NVDA – Non-Visual Display Access is a free screen reader. It allows a user to access screen content via a synthesised voice. You can use NVDA to read/write emails, documents, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and much more. NVDA also allows you to access and browse the internet, manage files and folders in the Windows environment and many other tasks in the educational and employment environments.
This guide will step you through some of the basics, including setting up and configuration of NVDA, navigation around the Windows operating system, the basics of reading and editing text.
You can download a free copy of NVDA from the NV Access website. The URL for this (at the time of writing these notes) is:
NV Access will prompt you to make a donation. This is optional. NV Access is a not-for-profit organisation and NVDA is not a commercial product.
Once you have downloaded the NVDA installation zip file, you will need to locate it in File Explorer (usually it is in the Downloads folder) and start the setup process. The NVDA setup is ‘self voicing’ so someone who has a vision impairment can be guided through the installation process via voice prompts.
Once NVDA is installed, you can use the shortcut CTRL+ALT+N to start NVDA.
To shut down NVDA, you can do one of the following:
- Press ALT+TAB to move to NVDA and press ALT+F4.
- Press NVDA+N to display the NVDA menu, then choose Exit. Details on what the NVDA key is and how it works is below.
The NVDA Modifier Key
When NVDA is running, there is a key that is referred to as the NVDA key. This means that pressing this key in combination with other keys will perform specific NVDA functions. So for example, pressing NVDA+N (that is holding down the NVDA key while pressing the letter N) will display the NVDA menu. The NVDA key can be either the INSERT key on a numeric keypad. It can also be the CAPS LOCK key.
NOTE: A modifier key is any key you hold in combination with another key to perform a function – like SHIFT, ALT, CONTROL and/or WINDOWS.
NVDA has a mode called ‘Input Help’ – this mode allows you to press various combinations of keyboard commands so you can either learn or confirm what they do.
Turning Input Help on and off:
- Press NVDA+1 (on the top row of numbers on your keyboard).
- Press NVDA+1 again to turn Input Help off.
To find out what a key command does, turn Input Help on with NVD+1, then perform a key command like NVDA+F12. NVDA will tell you what this key command does. Once you have finished, press NVDA+1 again to turn Input Help off.
Stopping speech means to ‘pause’ speech while NVDA is talking. For example if you are reading a document and someone wants your attention, or if NVDA is giving you information you already know, you can stop speech by pressing CTRL. If you want to pause speech, you can press the SHIFT button. Pressing SHIFT again resumes from where speech was paused.
- Press CTRL to stop speech
- Press SHIFT to pause speech, press SHIFT again to resume speech.
Some Windows Basics
When using NVDA with Windows, the following may be helpful.
- ALT+TAB moves you between open apps
- ALT+F4 will close the current app (the one with focus)
- NVDA+T reads the title bar, which means you can easily figure out which app you are currently in
- NVDA+TAB tells us which item has focus and what type of item it is.
- TAB moves us around the screen, for example in a dialogue box.
Moving Around Menus
Pressing the ARROW keys let you move around a menu, ENTER goes in to a menu item, TAB moves you around a dialogue box, ESCAPE cancels the dialogue box without changing or confirming anything and ENTER within a dialogue box activates the default button. For example a Save Changes dialogue box usually will have the Save button as default rather than Don’t Save.
NVDA’s Settings Dialogue Box
The NVDA Settings dialogue box lets you change many settings for how NVDA functions and performs. The dialogue box (at the time of writing this) has 11 categories (this is NVDA 2018.4).
Getting into the Settings dialogue box:
- Press NVDA+N
- Choose Preferences
- Choose Settings
You will hear NVDA report that you are in the Categories list. Choose the appropriate category by using the UP and DOWN ARROW keys.
Here are some of the categories and what they do:
General – NVDA speech at login, language, play sounds when NVDA starts and exits, automatically check for updates
Speech – Change synthesiser and voice, rate, pitch, volume, capitals reading
Keyboard – Change keyboard layout, speak capitals, change speech settings while typing
Document Formatting – Settings relating to font and styles when typing.
There are more categories and this list doesn’t cover all features in all categories, just ones that relate to our NVDA Basics training.
Reading and Navigation
You can use standard Windows navigation keys for moving around documents, emails, web pages and notes – here’s a list of a few that may help.
HOME – Moves to the start of a line
END – Moves to the end of a line
CTRL+HOME – Moves to the start of the document
CTRL+END – Moves to the end of the document
CTRL+LEFT / RIGHT ARROW – Moves word by word
CTRL+BACKSPACE – Deletes the previous word
CTRL+DEL – Deletes the next word.
You can also add the SHIFT key to select text to all the above key commands (except for BACKSPACE and DELETE). For example SHIFT+END moves and selects to the end of the line.
NOTE: These commands are Windows commands and work independently of NVDA.
NVDA Reading Commands
NVDA+2 or DOWN ARROW – Reads from current location to the end of a document
NVDA+4 5 and 6 – Reads the previous, current or next week respectively
NVDA+7 8 and 9 – Reads the previous, current or next line respectively