Getting Started with Narrator, Activating Narrator

A suspension bridge spans the logo with the acronym BVT in the middle. Beneath the bridge the words Blind Vet Tech appears. The bottom of the logo contains morse code reading TAVVI.
In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides, News and Reviews podcast, we embark upon our “getting Started with Narrator” series. This series enables one to learn how to use Microsoft Narrator by following along with the “Get Started with Narrator,” located on the Microsoft Support Pages. This series is our companion series to our Monthly Narrator Talk, which occurs on the second Tuesday of the month at 1300 CST. To learn how to connect, click here. To follow along, you will need Windows 10 Fall Creators Edition or later, since earlier versions of Windows 10 do not have many of the same key combos or functions as newer versions of Windows. Anyone with Windows 8 or older will not be able to follow along on their computers, since Narrator was very limited in these versions.

This first chapter focuses on how to activate Narrator. This may be accomplished by doing the following:

  • Press Windows Key plus Control, Enter while on any screen
  • Press Windows Key, Control, “N” to bring up Narrator’s settings and press Spacebar
  • Press Windows Key and “U” to bring up the Ease of Access Center, press tab, and then Enter

If you enjoy the Blind Vet Tech Podcast series, we invite anyone interested in assistive technology for the blind to join us on our monthly tech teleconferences. Click here to see a list of our calls and how to connect via Zoom.

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from the Blind Vet Tech team, by doing one of the following:

If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

Don’t miss another Blind Vet Tech teleconference, click here to see a list of our teleconferences and others we support.

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Microsoft’s Seeing AI Is the One Recognition App To Rule Them All

A suspension bridge spans the logo with the acronym BVT in the middle. Beneath the bridge the words Blind Vet Tech appears. The bottom of the logo contains morse code reading TAVVI.
In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides, News and Reviews podcast, we demonstrate Microsoft’s Seeing AI. Microsoft essentially crammed the KNFB Reader, AI Poly, Tap Tap See, Red Laser, Facebook’s AI alt tag, and Apple Camera’s accessibility features into a single app. Unlike other apps which tried to do this, like Talking Goggles, Microsoft’s Seeing AI combines ease of use with fairly high accuracy, making Seeing AI a must have. Let’s just call Seeing AI, the Orcam killer. The main features of Seeing Ai includes:

  • Short Text
  • Document
  • Product
  • Picture and Facial Recognition
  • Scenery
  • Currency

Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on Microsoft’s Seeing AI.

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from the Blind Vet Tech team, by doing one of the following:

If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

Don’t miss another Blind Vet Tech teleconference, click here to see a list of our teleconferences and others we support.

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How Narrator Reduces The Necessity Of The Windows 10 S To Pro Offer For The Blind

Microsoft announced on Global Accessibility Awareness Day some awesome news. The first involved a brief taste of upcoming Narrator updates that should scare VFO’s JAWS’ future. The second piece, which garnered more attention than warranted, stated users of assistive tech solutions will be able to update from Windows 10 S to Pro for free. Personally, the upcoming Narrator features grabbed my attention, while the free upgrade failed to captivate my interest. In the fall update of Windows 10, Narrator will receive some awesome updates, placing Scan Mode up front, general screen reading enhancements, and recognizing images and text through some nifty behind the scenes stuff. Microsoft’s Window 10 S systems target the budget, education, and similar markets, and individuals who receive their computers through services like the VA or VR programs will not have to worry about these changes. If we peel back the layers regarding the free upgrading from S to Pro for AT users, Microsoft simply is offering individuals of assistive tech solutions some time to gain some comfort with Windows’ integrated accessibility options, while acknowledging the third-party AT options are not in the Windows Store. Personally, end users should take the time to learn the integrated accessibility options, and third-party venters need to consider packaging their software to be distributed by the Windows Store.

I do champion the thought that JAWS, NVDA, former Window Eyes, and System Access users need to seriously need to try learning the basics of Narrator. The third-party accessibility software will remain viable for the near future, but I have to wonder about the longterm health of the industry. The blindness world seen its major players all merged together under VFO. This move reduced the platforms to just ZoomText and its variations, JAWS, and NVDA. Of these, NVDA and Narrator steadily increases its market hold, thanks to their non-existent costs and similar features to JAWS. ZoomText remains the best and really only plater in the screen magnification world, something that will only change if VFO opted to increase its cash by selling or renting out ZoomText magnification patents.

Narrator is a very viable accessibility solution for the blind.

Let me write that again, Microsoft Narrator is a viable screen reading solution for visually impaired computer users. I have no problems writing this, especially if your computing needs requires accessing the world wide web, email, productivity or office solutions, streaming media, and other rather regular and mundane tasks. A user with these requirements may enjoy the experiences offered by Windows 10 S, thanks to limited options. Yes, I can back this claim up, through my experiences on a cheap Best Buy Insignia brand tablet PC that costs less than $200. The PC lacks many of the hardware specifications found in traditional laptops and desktops, and I have not found any lag, refresh issues, or other performance concerns when using Narrator with Edge, Mail, People, Calendar, Adobe Acrobat DC, Netflix, Skype, One Drive, One Note, Word, and other standard apps. Of these, Adobe Acrobat DC is the only one not located in the Windows Store, but Windows offers its own document reader, and I am holding off installing iTunes until it reaches the Windows Store.

To summarize, the Windows 10 S to Pro free conversion for those requiring accessible assistive software will not be a big deal for most blind individuals who adopt Narrator. If you want to stick with JAWS and ZoomText, you would not be purchasing a Windows 10 S system anyways, but rather a Home or Pro version. Regardless, everyone who relies on a screen reader or screen magnification third-party solution should take a honest stab at Windows’ integrated options. Those who live in the world of Voice Over an Zoom through iOS and MacOS can attest to the benefits related to stability when accessibility is not bolted onto the operating system but is apart of the operating system’s core.

Screen Reader Access Revolution

Over the last couple of years, several major changes occurred within the screen reader industry. The two that stand out involves the increase in low cost or free screen readers and Smart Phone manufactures integrating accessibility within the operating system like Apple’s Voice Over in iOS and Google’s Android accessibility features, like Talk Back,. Both of these events enabled many with sight or reading impairments to implement such technologies in their daily lives. This article look at the evolution and impact of the low cost and free screen readers for PC’s and laptops.

Many of you might be wondering, what is a screen reader? A screen reader is a piece of software installed on a computer that provides auditory and verbal feedback. For example, as I type this article, Window Eyes reports the character and word of what I just typed. Alternatively, as I navigate a webpage, things like heading navigation allows me to quickly preform a Google Search and find the results by hearing the titles of the returned webpages instead of having to listen to every piece of text on the webpage.

Ever since computers entered into the workplace and home, individuals have attempted to develop accessibility features, like screen readers and magnification. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s hardware performance acceleration and lower cost for personal computers enabled many visually impaired users to adopt these in their home and professional lives, since availability of assistive technologies took off. One aspect that never changed between this time and up until recently involved the cost of such accessibility tools.

Popular screen readers like JAWS, Window Eyes, and Guide or magnification programs like ZoomText costed anywhere between $700 to well over $1,000. This limited availability to those employed, receiving Vocational Rehabilitation services, some in schools or educational setting, and qualified recipients of the Veterans Administration’s Blind Rehab Services. However, these elected price points were a necessary evil to develop such programs for a small niche market. Today, we owe it to these early adopters of accessibility solutions the wide spread availability and features seen in the market.

The first company to challenge the price of screen readers was Serotek. They released System Access, believing accessibility must be affordable. Many applauded this effort. Serotek would not stop there, embracing the capabilities of cloud computing and accessibility everywhere in many of their later products.

With the release of Apple’s OS 10, the first fully integrated accessibility features appeared bundled within a mainstream operating system. The screen reader, Voice Over, serves as a full featured screen reader that rivals all of the Windows based programs. This enabled Apple to stand out as the first non-disability focused company to embrace universal accessibility as a business model. One might claim Microsoft’s Windows attempted to perform this task with Narrator and Magnifier, but these only serve in very limited capacity for setting up systems, then installing a third party accessibility variant.

The evolution of low or free accessibility tools continues with Non-Visual Access, (NVDA). NVDA surfaced in the 2000’s as a totally free and open sourced screen reader. The amazing part of NVDA is that it operates off donations, offers a full featured screen reader to users, and releases patches and updates faster than those more expensive programs. Many individuals, blind rehab programs, and organizations started offering NVDA as an option alongside JAWS, Window Eyes, and System Access.

In an example of goodwill and patriotism, Serotek took a step further when introducing the System Access Mobile Network (SAMNet) for Veterans program. Any visually impaired Veteran of the U.S. qualifies to receive a free lifetime subscription to SAMNet. The only requirement involves the completion of an application and certification by a Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) or other VA blind rehab specialist. This simple to learn interface enables a visually impaired individual to log on to any internet connected Windows computer and start using it. With a few keystrokes, a blinded Veteran will bring up a screen reader, access to email, online community forums, and access to hundreds of described videos ranging from popular movies to TV shows. This service is also now available on any iOS device through Serotek’s iBlink Radio iOS app.

The free access to screen readers does not stop here. Only a couple of weeks ago, GW Micro Systems announced their partnership with Microsoft Office. The agreement allows any individual with Microsoft Office 2010 or newer to download a free copy of Window Eyes. The only caveat is that the user would have to purchase additional support plans from GW Micro, but that is a small price compared to purchasing Window Eyes outright. This partnership hopes to promote an increase in awareness for software developers to include accessibility within their products. Secondary to this, those of us with sight impairments have a wonderful free screen reader at our disposal.

At this point, no one can speculate the ramifications of the dramatic shift in the availability of screen readers. Some individuals speculate that Microsoft would adopt and incorporate a full featured screen reader in their OS. Other individuals respond conservatively and believe very little will change in the home computer or laptop screen accessibility market, given the rise of accessible mobile devices in home and professional life. Either way, I am enjoying the freedom to select which screen reader to accomplish a certain objective.

Currently Apple’s Voice Over in OS 10.9, which is available within all new Apple computers, and ils serves as my primary screen reader of choice. Through Voice Over, I am able to accomplish all goals for daily business requirements, maintaining a website (www.BlindNotAlone.com), and social networking through Facebook and Twitter. However, I also use Talk Back on a Nexus 7, and  NVDA, SAMNet, and now Window Eyes on a windows based laptop. Each of these offers a different user experience, with varying strengths and weaknesses. The price points of all of these different assistive technologies drove me to learn and assimilate each into my daily life.