INTRODUCING THE NVDA SCREEN READER
guide is intended for tutors, educators and course designers who want
to teach digital skills to visually impaired people by introducing them
to the NVDA (Non Visual Desktop Access) screen reader. There are many
more advanced digital skills and aspects of using NVDA that are not
The guide has been written by Visimpscot
(http://tinyurl.com/visimpscot), based in the East of Scotland we have
extensive experience in delivering IT training, we specalise in the
'not for profit sector' and users with sensory, physical or cognitive
impairments. You can contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .
Adapt, expand or modify this content to suit
your teaching environment and the learners who you serve. If you do use
this guide please let us know because shared ideas are better ideas.
INTRODUCTION TO NVDA
WHAT IS NVDA?
(NonVisual Desktop Access) is a free screen reader program for
MicroSoft Windows that allows blind and vision impaired people to use
computers. NVDA will read the text on the screen in a computer
synthesized voice. You can control what is read by moving the cursor to
the relevant area of text with a mouse or the arrows or the keyboard.
NVDA can also convert the text into braille if the computer has a
device called a braille display
There are other screen reader programs available for MS Windows but a
number of things make NVDA a very good choice:
is free, meaning that learners are not detered from downloading and
trying it, if they decide not to continue using it nothing has been
- NVDA can be run as a portable application from a USB
drive. There are good reasons to prefer installing NVDA when this is
possible but some training venues may not allow tutors to install
software, in these cases the portable NVDA option is valuable.
is supported by a strong community of developers who regularly release
new versions that take fix bugs and introduce new features
- NVDA is a mature program that has had more than ten years
of continuing improvement and refinement.
- NVDA supports a large number of different languages
with a visual impairment is not easy, learning digital skills with NVDA
is an extra burden but once mastered they provide the key to enjoyment,
education and employment for many visually impaired people.
using the modules, you need to have downloaded a copy of the NVDA
screen reader. To get the latest version, visit
and go to the Downloads link. Download the
program and set it up. Later on, if you feel you have benefited from
NVDA, then go back to the NVDA website and make a donation to help keep
the project free for everyone.
NVDA is straight forward, the same downloaded program can produce a
complete NVDA installation or a portable version to run from a USB
drive. If NVDA is installed then it can be configured to start
automaticaly when the computer starts. Alternatively it can be started
by pressing the `Alt`, `Ctrl` and letter `N` keys all at the same time.
If you have to run NVDA as a portable application these options are not
comes with a built in speech synthesizer called E-speak, that it uses
by default, E-speak works and is useful to have if there is no
alternative. However, if your computer is running a recent version of
MS Windows you can change from using E-speak to Microsoft Speech API
version 5 which many people prefer. Try it in the NVDA options and see
what you think.
A low quality voice can quickly remove the motivation of new
- Start NVDA
- Move your mouse pointer Down at the bottom righthand corner
of the screen to 'show hidden icons'
the NVDA icon-> Preferences -> Synthesizer and set the
synthesizers to 'Microsoft Speech API version 5' and the output device
to 'Microsoft Sound Mapper'.
The foundation skills are:
- Working with NVDA with keyboard commands
- Understanding the basic concepts of MS Windows and how to
operate them with keyboard commands
- File and folder management and how to do this with keyboard
the foundation skills learners will also need to master using the
Internet with NVDA using keyboard commands. After these skills and
concepts have been mastered learners can progress on to particular
programs and Internet services.
times the needs and capacities of your learners will trump the need to
teach the foundational skill of understanding file and folder
management. One approach in these cases is to avoid this completely by
setting up a customised html file for them with links to important
files and websites. This approach will not create confident and
independent computer users but it can assist learners to realise their
own personal learning goals, which from a community education, learner
centered approach is still valid.
you structure a programme of NVDA tutorials or classes and how long to
allow for them will depend on four main considerations. These four
considerations mean that there is no one size fits all template to
teaching digital skills with NVDA.
are varying degrees of visual impairment ranging from low vision to no
useful sight and this can affect the topics that you decide to cover
and the teaching techniques you use. Adaptions to the screen display,
magnification software and high contrast or larger keyboards may assist
some of your learners. Enlarging the display with a screen projector
can also be effective in some cases. Of course in mixed groups of
learners individual adaptations can be harder to accommodate in general
the aim is to get learners comfortable with using MS Windows and NVDA
from keyboard commands rather than using a mouse or other pointing
particular if you are teaching adults or those not visually impaired
from birth your learners may have prior experience. If they are already
familiar with the layout of a keyboard and the basic concepts of MS
Windows teaching the mechanics of keyboard access is easier and they
can progress more quickly.
you are working through a fixed curriculum the expectations of your
learners are important. Crafting individualised sessions to suit each
learner is not practicable outside one to one tutorials but spending
time and effort learning topics that learners are not interested in or
will never use can quickly reduce levels of motivation. Take time to
explain that mastering the foundation level skills are a vital first
step, in particular try to keep the interest of learners during the
chore of mastering file and folder management.
environment and equipment that you are teaching with shapes what you
can do. Most public or shared computing facilities will not allow users
to store files or personalised settings between sessions.
downside of this is that learners can not set up file or folder
shortcuts and other customisations they find useful. Learners may also
have to master using removable storage devices to keep their files on
sooner than would otherwise be the case. However, teaching in this kind
of environment equips learners to use any MS Windows computer, rather
than one optimised for them.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PRACTISE
become fully proficient in using an MS Windows computer and NVDA with
keyboard commands takes time and practise. Learners need to memorise a
lot of key stroke sequences. Most people only memorise what they use,
without practise outside formal tutoring sessions learners will find it
hard to retain what you show them.