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More Voices for Your Screen Reader Including NVDA

Date: 3/14/2017

By Bill Holton, AccessWorld Contributor

If you are using a Windows PC you are probably aware that it includes a built-in screen reader, called Narrator. You can toggle it on and off anytime by holding down the windows key and then pressing Enter. You may also be aware of a more powerful Windows screen reader called NVDA (short for Non Visual Desktop Access.) This software is available for free from NV Access.

Both of these software packages have their downsides. Although Narrator improves with each new release, it still lacks the extensive feature set of NVDA. NVDA, by turn, comes standard running the eSpeak voice, which many people, including myself, find difficult to understand and rather unpleasant to listen to for any length of time.

NVDA Voices

If it is the eSpeak voice that’s stopping you from using NVDA there are two improvements you can make. One is free; the second is considerably more feature rich.

Free Voices

The same free voices you use with Narrator can also be used with NVDA. Here’s how:

  • Access the NVDA Menu by holding down the Insert key and then press the letter N.
  • Down Arrow once to "Preferences."
  • Press Right Arrow once, followed by a single Down Arrow. You are now placed on NVDA’s synthesizer menu.
  • Press Enter, then use your arrow keys to locate the “Microsoft Speech API version 5” option.
  • Press Enter. Your NVDA voice will now be changed to Microsoft David, which is an extremely easy to understand voice.

Using the UK English Hazel or US English Zira Voice

If you wish to use the UK English Hazel or US English Zira Microsoft voice:

  • Repeat the above steps, but instead of pressing Enter on the “Synthesizer” option, arrow down one more time to "Voice Settings."
  • In this menu you will find the ability not only to change the voice, but you can also change the voice speed, volume, pitch and other settings.

Want Even More Voices? There Are More Available for Purchase

Many blind users still consider the Eloquence speech engine the gold standard among synthesized speech, mostly because it’s relatively easy to understand at very high speeds. Others prefer the more natural voices they hear on iPhone commercials when Siri speaks up.

You can get both of these voices to run with NVDA, along with dozens of others, with the Code Factory Eloquence and Vocalizer Expressive Add-on for NVDA. The voice pack costs $69, and one convenient place to find it is at A T Guys.

You will need to be running the NVDA screen reader in order to install this package. When you’re done, follow the steps outlined above, and you will find two new synthesizer entries: Code Factory Eloquence and Code Factory Vocalizer. The first time you activate either of these the software will ask for your purchase serial code. You can purchase the package now, but There is also a “Try” option which will allow you to test drive the voices for seven days.

The above package only works with NVDA. You can install the voices on up to three computers at a time. Code factory also offers Vocalizer SAPI Voices for Any Screen Reader for $115. These voices will work with any screen reader, including NVDA and Windows Narrator. JAWS users already have these Vocalizer voices available to them.

My personal favorite voices are US English Alison and Australian Karen. Which do you enjoy using?

And if you’ve never tried NVDA before, or even if you have and want to learn more about this free screen reader, be sure to check out AFB’s series of NVDA tutorials.

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