Some people already know about Windows built-in screen reader Narrator. If you Google it you will likely find a few hundred pages on how to turn it off with a few support articles scattered in between. This bit of software allows for blind and visually impaired people to navigate a PC using a keyboard and providing voice feedback.
For those of us with experience using Narrator we mostly understand that it is meant to be an assistant for installing a full featured screen reader or for fixing our screen reader when it breaks. In the recent updates of Windows 10 however the Narrator program has made some significant leaps forward. Although the keyboard commands are still a bit hard to follow as they stray very far from traditional screen reader commands there are more and more features available.
In a recent article I read about Microsoft changing it’s direction it was stated that Microsoft is going to spend less energy on Windows itself and more resources on multi-platform applications and cloud services. Although there has been no official statement that Narrator will be getting a boost into the prime time screen reader arena it does seem promising. Imagine if everyone with a vision disability could jump onto any Windows device and just start using it by pressing a few keys. This kind of advance would mean that those of us who rely on assistive technology would not have to wait for our technology to catch up to Windows versions.
When Windows moved from a 32-bit architecture to a 64-bit architecture we all had to wait for quite a while to make that jump. When Windows went from 7 to 8 and even the jump from 8 to 8.1 there were issues and long waiting periods for us to be able to make the migration. Since there is a rather consistent breaking in period where assistive technology either simply does not work or it only partially works there are many users with visual impairments that are still using older operating systems.
I personally know several people who refuse to upgrade from Windows 7. The migration from XP to Vista to 7 was quite a horrible time for those of use that depend on a screen reader to compute. Narrator taking on a larger role as a fully featured and functional screen reader is nothing short of an awesome plan. If you would like to give it a try just press the following keys all at once and release them:
To turn Narrator off you just press the following key combo and release it:
Give the current version of Narrator a spin if you have not used it for a while and see what you think. Keep in mind that you can customize the commands to make them seem a bit more familiar too.