The big news this week is the release of NVDA 2021.1. You’ve waited long enough, so let’s get into it:
NVDA 2021.1 is now available for all users. NVDA 2021.1 includes optional experimental support for UIA in Excel and Chromium browsers. There are fixes for several languages, and for accessing links in Braille. There are updates to Unicode CLDR, mathematical symbols, and LibLouis. As well as many bug fixes and improvements, including in Office, Visual Studio, and several languages. The full list of updates is in the NVDA 2021.1 Release Announcement.
It is important to note that NVDA 2021.1 breaks compatibility with existing add-ons. The good news is that most add-ons have already been updated! Unless you have the Add-on Updater add-on, you will need to update add-ons manually.
A couple other third party add-ons worth noting:
NVDARemoteNVDARemote has been updated and is available from the NVDARemote site. Note that there are two versions on the page, one for NVDA 2019.3 and later, and one for 2019.2 and earlier. The 2019.3 and later version has been updated to NVDA Remote 2.4. This version is compatible with NVDA 2021.1, as well as back to NVDA 2019.3
Code Factory’s Eloquence and Vocalizer
Code Factory also have a SAPI 5 version of Eloquence and Vocalizer. This works with any version of NVDA, including NVDA 2021.1.
To find out whether your favourite add-on has been updated, the community has a handy list of the Compatibility status of Add-ons.
One new experimental feature in NVDA 2021.1 is a bit of a mouthful. “Includes optional experimental support for UI Automation A in Excel and Chromium browsers”. This is not yet complete, so we don’t recommend it for most users yet. UI Automation is a term not everyone will be familiar with, so you may well be asking: Just what is it?
According to Microsoft, “UI Automation provides programmatic access to most user interface (UI) elements on the desktop, enabling assistive technology products such as screen readers to provide information about the UI to end users and to manipulate the UI by means other than standard input”.
Basically, UI Automation, or UIA, is one way NVDA uses to get information from programs. So, when you use control+right arrow to move right by one word, UIA tells NVDA what text exists so it knows where to go. If you press NVDA+f to read the formatting, UIA exposes the formatting to NVDA. There are other methods of finding out information about a program. MSAA and IA2 are other commonly used frameworks. Microsoft is moving away from MSAA / IA2 towards UIA.
Previously, NVDA has provided an option (in Advanced settings) to use UIA to access Microsoft Word documents. Because of the way Outlook works, this also includes email message bodies in Outlook. In NVDA 2021.1 we’ve added options to use UI Automation in more places. These include using UIA in Excel, and Chromium based browsers.
It’s important to note that UIA support is experimental, and not complete. Both NV Access and Microsoft have further work to do here. We look forward to improving it in future versions. For those who do try it, your feedback will be important in informing that work. The best way to provide feedback on NVDA’s UIA support is to file an NVDA Issue on GitHub.
In some cases, using UIA can give more information about a document than IA2 or other methods NVDA uses to find out about documents. This can mean, in some instances, even just for basic spreadsheets, the performance increase with using UIA may positively outweigh any missing features so far. In other cases, there may not be as much information available, and some missing features may be crucial to the task at hand. Choosing a method to use is a little like picking whether to listen to something on the radio or watch it on TV. If you use the radio, you can’t adjust the volume with the TV remote. You can’t take the best parts of each – you have to use all the features of one at a time.
NVDA does not use UIA by default, but the options are available in NVDA’s advanced settings. In some cases it can be worth trying them if something is not working in Word (or Excel). If you are unsure, ask in the NVDA user group or email us. We won’t turn these features on by default until we are satisfied that the experience is better for the majority of users most of the time.
For all the new features, fixes and changes in NVDA 2021.1, please see the NVDA 2021.1 What’s New document.
Thanks to Intopia
We would like to take this opportunity to thank one of our generous sponsors, Intopia. Intopia’s tagline is “We help organisations be more inclusive and accessible”. That philosophy fits in well with our own NV Access mission. Our aim is to lower the economic and social barriers associated with accessing Information Technology for people who are Blind or Vision Impaired. To aid lowering the barrier for those who are blind or vision impaired, we very much appreciate all our sponsors and donors. As you download NVDA 2021.1, we’d encourage you to consider becoming a monthly donor yourself. Of course only if your financial situation allows it. You can find out more on our Donation page.
That’s all for this week, do join in the conversation in the NVDA users email group and let everyone know your favourite new feature in NVDA 2021.1.