As Windows 8 focuses much more closely on the experience with touch, Microsoft has now ensured that assistive technologies can fully process touch input, and therefore provide a suitable touch experience for blind users. NVDA has been modified to allow it to receive input from a touchscreen that allows the user to not only read what is on the screen simply by tapping or dragging their finger, but also to activate other NVDA-specific commands or move around the operating system by object navigation.
Compared to previous versions of the operating system, there isn't too much difference in the way a user would interact with the Metro or Desktop interface when using touch. In both cases, the user can touch anywhere on the screen to find out the control or text at that point, or they can flick left, right, up or down to move around the application or operating system by object in a tree-like structure. This interaction model is very similar to the experience with VoiceOver on Apple iOS devices or Windows 8's built-in screen reader, Narrator.
The biggest difference in how NVDA works with previous versions of Windows is the support for touchscreens. However, taking in to account the general changes that will affect both sighted and blind or vision impaired users — no matter what screen reader they use — features such as the new Start Screen which replaces the traditional Start Menu, and the introduction of Metro-style apps (which are full-screen and hide the rest of the Desktop) may take a little getting used to. However, it's still possible to run any program you would have on Windows XP or 7, usually with no change to the overall user experience.
Michael Curran, lead developer of NVDA said, "I don't think that the introduction of touchscreens for the blind would have a negative impact on web accessibility or indeed require major change. However, this technology is only new."
This piece is a summary of an article published on Access iQ.
For more information on Windows 8 accessibility see our previous news item.
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