If you recall, On the very first post of Atechability, we discussed different screen readers that were built into many mainstream devices. As a refresher, a screen reader is a piece of software that reads the screen to a blind computer user as they navigate using the keyboard. Did you know there are screen readers for Windows computers you can get that can do more than the built in screen reader, Narrator? In this post, we will discuss three major screen readers that can be installed to expand the functionality of your computer to the blind user. There were a few other screen readers in the market, but as time passed, they either became obsolete because of too many changes in the Microsoft Windows operating system, or the companies that made them decided to not pursue further development. This is not to say Narrator is not ideal, but if you wish to do more advance word processing, web browsing, and even programming, it is recommended you obtain a third-party screen reader to accomplish these tasks. Each screen reader will have a short description and pricing. There will also be a link directly to its appropriate page. All these screen readers also have braille support, meaning you can connect a braille device to a computer, and whatever the screen reader speaks, will also be shown in braille. It is not mandatory to have a braille device to use the screen reader, only a keyboard or touch screen. These screen readers work on both desktop, and laptop computers.
IMPORTANT NOTE for IT PROFESSIONALS
If you work in IT, (Information Technology) for school or a place of business, and you are asked to install a screen reader on the system, Please DO NOT, take it as a “virus and can compromise our security.” All these screen readers have been tested in depth to make sure things like this do not happen. The only thing the screen reader needs access to is the program files and other graphics properties on the computer in order to output the information through braille, audio, or both. There have been many times that one of the many reasons a blind person cannot use a computer in the workplace, is because the IT departments are not well informed on screen readers. Then, when the bosses consult with them on screen readers to install, they typically get the, “We don’t know what it is, so no. We can’t install it. Better not risk it. Next resume.” It is the blind individual’s job to explain screen readers in a way they can understand.
JAWS for Windows
This screen reader was the FIRST one to hit the Windows Market in 1985, when the Microsoft Windows operating system was introduced. Prior to this, there was JAWS for the DOS operating system, which you had to obtain in diskette format. It also required an external speech synthesizer to work. This basically meant, you needed a voice box connected to the computer for JAWS to speak. Now, though, it has the synthetic speech built into the software. JAWS stands for “Job Access With Speech.” This screen reader requires a higher end computer. That is, eight gigabytes of RAM or more, with a good CPU installed. It can and WILL, slow down your computer. It is NOT recommended you try to use computers such as a Netbook PC, which has two gigabytes of RAM. Primary School districts beware! Do NOT equip a student with a lower end computer that you had on a laptop cart in 2004, because the athletics department and cheerleaders need new equipment! That will NOT work, no matter how much you make Your IT department clean install Windows, then install JAWS. You can get an annual license for $100 for use on one computer. This is ideal if you have a home computer and do not intend on installing it on other PC’s. There is also an option for a three computer use license. Just remember, when you uninstall JAWS on one of those three computers, because you may not need it anymore, remove the license on the PC in question prior to doing this, by going into the JAWS folder under “Programs” in the “Start Menu,” and under the “Tools” folder, locate “Remove Product Activation.” Follow the instructions on screen, and after that, you can uninstall the program. For professional use, (Work environments) the employer would purchase this for you. The pricing is $1200 for a license to use on up to three computers. This can also be installed on a network for everyone to use in the workplace. You can also add screen magnification to your JAWS setup in all of these license types for an extra fee. Magnification makes the screen text bigger for people that have limited vision. For more information on JAWS, visit Freedom Scientific’s website. If you work with blind students in the primary school system, (Pre-k up to senior year in high school) you may even be eligible for your student to receive a home license for free. If you would like more information on this, you can go here. If you choose to download a demonstration copy, you will get an unlimited free trial. Well, ALMOST, unlimited. JAWS will run for forty minutes, and after that, it will exit. You must restart the computer for another forty minutes to use it. Honestly, this can be a tedious process.
If you read the last post that our friend and website designer Edgar wrote, you may have been informed that you can take the certification exam for another screen reader which will be discussed later in this post. Well, you can do the same thing for JAWS by going to the JAWS certification program page. Just like NVDA, you would need to have basic knowledge on screen reader keyboard commands, along with knowing a little about JAWS features. The exam is also multiple choice, can be taken from home, and is also on the honor system. Please, DO NOT CHEAT! The exam is eighty-five questions long, and you must score an eighty or above to pass. Once passed, you have the option of buying a completion certificate for $100. The exam is also free to take. You can find the topics covered in the exam under the JAWS help menu by pressing “Alt+H” from the main JAWS window. It will pick topics from the Training, Web Resources, and the What’s new sections, so read them CAREFULLY! This certification is useful if you are working with other blind people, or you just want to show off to your friends. Most importantly, if you wish to work on anything related to accessibility, having those two certifications (JAWS and NVDA) will help immensely, and it will also show you are very fluent with the screen readers themselves, and basic keyboard navigation.
Don’t worry, this screen reader won’t explode. This is another solution from a company in the United Kingdom called Dolphin computer Access. Like JAWS, it also requires a high end computer with eight or more gigabytes of RAM, and a good CPU. The cost for this is $1195 for a license. This screen reader also has magnification built into it. Like all these other screen readers, Supernova gives you access to many Windows features such as different word processors, web browsers, and email clients. When you download a demo version of the software, you get a thirty-day fully functional free trial before buying. After that, it will pester you to purchase the product until you do so. For more information about Supernova, go here.
Last but not least, here is the screen reader Edgar wrote about on the last post! NVDA, (Non-Visual Desktop Access) is a free screen reader. Here at Screenless Allies, it is our screen reader of choice. It is fully functional, no strings attached. You also have the option of donating to NV Access, the makers of this screen reader, to keep the lights on for new updates of NVDA. They believe that software should not cost money to obtain accessibility on your computer. This screen reader requires a minimum of four gigabytes of RAM and a good CPU. It does not have to be a high end computer, but preferably nothing that is too slow or older than 2010. The screen reader is also open source, meaning anyone can go in and add new functionality to it. “Man, that means my employer will not install this on my computer at work!” Though we do not have control what your employers install at work for a screen reader, Go here, and read about NV Access’ initiative and strategy to keep NVDA secure on a work computer. We applaud NV access for thinking about this and for going out of their way to have a free alternative to save employment places money. For more information on NVDA, and to download a copy, visit NV Access’s website. Then you can take the certification afterwords!
As you can see, there are three good screen readers you can download/buy to make your computer blind friendly. In the end, it is up to you on what you wish to get. Do you want to spend money, or do you want something free? Do you have a good computer that can run them? These are questions to keep in mind. Whichever you can get, it will serve the purpose of helping the blind user navigate the computer more efficiently. Happy screen reading, again!