This 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 covered here.

The guide has been written by 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 .

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.



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:

Living 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.


Before 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.


Installing 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 available.


NVDA 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.

The set synthesizer control

 A low quality voice can quickly remove the motivation of new learners.


The foundation skills are:

Beyond 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.

Some 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.


How 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.


There 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 device.


In 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.


Unless 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.


The 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.

The 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. 


To 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.