Software and Hardware for Non-Visual Computer Use

My students who are blind learn to use a computer by means of an intermediary program which reads all that is on the screen. Most of these students learn to use the screenreader called JAWS, which is a very mature, high quality piece of software. JAWS, which stands for Job Access with Speech, only has one major drawback, the $900 price. That’s just the software price, not including the computer purchase. There are other screenreader choices, such as WindowEyes, which is now free to people who own Microsoft Office 2010 or 2013. Hal and SystemAccess. There are free alternatives for Windows which are not as full featured, but are functional. Some I have used are NVDA, Thunder, and SystemAccess2Go, all are for Windows OS. There are some Linux screenreaders, which are free, but lack functionality. Here is a link to a video which gives an overview of JAWS.

My new assessment of
NVDA is that it’s ready for prime time, and totally free. I’ve tested NVDA from time to time over the past four years and thought it was a good start but not easy enough for me to recommend to any of my students. Now things have changed. The current version is much better for use on the internet than previous versions. You can use it on a netbook quite easily and there many single letter navigation commands to make using a browser much easier. If you stay with the mobile sites you can get quite a bit done without much of a learning curve. Unless someone puts a youtube video of how to use NVDA, I’ll do it myself.
Follow this link to learn about
keyboard keys which need to be marked for easier screen reader use. Make sure that the netbook you choose has a standard keyboard layout. HP, Dell, Samsung, and Acer have good keyboards. All the keys are in the proper location and are fairly large. The HP is the best in my opinion.

I’ve had the opportunity to train several students to use System Access. I’m very impressed with the software and the ease with which they have become screen reader users. As far as I can tell, the learning curve for System Access is much gentler than for the other Windows screen readers. It’s especially good for using Skype and iTunes, and no scripts need to be added. System Access seems to work well in Windows 8. SA mobile network is a subscription for $22 per month. You can use the screen reader and get tons of described videos, plus the easy way to use email that I’ve ever seen. Some of my students are able to use the email where they were never able to use Outlook.

Finally, there is my personal choice, to use a Macintosh with its built in screenreader called VoiceOver. Not only does VoiceOver function as a full screenreader for the non-visual user, but the Macintosh OS also has magnification functions built in, too.
read more on the VoiceOver page

For those who have some vision, a screen magnifier might be a good option. If you only need to magnify the screen to 2X or 3X, even 4x, a magnifier is a good option. There are ones which also speak, such as
Zoomtext, for Windows. It comes with or without voice. This is a $600 piece of software with speech and $399 without. For the price of the software, one could own a new Macintosh computer with all of the screenreader and magnification functionality built in. Microsoft, in Windows 7, has made some very nice improvements to their, here to for, almost worthless screen magnifier. Here is a link to a video which will demonstrate the magnification function of Windows 7. Another option that I just tried is izoom 4.0. This software costs $299 with the voice option. Though it doesn’t have all the functions of Zoomtext, most people don’t use or need all those extra features. So far, I’m impressed with izoom 4.0 in my side by side testing against Zoomtext. Be aware that Zoomtext 9.1 does not work properly with Windows 7.
Hear is a tid-bit I heard. If you buy Zoomtext from a friend who doesn’t need it, and you want to upgrade to the next version, tell the aisquared people that you got the software as a gift. They say that you can’t buy it from anyone but a dealer, but it is OK to receive it as a gift. Remember that the license must be transfered back to the server and the software removed from the friend’s computer before you can install it on your machine.


Good sites for screen reader users:

Please note that I’ve given the actual addresses and not links. When you use these addresses, the articles are very easy to navigate.
News Week Magazine, use this address: mobile.newsweek.com
The Washington Post, use this address: mobile.washingtonpost.com
Time Magazine, use this address: mobile.time.com
Businessweek Magazine use this address: mobile.businessweek.com
ABC News, use this address: m.abcnews.com
CNN News, use this address: m.cnn.com
USA Today, use this address: m.usatoday.com
Facebook, use this address: m.facebook.com
Comcast, use this address: m.comcast.net
Weather.com, use this address: m.weather.com- you will need to enter your zip code in the first form field
cantoni.mobi has a list of many links. Some are easy ways to use a bank site
mobi.sdboyd56.com is a list of 300 sites which are all easy to use