reading for visually impaired

NVDA And The Future Of Reading For The Visually Impaired

It is really inspiring to see people who don´t take no for an answer fulfilling their dreams and helping others in the way. The NVDA project is a tool that makes everyday life better for visually impaired and blind people in at least 15 countries around the world. Read on and be inspired by what the work of very talented people working for an amazing cause can do.

The Origins

The acronym stands for Non Visual Desktop Access and it was created by Michael Curran in 2006 who decided to work in a Python-based project for a reader that would use Microsoft´s SAPI for an speech engine. From the first version in late 2006 to 2009, the NVDA added languages and compatibility with some braille displays. By 2010 a major restructuration of the software made it compatible to third-party modules. By 2012 and 2013 it was capable of managing Microsoft Power Point and by 2015 could handle the entire Microsoft Office package. Nowadays it also supports other third-party apps like Google Chrome, OpenOffice, Java Access Bridge and many more. From the conception of the idea to the present day more than ten years of continuous growth and many things were perfected and fixed in the way during that time.

Open Source As A Manifesto

Unlike many other apps in the market that are quite expensive and difficult to obtain, NVDA is free source and therefore completely free. This is not a detail, but a manifesto. The team behind NVDA is bringing equity just one step further because regardless of your visual capabilities and your economic position, you can have the same access to information through a computer as everyone else. In fact, the Manifesto of the organization is in their website and reads:

  • “Access to technology no matter your language, location or financial situation.”
  • “Quality over growth, access over profit.”
  • “Software by the blind, for the blind.”
  • “Ensuring innovation + preventing stagnation through competition.”
  • “Uncompromising quality software.”
  • “Serving minorities, not just the majority consumer.”

While the biggest software companies in the world, at least the biggest three (Microsoft, Apple and Linux) offer some kind of access facilitation in their systems for those who are visually impaired, none of them is designed to be ever-growing and accepting third-party apps like NVDA. The advantage of being software made by blind for the blind is that it will always be more accurate in tackling the real needs of people. Also, NVDA has an amazing structure that is sustained through donations and sponsorship giving it the freedom and flexibility needed to act only for the minority and staying on float.

With a company that supports such a strong manifesto and being run by the minority they have decided to help, the possibilities for improvement in the near future are the limitless. Like the common-phrase says: Sky´s the limit.

set up system

Easy Ways To Set Up A System For The Visually Impaired

All three software giants have their own way around their system for the visually impaired. The world is slowly turning into a more inclusive place that has a little more empathy and space for those with different abilities. We can think that it has to do with the business side of it and big corporations are incorporating software to allow the visually impaired to use their products to reach further in the market and open new niches, but we can also think that the lives of those people just got a little better with those effort. Let´s review the three giants and their resources: Windows, OSx and Linux.

Windows Ease Of Access

Windows Ease of Access was designed and implemented from Windows 98 onwards and has several unique features that were later adopted by other major companies. The most significant features of this software is that it has a different level of aid for different levels of visual imparity. The Microsoft Narrator is for those who can´t see the screen at all, the Magnifier is for those who need extra augmented text (up to 19x) and finally the High-Contrast Mode to make everything more visible for those with a visual imparity less severe. The way to bring up the Ease of Access is very simple; you just need to push the Windows Key + the letter U on your keyboard. For a complete list on the shortcuts of Windows for all the Ease of Access functions, you can check this list.

Apple VoiceOver App

Just like they have done all their corporate life, Apple took the update from Microsoft and took it one step forward in two senses. First, the VoiceOver App is built into the OS, not as an addition but as an integral part of the programming. Also, the VoiceOver app gives the user hints and tips and reads every part of the screen.

Secondly, Apple incorporated Siri to control every iDevice with the voice rather than just reading the screen to the user. With Siri you can speak to your iDevice and indicate what you need to get done and also ask questions about addresses, weather and many more things.

Vinux For Linux

There are many ways to make Linux compatible with the visually impaired. Vinux is a solution right out of the box since it is there when you install Linux in your computer. The best feature of Vinux is that you have 24/7 support and an IRC platform to send an email straight to headquarters to evacuate all doubts. It comes with all the features you might need as magnifying glass and color inversions as well as high contrast mode.


Siri: A Powerful Way To Navigate The Computer

The assistants for the devices we use daily are no news. They can help us in many ways and are mostly controlled over voice commands. The importance of Siri in the Apple universe is crucial to understand why Apple is one of the friendliest brands for those who have vision imparities. Read on and find out everything you need to know about Siri.


The year was 2010 and the iPhone 4s was to be released and Siri was an app developed by SRI International with a speech recognition technology and engine provided by Nuance Communications (remember Ray Kurzweil? Nuance Communications bought the technology he originally invented). The voice assistance app was released to the iOS market in February of 2010 and two months later it was purchased by Apple. They featured in their iPhone 4S as a standard feature in October 2011 and has been a standard feature in every iDevice ever since. The voice of the actors (American, Australian and British) were recorded many years before (2005) that without them knowing what they will be used on. Today, they are probably some of the most-heard voices in the planet.

siri app
Siri was an app developed by SRI International with a speech recognition technology


There were mixed reviews once Siri hit the market with iPhone 4s. Some media like The New York Times stated that the software was amazing in its capabilities and voice recognition. Also, specialized media like TechCrunch praised the voice recognition and the potential that it had to be further expanded in the future. Although that was the case with most media, some users reported that they had a hard time trying to make Siri understand complex indications or compound orders from the users. Also, some British users and others with a strong accent, had lots of problems to have Siri sort out what they were trying to say and follow their commands.

Besides these mixed reviews, some users claimed that the information about places nearby for some topics were deliberately shortened or misdirected. For example, some pro-choice abortion organizations criticized Apple because Siri wouldn´t show information about abortion providers and birth control facilities nearby but would instead take them to pro-life institutions like crisis pregnancy centers. This was a major accusation, because it didn´t mean that Siri was inaccurate because it was a faulty software but meant that it was programmed to act that way.

Although Apple has also the VoiceOver help feature that allows the use of the iDevices by people with visual imparity, the Siri feature goes way beyond allowing people to command their phones without any kind of. Siri is another step towards visual imparity autonomy and hence, a very welcome step by a major corporation into a future with enhanced equity.

MacOS Voice Over App

The MacOS Voice Over App And The Visually Impaired

VoiceOver is Apple Software for the visually impaired and comes built-in every iDevice you own. It takes the concept a little further than what Microsoft did with Ease of Access and the Microsoft Narrator. But of course it does, it´s Apple, they always take it one step further and we love them for it. Read on and find out everything you need to know about the VoiceOver App.

Created With Apple´s DNA

As everything that Apple has ever done, the VoiceOver App is dedicated to creative people above anything else. The company indicates that the software is prepared to tell the user absolutely everything that is going on in the screen of their iDevice. Also, it provides what Apple calls “helpful hints” while you´re using it to enhance the end-user experience. It allows you to plug a refreshable braille display, keyboard or the built-in gesture recognition technology. The more than 35 available languages make it very useful for Mac users around the world.

The software is prepared to tell the user absolutely everything that is going on in the screen of their iDevice

One important fact about the VoiceOver App is that it is not just a screen reader but is an integral part of the Operating System. This means that it was not added afterwards like is the case with Microsoft Narrator, but the Operating System was designed with it. It works awesome with Safari and if you happen to be able to read in multiple languages and visit different websites, the VoiceOver App recognizes it and automatically changes its language to match the content in the screen. There are many options in the refinements menu that can be tailored to make the software perfect for your everyday experience.

Expanding The Reach

If you are not a person with visual imparities and have been to iTunes, you will recognize some movies have an AD icon in them. This stands for Audio Description and means that this software will describe you what is going on in the movie. You can, thanks to this technology, watch a movie without actually watching, but having someone tell you what is going on while you´re listening to the dialogs.

The app also has what the company calls a Dark Mode which resembles a lot to the High Contrast Mode in Windows. This allows users to do two things: one is to concentrate only on their work while all the menus fade to the dark and the other to increase contrast and allow those with a lighter visual disparity to perform better in all of the built-in apps.

Only On Apple

Although, just like Microsoft, there is a tutorial published in Apple´s page on how to create apps that are VoiceOver-friendly, the percentage of companies that go the extra mile is still small compared to the giants that spent the big bucks in making it happen. Therefore, Apple doesn´t assure users that third-party apps on their iDevices will work with VoiceOver.