July 2000 Issue  Volume 1  Number 4


Question and Answer

Question: I heard Microsoft makes something that speaks information about what's happening in Windows. Do I want this; should I get it?

Answer: You are probably asking about something called Narrator. First, let's be sure everyone knows that this product is definitely not a screen reader. Narrator comes with Windows 2000. You will need to have a functioning sound card to use it, but that is a small price to pay.

Narrator is a very cute, rather functional program. It starts up with a message telling you that you might want a more substantial screen reader, which is most likely true if you want to use a screen reader at all. Narrator is quite useful, though, when you drop by to visit your brother and he is pulling out his hair trying to figure out how to get something to work on the computer. You might just run Narrator and be able to give him a little assistance.

Does it really work? That depends on what you want it to do. It reads menus and dialog boxes in programs like Notepad, Internet Explorer, and the Control Panel. It reads text when you are using the arrow keys in Notepad and it reads Web pages in IE5 and lets you know what link you are on when you are tabbing around. It does not have many commands, so there is not much to memorize. It also does not let you do things like spell words or inspect punctuation. The command to read the text of an edit field reads the text in Notepad, as well. Interestingly, it reads all of the text, even the ends of lines that disappear off the right side of the window or the last lines that run off the screen.

The documentation is a little thin. In fact, I found two hot keys that did not seem to be documented anywhere. Alt-Home reads the title bar and Alt-End reads something near the bottom of the window, sometimes the status line.

How do you run Narrator? Bring up the Start Menu by pressing Control-Escape, then press "R" for "Run." Type "Narrator" and press ENTER. I think you will find it fun and useful, but don't abandon your full-featured screen reader. And absolutely never accept any suggestion from an employer or anyone else that Narrator makes a screen reader unnecessary.

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