We hope you've been enjoying meeting some of the members of our team at Web Key IT, and giving them the opportunity to share some of their thoughts, interests and experience in the world of website accessibility.
This month, we'd like you to meet our very own
lovely Zel Iscel.
Zel is a Usability Tester at Web Key IT. Zel’s role at Web Key is to test the accessibility of websites for screen reader users. Occasionally Zel also visits clients of Web Key IT to provide a live usability test on their website. This is not only eye-opening for the clients but for Zel as well as she has gained an insight into the joys and frustrations of web developers. Zel also runs her own consultancy, ‘Inclusive World’ where she provides disability awareness training, training in JAWS and Voiceover screen reading software, and support and advice in projects around disability inclusion.
JAWS vs NVDA
Screen reading software, such as JAWS and NVDA, allow people with a print disability to access the information on the screen by verbalising it. Print disabilities include dyslexia, intellectual and learning disabilities, vision impairment and, as in my case, blindness. I have been blind from birth and have been using screen readers since 1995. Jaws and NVDA are the screen readers I now use.
There are a few differences between Jaws and NVDA that I will discuss briefly in this article. These relate to cost, licensing restrictions and functions – namely OCR (Optical Character Recognition,) Skim Reader and Text Analyser. I began using JAWS (Job Access for Windows Speech), produced by Freedom Scientific, In the late ‘90’s. It was, and still is, the market leader in screen readers although the margin between it and others is now much narrower.
About seven years ago, NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access), produced by the NV Access Project, began to develop into a powerful contender for JAWS. Today, NVDA provides almost as much access as JAWS to some of the most popular Windows applications including: Microsoft Word, Excel and Internet Explorer.
Jaws is an expensive screen reader, with the price starting from around $1,500.00 AUD (Australian Dollars.) It is thus unaffordable to many and has licensing restrictions. One such restriction is the JAWS demo which can only be used for 45 minutes at a time. In order to continue using JAWS for a further 45 minutes, the computer must be rebooted. NVDA on the other hand, is free of charge. It can be downloaded onto almost any Windows computer and used without restriction.
I have attempted to install the JAWS demo on several computers over the years but have had little success. So, I was pleasantly surprised recently, when I easily gained access to, and navigated around a client’s database on one of their computers using NVDA. Being able to work independently without using my own assistive technology gave me a sense of elation that kept me flying high for the rest of that day. While Jaws is expensive, it comprises some useful additional features such as Text Analyser and Skim Reader. Text Analyzer, when activated, alerts the reader when there is a change in the font or when a punctuation is not used properly, such as when a bracket is not closed. This is useful as it allows the documents we create to be more presentable.
The Skim Reader feature allows me to scan a document by reading the first line or first sentence of each paragraph. That summary can also be copied and pasted into another document. This is very useful for students or jobs where reading long documents is required. JAWS also features OCR, which converts images into text, but this feature does not work well yet. Freedom Scientific promises that it will be significantly improved in the next version, JAWS 2018, which is due for release any time now.
Another useful feature that JAWS has is Speech History. This feature allows us to access, copy and paste anything that JAWS speaks. This is very useful as some alerts, such as error messages, are only read once and are otherwise not accessible. With the ability to copy and paste these messages, we are better able to get help when required.
NVDA has a very similar feature to Speech History called Speech Viewer. While NVDA does not have the skim reader, OCR recognition and Text Analyser, it is still a very effective screen reader. Like Jaws, NVDA can provide information about the font as required – size, type, colour, etc. There are also other ways to read quickly through text and other alternatives for converting images into text. NVDA has developed very fast and I’m confident that features like OCR recognition will be available in the future. In some ways NVDA is ahead of JAWS. NVDA, for instance, made Windows 10 accessible to blind and vision impaired computer users before JAWS.
In summary, both JAWS and NVDA are very good screen readers. While JAWS has useful additional features, the availability of other solutions allows NVDA to remain a strong contender. This is vital as NVDA allows access to blind and vision impaired computer users who cannot afford to purchase a screen reader. JAWS is still the preferred choice for many, I believe because JAWS is so well established.