn off NVDA, and control alt N, to start it. Entering and exiting will give you a four-note tone to let you know it’s doing it.

Add-ons for NVDA are what Jaws calls Jaws scripts. These are little bits of code that people have designed to do specific tasks, remoting into a machine for example.

A member asked if it can be used on a Chrome book. Jason answered no, because Chrome books run Chrome OS, which is a totally different operating system.

NVDA does have a built-in OCR function.

 

Upcoming Meetings:

  • Next Meeting: Thursday, December 20 at 6pm
  • Location: CNIB Community Hub space at 1525 Yonge Street, just 1 block north of St Clair on the east side of Yonge, just south of Heath.
  • Meetings are held on the third Thursday of the month at 6pm.

 

GTT Toronto Adaptive Technology User Group Overview:

  • GTT Toronto is a chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB).
  • GTT Toronto promotes a self-help learning experience by holding monthly meetings to assist participants with assistive technology.
  • Each meeting consists of a feature technology topic, questions and answers about technology, and one-on-one training where possible.
  • Participants are encouraged to come to each meeting even if they are not interested in the feature topic because questions on any technology are welcome. The more participants the better able we will be equipped with the talent and experience to help each other.
  • There are GTT groups across Canada as well as a national GTT monthly toll free teleconference. You may subscribe to the National GTT blog to get email notices of teleconferences and notes from other GTT chapters. Visit:

http://www.GTTProgram.Blog/

There is a form at the bottom of that web page to enter your email.