Screen Readers

An agreement with the National Federation of the Blind has been reached to make H&R Block’s Web site, online tax preparation products and mobile application fully accessible to taxpayers who are blind. H&R Block prepares approximately one in seven tax returns in America. People who are blind access digital content using screen reader software that represents the content as spoken words or Braille. Improperly coded Web sites and applications can prevent the screen readers from working properly, making it inaccessible to a user who is blind.


TalkBack is a pre-installed screen reader service provided by Google for Android devices. It describes the results of actions such as launching an app, and events and notifications using spoken feedback. It works neatly with other Android Accessibility tools such as Explore by Touch, which allows you to touch your device’s screen and hear what’s under your finger.

We at Interactive Accessibility have put together a few short videos that demonstrate the setup and use of TalkBack 4.2 on a Nexus 7 Tablet. As future versions of TalkBack are released we will update the videos.

Microsoft and GW Micro have partnered up to offer the full version of the popular screen reader Window-Eyes for free to anyone who owns Microsoft Office 2010 or later. All versions of Office will be supported with the exception of Starter, which is not sold in the United States. If the Office client is not installed Window-Eyes will run for 30 minutes. If the client is present, however, the full version will be available and does not require an activation key. Office 365 is supported as long as the client is installed. This is a global offer valid in all 15+ languages that Window-Eyes supports.

All Window-Eyes scripts and apps will work the same as they did in the standalone version but a major upgrade to Window-Eyes is also expected to be announced soon.

The free version will not include the following:

  • Technical Support
  • Synthesizers
  • Braille/Large Print Hotkey Guide
  • Commercial free access to GWConnect
  • Installation CD

All will be available for purchase for a small fee, however.

Microsoft Office owners may download Window-Eyes directly from the WindowEyes Office website.

Read the GW Micro Press Release.

NVDA, the free open source screen reader for Microsoft Windows, has released version 2013.3rc2. NVDA 2013.3rc2 is a release candidate, so it will be identical to the final 2013.3 release unless major issues are found. NVDA is the development effort of NV Access in collaboration with global contributors.

NVDA gives people who are blind or vision impaired the ability to use their computer by hearing what is on the screen or reading it in braille. It is totally free but fully functional and portable. It can be downloaded directly to your PC or to a thumb drive, so that it can be used anywhere.

  • The new features of rc2 as listed in the NVDA Community website are: Form fields are now reported in Microsoft word documents.
  • NVDA can now announce revision information in Microsoft Word when Track Changes is enabled. Note that Report editor revisions in NVDA's document settings dialog (off by default) must be enabled also for them to be announced.
  • Dropdown lists in Microsoft Excel 2003 through 2010 are now announced when opened and navigated around.
  • a new 'Allow Skim Reading in Say All' option in the Keyboard settings dialog allows navigating through a document with browse mode quick navigation and line / paragraph movement commands, while remaining in say all. This option is off by default.
  • There is now an Input Gestures dialog to allow simpler customization of the input gestures (such as keys on the keyboard) for NVDA commands.
  • You can now have different settings for different situations using configuration profiles. Profiles can be activated manually or automatically (e.g. for a particular application).
  • In Microsoft Excel, cells that are links are now announced as links.
  • In Microsoft Excel, the existance of comments on a cell is now reported to the user.

Mobile Accessibility is a new frontier in the battle for accessibility supremacy. In a post on the Windows Phone Blog the third Windows Phone 8 Update was announced. Among the changes in this update like support for bigger, higher-resolution screens, Driving Mode and improved Internet sharing, were new accessibility features. The announcement did not give great detail but said that a suite of apps would make the phone easier to see, hear and use. The apps which include a screen reader, make it easier for blind and vision impaired users to:

  • Manage calls and contacts
  • Send texts and emails
  • Browse the web
  • Make Skype and Lync calls
  • Hear notification like alarms, calendar events and low battery warnings.

Freedom Scientific has made the JAWS 15 Beta public. This beta version of the popular screen reader, is now available for download at the Freedom Scientific website. Eric Damery, Vice President of Software Production Management, introduces and demonstrates the new and exciting features that will be available in the JAWS 15 release in Episode 81 of the FSCast hosted by Jonathan Mosen.  Among the new features in JAWS 15 is object navigation using the Touch Cursor. Activating the Touch Cursor enables the user to use the ARROW keys on the keyboard, or the controls on a braille display, to navigate through the actual object in the application in a manner that is similar to using gestures on the touchscreen of a tablet. New advancement also includes:

  • Touch Cursor Navigation Quick Keys
  • Advanced Object Navigation
  • Windows 8 Touch Screen Support
  • JAWS Specific Touch Screen Gestures
  • Vocalizer Expressive Synthesizer
  • NEW FSReader 3 with HTML Support

For a full list of new features visit the JAWS 15 Download page on Freedom Scientifics website.

The latest release of Window-Eyes, Window-Eyes 8.3, is a maintenance update that includes support for Windows 8.1. GW Micro has also announced that the update will provide better support for Windows 8 modern apps, provide numerous speed improvements, and enhances the windows-Eyes 8 feature set. Further, all current Window-Eyes 8 customers are urged to install the 8.3 update to address some performance issues uncovered after the release of Window-Eyes 8.2.

Owners of Window-Eyes 8.0 or above may download the upgrade to Window-Eyes 8.3 for free from the GW Micro website. Select the Check for Updates option from the Help Menu in the Window-Eyes control panel. You can also open a browser and go directly the Window-Eyes 8.3 upgrade, enter your serial number and select the Check for Upgrades button.

Ravenshaw University in Cuttack, India has installed a screen reader, JAWS, for students with vision disabilities. JAWS, which has been installed on eight computers kept in the Kanika library, will read text on the computers. In addition, a scanner has been connected which will enable the screen reader to read books placed inside. Read more about the Ravenshaw University Screen Readers.


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