Screen reader news and views

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Accessibility

Julie Howell

Firstly, congratulations to Julie Howell.

On 28 March 2007, at a ceremony in London, Julie received the special award for ‘Lifetime Achievement’ at the Net Imperative Digital Imperatives Awards 2007, ‘for her efforts to bring digital access to disabled people’.

Julie Howell joined Fortune Cookie in November 2006 following a 12-year career at RNIB where she led national campaigns to promote awareness of the importance of accessible web design and the right of disabled people to use websites.

Julie’s Lifetime Achievement award recognises her effort to push the needs of the 8m disabled people in the UK up the business agenda.

Microsoft Narrator

In my earlier article Vista accessible attitude, I mentioned Narrator. I was asked several questions about the functions of this new feature so here are some more details provided by Microsoft.

Windows Vista Narrator was designed primarily to read menus, not be a complete screen-reader tool. For a true screen-reader Microsoft’s goal was to build a solid platform for partners. Below is an in-depth description of the technology and Microsoft’s commitment to partners.

Microsoft Windows Vista Narrator was designed to provide basic support for users. Narrator is a text-to-speech program (or basic screen-reader) that reads menus without leaving the active window.

Narrator gives users the capability to install and use their preferred third-party screen readers. These screen-readers, like Window-Eyes from GWMicro and JAWS from Freedom Scientific provide robust support for Windows and Microsoft applications, as well as providing customized support for many other commonly used applications. These screen-readers also provide broader support for additional languages. The combination of broad application and language support make these third-party applications the solution of choice for users. Here is a link to find companies that offer Windows Vista compatible assistive technologies.

Microsoft works closely with assistive technology manufacturers in the Microsoft Assistive Technology Vendor Program (MATvp). These partners have a proven track record of designing, building, and supporting assistive technology products that help individuals with difficulties and impairments successfully use computers. For more information about the MATvp program visit and to better understand how Microsoft brought these companies into the Windows Vista development process visit .


Thunder is a screen reader from and is free for home users. The European Union is providing a grant so that it can be translated and made available in some East-European countries; so making computing available to a significant group of disadvantaged and disabled users.

IBM A-browser

IBM has announced that they have developed an Accessiblity Browser (A-Browser) in Japan. It is anticipated that it will be launched as a free download later this year. The big line item is that multimedia content will be accessible via shortcut keys. This will mean that Real Player and Windows Media Player compatible content will be controllable without needing to use the mouse.

This is essential for visually impaired users and also some users with limb disorders. However I am not convinced that a new browser is the right answer. Surely what is needed is an extension of the standard players so they can be controlled without a mouse. There are many users who find using a mouse difficult, especially the fine movements required to control Windows Media Player or Real Player, but these users do not want a specialised browser.