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NVDA: A Competitive and Free Screen Reader

Tom Babinszki

NVDA is an open source screen reader, with the ability to install on individual computers, or to run from a CD or a thumb drive. While it is over ten years behind other popular screen readers in development, in practice, the developer team is able to build on previous industry experience, as well as prioritizing the most important needs of screen reader users.

NVDA, NonVisual Desktop Access was first released in 2007. Originally it was a private initiative, but it was quickly picked up by industry as a promising alternative for screen readers. Since 2007, NVDA received tremendous recognition at international conferences and forums. Today, it is a very well-know application among screen reader users in the United States. Many people are switching from their old reader to NVDA.

Currently, NVDA is able to work with the most popular applications, such as Internet Explorer, FireFox, Microsoft Office applications, Adobe Reader, and Windows components. The developers constantly expand the supported applications and improve current support as well. One of the greatest strengths of NVDA is supporting the latest release of Mozilla Firefox. The latest technologies are used and recognized, even methods which other screen readers often struggle to catch up with.

The current biggest problem of providing blind people with screen readers is the pricing, where NVDA could become a very low cost alternative. While the software itself is free, education and distribution would require some funds for a wide distribution.

NVDA as a competitive alternative

NVDA is backed up by the generous financial support and recognition from major software and internet companies, including Mozilla Foundation, Adobe, and Yahoo! Given that NVDA meets the expectations from users and supporters, this recognition allows to predict that future support will be granted to the project, and the development will continue.

Screen readers, similar in functionality and effectiveness to NVDA are extremely high priced, around the $1000 range, which are not considered to be competitive in developing countries.

The NVDA project, is also aware that there is a high demand for an affordable screen reader to be used in the international market. Currently, NVDA supports over 20 languages, which puts it ahead of other freely available screen readers.

As NVDA is an open source product, it provides the ability to contribute code according to individual, or country specific needs, unlike other alternatives.

The NVDA project also maintains extensive support resources, where users and developers can discuss the screen reader, make suggestions and even volunteer to support the project even by financial contributions, or by program enhancements. This allows ambitious developers to implement new ideas. With the spread of this screen reader, it is expected that more contributions will be added, including the translation to other languages.

The Down-sides of NVDA

The default sound of NVDA is provided by ESpeak, which is not the best reading voice. However, users can install other voices and easily change their preferences to it. This allows the using of any third party voices, which is an easy integration of other languages.

While NVDA has an unparalleled development curve, there are still some bugs and requirements which need to be worked on, however, these do not cause major usability issues.

Implementing NVDA in Developing Countries

It is not possible to distribute NVDA to people in need on its own, as the intended recipients would not be able to use it right away. While NVDA has a talking installation program, somebody who solely relies on a screen reader needs to be able to start the operating system to install it. Also, we have to take it into consideration that much of the intended audience does not have previous screen reader experience, therefore they will have difficulties using the computer as well.

It would be recommended to start providing non-computer related training materials to intended users, both about using a computer, and the screen reader as well. The best format of such materials would be either Braille, or audio resources.


Overall, NVDA as a screen reader is comparable to other screen readers in usability and effectiveness. However, as it is easily adaptable to other languages and is freely distributable makes it a favorable choice in developing countries.

Tom Babinszki of Even Grounds, Accessibility Consulting, recommends NVDA

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