A more certain future for free screen reader NVDA

The free screen reader NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access), which provides blind people around the world with access to computers, looks like it will be around for a long time thanks to a recent grant from the Nippon Foundation.

NVDA reads what is on a computer screen in a computerised voice to a blind or vision impaired person. It provides many blind and vision impaired people with access to education and employment when they might otherwise miss out.

There are other screen readers available for purchase, but their price tags put them out of reach for many blind people. NV Access, the Australian-based not-for-profit organisation which develops NVDA, is committed to providing a free alternative. So far the organisation has been funded by a series of corporate grants and individual donations, but there have been times when co-founders Michael Curran and James Teh feared that they might not be able to continue their work.

However, the appointment of a new General Manager, Gary Baxter, funded by the recent Nippon Foundation grant, means that there is now a person in the organisation whose role is 100 per cent dedicated to ensuring its sustainability and growth.

Mr Baxter joins NV Access after 15 years’ business experience in the technology industry. He will draw on his operational management skills to assist NV Access to develop more sustainable funding streams, better training and support resources, and long-term partnerships.

NVDA has so far been downloaded by more than 70,000 people in over 43 languages. Mr Baxter’s skills will help grow the organisation even further, and in ways that have to date not been possible due to its resources being so thinly stretched.

“We look forward to bringing NVDA to hundreds of thousands more people across the world,” said NV Access director James Teh.

The Japan-based Nippon Foundation supports many social innovation projects, including those which enhance the lives of disabled people in the developing world. NVDA is valued by people in over 120 countries, but it has a particularly profound effect on the lives of people in developing countries. Without NVDA, blind people in many developing countries would never have been able to use a computer – and to experience the life-changing independence computers can provide.

NV Access shares in the Nippon Foundation’s goal of allowing all human beings to participate in making their own unique difference in the world.

The following is a message from The Nippon Foundation:

The Nippon Foundation is delighted to hear of the appointment of Mr. Gary Baxter as new General Manager for NV Access. We have supported a variety of programmes to support people with disabilities up until now; however, NVDA is one of the most unique and we very much hope it will be a far-reaching programme. For the many blind people in developed countries, purchasing an expensive screen reader is not possible and so the free NVDA will be very welcome news to them. It is also wonderful that this software was developed by two young blind persons and has been localized through open source and the help of volunteers in many different countries into 43 languages.

One blind person whom I met in Vietnam said that after losing his sight in university, there had been two times when he had felt extremely happy. The first time was when he learnt about Braille and the second was when he learnt about computers. His feeling at those times was exactly the same. This is an example of just how significant access to computers is for blind people.

The Nippon Foundation sincerely hopes that NVDA and NV Access continue to evolve so that all blind people may have computer access without being burdened by extra costs. We are very grateful that we could meet Michael Curran and James Teh, and appreciate the kind advice given by Monthian Buntan, Dang Hoai Phuc, Rahim Dahman, Thomas Ng, and particularly Larry Campbell.

Eriko Takahashi, Chief Manager International Program Department The Nippon Foundation