Is NVDA Strictly a Web Accessibility Screen Reader?

Last week, Jamie and Mick of NVDA announced that their open source, free screen reader organization is in need of funding:

Blind Ambition Plea for Funds to Keep Free Software Project Alive

NVDA is perhaps the cream of the crop when it comes to web accessibility for blind users. The user experience is equally terrific. TPGi uses NVDA as part of it’s quality assurance testing for all web properties. In short, we need to do something to “Save the NVDA” so to speak. Spark a campaign if you will.

Having said that, my general interest involves platform support, specifically desktop and mobile. I’ve read the product specification. Still, I’d like to get the inside scoop from the user community.

I’d like to reach out to the general community (not to mention Mick and Jamie!) to get a better sense of the user experience. Would you be kind enough to respond to this blog and share your thoughts?


Categories: Development


NVDA has good support for many desktop applications. In my experience, it isn’t always quite as graceful as the experience of using it on the web, but you can get things done.

In part I think this is because Microsoft applications are still the de facto standard within most organisations, and the popular choice amongst most screen reader users. Where as NVDA has always fitted more elegantly into the open technology space.

This is changing though. Many organisations are now turning to free and/or open solutions,many of which are web based. As screen reader users become more accustomed to free and/or open alternatives, it’s likely more of us will turn to using them as well.

Thinking about it at a higher level, the question of desktop support may become a moot point. The line between desktop and web, online and offline, is blurring all the time. It may well be that NVDA’s excellent web capability will transcend any difficulties with propriatary desktop product support.

I do not believe NVDA is strictly a web screen reader. I do believe however that everyone, including those living in third world countries, those who are on a low income, etc, should have a right to access information, just like our sighted peers. This is where NVDA comes in. It’s free, open source, can be installed on as many machines as one chooses, can even be ran in portable mode, supports a wide selection of voices, both free and commercial, provides a smooth transition from JAWS due to their similarity in terms of keystrokes and web page navigation, and, as of today, even provides full support for the popular iTunes Media Management program, including access to the iTunes store. Please may I therefore kindly ask you to donate as much money as you can to the project in order for this to continue. Without NVDA, many people would be left with no access solution, and would be extremely lucky if they did have an access solution at all. Before I go, I am a full time NVDA user and promotor, even though I receive money through various benefits and was able to pay for both JAWS and Window-Eyes. It is remarkably stable and works daily for my needs. That says a whole lot about free open source software. Thank you for using NVDA, and bye for now!

Alex says:

I have used NVDA off and on for years, and it has been my only screen reader for about nine months now. I am almost completely satisfied with it, having used JAWS for years. I use it for everything I do on the computer, from basic wordprocessing to media playback to web browsing to programming, and I have no problems with it. I cannot think of anything I did in JAWS that I cannot accomplish just as easily in NVDA, and many things are better (web browsing being a major one). So yes, NVDA is great at browsing the web, but it is just as good at anything else I throw at it.

Clare Page says:

Hello! I agree with a great deal of what has been said in previous comments. However, there are a few things I wish to add. In the twelve years since I got my first computer and became a screenreader user, I have used both JAWS and nvda: I certainly think that NVDA does a better job of browsing the web than JAWS does, but NVDA works well for everyday use too. I have been a full-time NVDA user myself since I got a Windows 7 computer in 2012, as the JAWS version I had for my previous computer was not compatible with Windows 7 and I couldn’t afford to update JAWS, in fact I still can’t: after over a year of using nothing but NVDA, I am very happy with it, not just for browsing the Internet, but for everything else I do on this computer. Some people dislike NVDA purely because of ESpeak, its built-in speech synthesiser, but, as was pointed out above, NVDA is compatible with many other synthesisers. NVDA might not work for absolutely everything, but, for general computer use, I can certainly recommend NVDA from my own good experience of using it: the fact that it is free is a bonus, but the most important thing is that NVDA has now become a powerful screenreader, definitely fit to rival the expensive screenreaders in quality, for all kinds of computer use.

David Goldfield says:

While I admit to primarily using NVDA for accessing the Web it is more than just a screen reader to access Web pages. For me, it has become my screen reader of choice. NVDA is one of the few screen readers which allows me to use it portably from a USB flash drive without the need to install software or drivers onto the host machine first. I regularly use it on a public library computer which does not have NVDA as part of its installed software. It is also nice to be able to insert a thumb drive onto a client’s computer to perform diagnostics and clean-up/repairs without first needing to install a screen reader. Even installing NVDA requires less drama: there are usually no restarts required, no long wait times, no authorization, activation or registration is necessary. No fussing over a screen reader which occasionally won’t see its own license and go into demo mode. Just install and in a few minutes you have access. It appears to be the only screen reader (or at least one of the few) which works well with Libreoffice writer, a program I regularly use. I use it with Microsoft security Essentials, Malware Bytes, Piriform Ccleaner, Revo Uninstaller and similar utilities. Its free experimental OCR plug-in functions similarly to the one found in JAWS. Frankly, I love ESpeak and, with the right tweeks, find it to be more stable to Eloquence and actually prefer it over most other synths found in commercial screen readers. Right now it’s probably the only screen reader to work with the Microsoft Speech Platform which is actually pretty good and totally free. Its open transparent model ensures that I can not only test nightly builds or snapshots but allows me to review bugs found in its Trac database to see the status of various bugs and reported issues. It also does for Windows what we take for granted in apple in that we have free access to our computers. In short this program is more than a novelty for me: it’s how I access my computer and I also want to see this project to continue.

Gary Miller says:

I don’t ordinarily use a screen reader myself, but I do use NVDA just about every other day.

As a web developer who takes accessibility very seriously, I use it to check my own and various other sites. As Leonie and others have said, it also has good support for many desktop applications.

I’m hoping to gain certification from BCAB and other institutions in order that I can train people how to use a screen reader. With the current financial climate, planned cuts to benefits and other welfare reforms, I imagine that something that is fundamentally free will be very attractive to those who need it.

I really can’t envisage myself, or others, using any other package over NVDA.

I’ve come to appreciate the usefulness of NVDA as a complete screen reader package and not just because it’s open source. I also find it much easier and more intuitive to use than JAWS.

I used to use the demo version of JAWS, but I believe it’s time-limited now – it’s also expensive.

I sincerely hope that Jamie and Mick get the funding that they so desperately need and so deserve.

In a long-winded answer to your question then, I certainly don’t view NVDA as just a web accessibility screen reader. It is so much more than that.

I agree with most of what has been said above, but would like to point out a different angle to this.
I work on many small projects, amongst them being an Assistive Technology consultant for the Iceland National Institute for the Blind.
In 2009, along with my colleague at the time, we decided to bring the benefits of NVDA to our users in Iceland, particularly those users who did not require full braille support and advanced Office or programming functionalities (an area where NvDA was very weak on back then, and despite improvements is still not quite on par with the expensive screen readers in my opinion, and none-the-worse for it, especially given its rapid rate of improvement).
We contacted the NVDA people, donated a couple of weeks of after-hours work, and then had a working, translated user interface for NVDA ready for all of our users. We have tried to get Jaws translted into Icelandic for years, without any success. The ability to simply sit down and provide the necessary fixes and translations is probably the largest benefits of open source technology in general.
Equally impressive is the transparency of NVDA development. Anyone can submit bugs or issues and track the status of them via their issue tracker. Issues are openly discussed both by their developers and the community, and people can apply fixes that will be shipped as part of the on-going upgrade and support.
It is this feature that leads me to believe that, given sufficient funding, time, and better standardization, NvDA will catch up to, or surpass, other screen readers for Windows applications in the near future. The advantages that a screen reader like Jaws has had for me (personally), is support for many types of braille drivers (lack of standardization for braille display support is a major issue, one that I hope will be addressed at some point), and using the Windows mirror drivers to pick up information that has not so readily been available through an API (something that is changing with Windows 8).
NVDA has generally been the fastest at picking up new technologies and coding to new standards. It is probably in the best position of all screen readers to jump into Windows 8 land, and its future is bright, given the changing landscape and if the funding issues can be resolved.
In addition, for every copy of NVDA that can replace a copy of a paid screen reader saves a resource center thousands of dollars (for some reason Jaws retails for $4000 in Iceland, because FS and the other traditional screen reader vendors as well use a network of regional dealers for their software products, that each adds a significant markup, in Iceland we pay the European, the Scandinavian and the Icelandic dealer mark ups, plus taxes. In today’s world this is not an acceptable practice in my opinion). Yet these resource centers that utilize the benefits of NVDA see no reason to donate to the makers of the software, something I find extremely frustrating. I would have thought that donating between 5 and 10% of the retail price of a compatible screen reader being replaced would be almost mandatory, at least from a moral perspective. Therefore, if anyone from European resource organizations that supply screen readers to users reads this, please consider the benefits NvDA brings to you and help keep the screen reader alive.

I am not pro or anti any screen reader, Jaws has enabled me to have a successful career in software engineering and finance, I have used Supernova, and Dolphin worked very dilligently with Iceland to provide satisfactory user experience, and we have had good relations with GW Micro, and tested System access and the SAtogo screen reader. All of these have played their role in helping blind people access the wonders of IT, and I wish to see all of them prosper. But the thought of NvDA going away sure scares me something bad.

Cory says:

Alex pushed me for months to attempt to make NVDA my fulltime Screenreader. It took him a wile, but I now see the huge benifits of it and would never not use it. Yes, is there a few things the payed SR’s do that NVDA can’t do yet? Key word yet, yes, this is true. In answer to your question about NVDA being strictly for the web I disagree, I use it for everything! Please support these guys when and how ever possible!

Just a quick note of thanks to everyone who has responded thus far. I sincerely appreciate the insight each comment brings. For those of you who are ‘lurking’, please don’t hesitate to reply. NVDA needs all the support they can get and TPG aims to help them achieve it!

– Mike

I just hope that NVDA gets a usable screen review function like the jaws cursor. This is extremely important to me because of the kind of software that I use.

Priti Rohra says:

Hi, I would like to add that NVDA is a complete screen reader package and it includes supports for many desktop applications and not only useful for web browsing.

I am using NVDA greatly since the past six months and am greatly impressed with it. It can do all the things that any other commercial screen reader can do.

Apart from big corporates funding it, I’ll personally like to request each individual user to contribute as we love the software and would love to keep it live for ever! Remember each contribution counts no matter how small or big it might be.

Sandra says:

I have both paid screen readers and NVDA installed on my system. NVDA supports PDF much better than my paid screen reader, I also use NVDA for E-mail and simple text editing. NVDA is the only screen reader that can be used from an USB-stick withouth any installation being necessary. In my view that is a big advantage. I hope enough funds can be raised to continue development.

Allen Hoffman says:

NVDA shines for Web due to the ability to focus efforts to support IE, Firefox, and to lesser extent Chrome. For non-Web they have put lots of effort to supporting Adobe Reader, and Microsoft standard API(s). they tend to have more functionality gaps in Microsoft Office in my experience then does JAWS so if I have to use those I prefer JAWS. I think NVDA should be funded by some Federal grant, or funded by the Fed in some Federal effort to develop and share update code for the common good.

Niral Sheth says:

Hi, I myself am fed up with fisher price scientific inc.! I called them and mentioned that shairpoint does not work with Jaws verry well and I have reported this bug to Microsoft as well. All their responce was that they do not support shairpoint. So Jamie and Mike, I ask of you to beat freedomscientific in making Nvda working with shairpoint. Aspecially when you are in the edit field of creating websites. Please feel free to email me.

Shane Pastrovich says:

While I don’t use NVDA full time, I do like it for reading e-mail, downloading and unzipping books, and reading lengthy articles. It does a lot more than just work with web applications. I love the support for the Mozilla Firefox web browser as it is my preferred browser of choice. I, like David Goldfield, prefer the Espeak synthesizer as it is extremely responsive and flexible. NVDA is also intuitive as I used a portable copy to go to the NVDA-project website and get the installer version for our Windows 7 laptop. It automatically turned off the portable copy when the set-up wizard came up for the installer copy so there is no need to worry about shutting down one’s software in such a situation. Furthermore, the access to other open-source software makes NVDA a very apppealing option; given the expense involved with Microsoft Office and commercial screen readers, which cannot develop as rapidly as the open-source software. I have donated a few times and will do so again. How many other screen reader companies out there have such open, transparent development? Can you talk to the developers of other screen reader products so readily? I don’t think so. I have corresponded with both Mick and Jamie via e-mail. They are great developers and even better people.

Rich Caloggero says:

Nothing new to say, just a plea to those who have the resources to support the NVDA project. A screen reader should not cost 3 times the price of the hardware which runs it!

Thanx to all those at NVDA-access for bringing this project to fruition, especially to the authors Mick and Jamie.

Alex says:


I use NVDA as my primary SR. One thing particularly attractive for me is its open-source nature. I’ve had a hand in extending synth support by getting some hardware speech synthesizers (at least basic drivers) written for the DECtalk USB, Express, and Tripletalk. There’s also a Doubletalk LT driver for those who have that. Try doing that with any commercial SR; it wouldn’t happen until they could fit it into their schedule.
Not only is NVDA stellar for web access, but very nice to use in general Windows apps, as well as some interesting apps like Virtualbox, audio editing, and so forth. In my opinion, it goes beyond a web SR since you can get tons of addons for OCR capabilities to extending functionality of the SR to even more apps, like Winamp for example. There’s also some pretty nice MS Word support, and a transparent/efficient method of delivering the content that’s important.

With Windows 8, we see some implementation of touch support in Metro apps working well. It’s truly awesome what they’ve been able to do.
It’s great. I donate when I can.