In-Process 16th November 2017

There were some enthusiastic responses to the Halloween In-Process challenge last time. Thanks to everyone who participated, and to those of you who simply enjoyed the entries. All those who participated get a free copy of NVDA 2017.3! *grin*

If you are also enthusiastic about NVDA, live in Australia, and have the right skills, we are looking for you! That’s right; NV Access is hiring a QA Engineer. Please see our notice for all the information and how to apply.

In our last edition, we warned of the issues with Firefox 57 for screen reader users. Since then, Marco Zehe, Accessibility QA for Mozilla, makers of Firefox, has written a blog post on the issues with Firefox 57. Marco outlines the direction Mozilla are taking Firefox, and why that has initially caused issues. he also details where they are at with addressing those. The good news is that Firefox 58 significantly reduces the sluggishness introduced in Firefox 57 and Firefox 59 will improve on that again. Users at this point may wish to either revert to the extended support release version of Firefox, or for the technophiles, there is both a beta and a nightly channel of Firefox which are already seeing some of the upcoming improvements.

NVDA Certification has been extremely popular and has rapidly become an industry benchmark in testing screen reader knowledge. NV Access are very pleased to announce that we have added a second component to our certification system: NVDA Expert (with Microsoft Word). Based largely on the highly regarded “Microsoft Word with NVDA”, this second certification covers most skills likely to be required in using the popular Microsoft Word program with NVDA. As with the original certification, purchase of the training material (while extremely beneficial) is not required. You do need to have passed the original NVDA Expert certification prior to sitting the NVDA Expert (with Microsoft Word) certification. As with the original certification, you can find all the details on the certification page. You can also find a list of certified experts, along with contact details, where supplied, and what each individual is certified in.

Next up this week, I thought I’d put in a refresher on how to adjust the speech in NVDA.

There are two main places which control the speech in NVDA. The “Synthesizer” is the software that reads the text aloud, and the “Voice settings” control how the speech sounds.

When NVDA wants to read something aloud, it essentially says to the synthesizer “read this text”. Just as if you gave someone a piece of paper with writing on it and asked them to read it aloud, it would be largely up to them to work out how to pronounce everything.

The synthesizer that comes with NVDA is eSpeak NG. This is an open source synthesizer we can distribute for free. One of the big advantages of it is that for those who understand it, eSpeak NG can read at very high speech rates. Windows also comes with at least one synthesizer. Windows 10 comes with “Windows OneCore Voices”; earlier versions of Windows come with “Microsoft Speech API Version 5”. Both of these are more human sounding than eSpeak NG, but may not work as well at high speech rates. You can also download or purchase additional synthesizers which some users prefer. To set the synthesizer that NVDA uses, press NVDA+control+s or choose “Synthesizer” from NVDA’s preferences menu.

On this screen, you can also select the output device. This setting can almost always be left alone. Where you might want to change it could be if you wanted the regular computer sounds (music, videos, etc) to come out of a speaker, and NVDA to come through headphones. Be sure you know what output devices you have before changing this setting, otherwise, you could end up with no speech. On the synthesizer screen, you can also select “audio ducking” on Windows 8 and 10. This controls whether the volume of other sounds (such as music or videos) is reduced while NVDA is speaking (or all the time while NVDA is running, or not at all).

The second group of options which control speech is the Voice settings. The Voice settings allow you to control options such as the speech rate, the pitch and how much punctuation is read aloud. Many synthesizers come with multiple voices. In some synthesizers, such as the Windows OneCore and SAPI 5 voices, these include both male and female sounding voices with different accents. Some synthesizers, such as eSpeak NG, allow you to control both the voice (accent) and variant (various male and female-sounding voices).

Choosing a voice with a foreign accent is mostly useful for reading text in that language, as that voice will be setup to pronounce words (or letter groups) as they are commonly pronounced in that language.

The exact options available can vary between synthesizers (many don’t have “variant”, for instance, only “voice”). To open the Voice settings dialog, press NVDA+control+v or choose “Voice settings” from NVDA’s preferences menu.

You can also adjust some of the common voice settings “on the fly” (without needing to go into the settings) using the Synth Settings Ring. Press NVDA+control+left or right arrow to select a setting, then NVDA+control+up arrow to increase or NVDA+control+down arrow to decrease. The initial voice setting is the rate. You can also adjust the voice, variant, pitch, inflection and volume using NVDA+control+left or right arrow. If using NVDA in laptop keyboard layout, these commands are NVDA+shift+control+arrows. Again, not all options are available for all synthesizers.

I hope you found that useful. If you’ve got any other questions about synthesizers, voices, or anything else NVDA, the best place to ask is the NVDA Users E-Mail list in the first instance.

Finally, the question everyone wants to know the answer to, when is 2017.4 coming out? The release candidate is due out very shortly, and so following on from that, the final stable release should be out, around the time you are next reading In-Process!