Blind Bargains

#CSUN15 Audio: A Deeper Look at NV Access

In this extended interview with Mick Curran, executive director of NV Access, we cover a wide range of topics, including the use of NVDA in a corporate environment, remote access, and new math support through partnership with Design Science in the latest release. We also take a closer look at the organizational structure of NV Access, discuss corporate and individual donations, and explore current and future speech synthesis options for use with NVDA.

Be sure to check our audio page for more exhibit hall coverage, and check out our new weekly podcast for news and features about technology and beyond. Blind Bargains audio coverage of CSUN 2015 is generously sponsored by the American Foundation for the Blind. Enjoy our Podcasts? You can help us out by taking this very short survey.


We strive to provide an accurate transcription, though errors may occur.

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Transcribed by Kayde Rieken

Welcome to coverage of CSUN 2015 — the biggest names, provocative interviews, and wall-to-wall exhibit hall coverage — brought to you by the American Foundation for the Blind.

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Joe Steinkamp: Hey, everyone. It's Joe Steinkamp from the weekly Blind Bargains podcast, and I want to invite everybody to come on over to, check our audio page, and listen to the archives of the weekly show when you get a chance. We've got all sorts of interesting things up there. We've talked to Shelly Brisbin about iOS Access for All. We've done some demonstrations of the talking Comcast DVR. And somehow, J did not burn the house down when he was demonstrating a sandwich maker. All that and more on our weekly show. Remember, you can find that in iTunes; you can also subscribe to it on your Victor Reader Stream in the Humanware Preferred playlist. Hey, you could even hear it on the Amazon Echo through TuneIn. So definitely check us out on the weekly show on

Now, here's J.J. Meddaugh.

J.J. Meddaugh: We're here at CSUN 2015 and pleased to welcome back Mick Curran. He is the executive director of NV Access LTD. And of course, you know him as the lead developer of the NVDA screen reader. Mick, welcome back to Blind Bargains.

Mick Curran: Thanks for having me again.

JM: So great to have you back here at CSUN. And of course, a lot has changed over the past — I think we had you on — two years ago was the last time —

MC: Mm-hmm.

JM: — we had you on the podcast. So why don't you go ahead and review some — what are some of the big features and improvements in NVDA over the — in some of the recent versions?

MC: Yeah. I — I guess the last year's been pretty busy for us. We've focused a lot on trying to make sure that NVDA's more useful in a corporate environment; so we've now started looking much more heavily at support for Microsoft Office, especially for Word, Outlook, and Excel. I'm just trying to remember — I'm pretty sure our support for PowerPoint was already out when we spoke last time. Or if not —

JM: I think it was just coming into its own.

MC: Uh-huh.

JM: But in — Office in general, though, because that was always one of the big — I know, you know, when we used to explain NVDA, I was like, Well, it's a really good screen reader for the web.

MC: So I guess the way we've always designed things from the beginning has always been accessibility before — so getting access to everything before, necessarily, usability as such — as in, like, making sure that everything's possible before making it the easiest to use. It's like having a — a working car versus a, you know, Rolls-Royce.

JM: Right, right.

MC: And so for a very long time, we had to just focus on that and make sure we could do everything that a screen reader's supposed to do. Then, obviously, our web support has always been, you know, pretty — pretty good, pretty out there, probably on the forefront; and I think that's partly to do with some of our philosophies about being a part of those web — web standards conversations and being a part of some of those committees that exist. And also, with some of the original support we got — to our charity from Mozilla was really helping —

JM: Yeah, especially for Firefox.

MC: Exactly.

JM: Yeah.

MC: So that really gained us traction on the web. But now that a lot of that kind of stuff is — I wouldn't say complete but, you know, well under our belt —

JM: It's never complete. (Laughs)

MC: (Laughs) Exactly. But we can now start to look at — at other things. I mean, we used to sort of say that NVDA is, first and foremost, a screen reader for the home user and perhaps the student. But now we are starting to look and — you know, seeing whether we can improve it a bit more for — for people in corporate situations and people seeking employment. So yeah, with our Microsoft Office support, some of the big things — obviously — so firstly, we — we mentioned PowerPoint. That was done in 2013, and so now it is possible for people to read slideshows and also edit them, to some extent. And I can certainly make a — a basic slideshow now in PowerPoint; but — I mean, obviously, with — with anything — with any screen reader, really — you might still want a sighted person to go over the formatting and stuff —

JM: Sure.

MC: — of a PowerPoint slide because, yeah, it's very tricky to get right. But —

JM: Does it give some of those visual clues? I know some screen readers will have — give you the positions of slides and things like that —

MC: Yeah —

JM: — tell you if they overlap each other or if text is cut off and things like that?

MC: We added overlapping — I think it was early last year. We haven't done cropping yet, of telling you if the text has gone off the edge of the — the slide yet. But as you're moving the shapes around on the slide, it will now give you feedback as to how far you've moved it and whether it starts covering another shape.

JM: Sure. Touchscreen support — I know you've done some things with — there. How — what — what's been your approach to dealing with that?

MC: Yeah. We — we ran very heavily with touchscreen support back in 2012 when we started working on Windows 8, when that first came out. And it's very — the — the approach we took is very similar to what people would be familiar with on — on iPhones. So many of the same gestures. But yeah, we did a lot of work on it back then. I think — so we've got pretty good basic support, but we left it for a while to work on other things. I know that some people in our community have now started creating a few add-ons to do with enhancing our touch support; so over this year, we'll — we'll look at those more in depth and see what can be taken into the core of NVDA.

JM: Yeah, I want to talk about that in — in a second, as far as the add-ons.

MC: Mm-hmm.

JM: But a lot has changed over the — the last couple years as far as what you guys are — are able to pull off as far as your structure — your organizational structure has changed, even, right? It has expanded and perhaps let you guys deal with more of the programming now, or ...

MC: Yeah. Look, so we — firstly, for many years we were, in Australia, what we call an incorporated association, which is a nice little organization that is mainly used for football teams and things. (Laughs)

JM: (Laughs) Right.

MC: But it's — you know, it's — it's legal, but it's — but it's not really a full-blown company. And then in 2011, we decided to actually create a — a proper company so that we could deal on a — on a — sort of a — a national level as far as law goes in Australia. And then, after that, we also — and when we did that, we came — we were — we've always been nonprofit; but when we created the company, we took the steps to become a — sort of a certified charity in Australia as well.

JM: Sure. Mm-hmm.

MC: And we now also can accept tax-deductible donations within Australia. Surprisingly, that's something we — we haven't — yeah, it took a long time to get — just to do with Australian law. I mean, everyone's always been able to donate to us, and —

JM: Sure.

MC: — maybe — other countries may have their own rules about tax deductibility; but within Australia, it took us a very long time to get that. But thankfully the laws have changed, and we're able to get that.

JM: Would it be possible to — just to — you mentioned tax deductibility. I don't think — and I'm not a — a tax attorney. (Laughs) But in this country, I think you'd have to — it'd have to be another U.S. nonprofit to — to make that —

MC: That's my belief, yeah.

JM: Could you set up a — like a — a, you know, subsidiary nonprofit in other countries to make —

MC: Yes, we — we could do that. It's a lot of work, obviously.

JM: Sure. You —

MC: We'd consider it —

JM: You have to weigh the benefits.

MC: — carefully. Another — another option is to work with another, likeminded nonprofit and —

JM: Sure.

MC: And, you know, people can donate to them, and then, obviously either channel funds to us or — or we work on similar projects or — or whatever.

JM: Yeah. Sure.

MC: There are certainly ways to do that.

JM: So you ended up hiring somebody?

MC: We did. So for a year, we've had a — sort of a — at first we called him a general manager, but I think they're really more a business consultant. And they've been — Gary Baxter — he's been very useful in putting a lot of processes in place in the organization just to do with the way we look at our key performance indicators and — and how well we're going with our work internally, better planning of our projects on a, you know, a — on a quarterly basis, and, you know, just things like that, internal things that have made the organization run much more smoothly. He's also been rather instrumental in helping us set up a corporate support model; so we can offer technical support now to corporates, at least. That's — we've had, you know, one or two takers — it's minimal — but obviously, we're always looking for more. But — and also, he's been instrumental in scoping out the idea of providing training material for — for NVDA. That's something that people have been asking for for a very long time. So we're halfway through that project at the moment. So the scoping's been done; we've identified all the costs and what needs to be done; we've put a tender process out in Australia, at least; and we have identified a company that will probably do the work for us. It's going to cost a lot of money, but yeah, hopefully — towards the end of this year, we should hopefully then have some really good-quality, text-based training modules that people will be able to get from us, probably for a small fee, from our website. But we'll also be looking at distributing them to blindness agencies and other global NGOs to get them into developing countries as well.

JM: Sure. This kind of goes all to the — the viability. You know, it's — for a long time, people have made the argument about NVDA and said, You know, it's a really good, cool, free screen reader; but you don't know if it's going to be around next week. But, you know, it's been, what, almost nine years now, and some people are still making that argument. (Laughs)

MC: (Laughs)

JM: But obviously, you know, you're getting more donations; you're finding more ways to — to bring in income, whether it's through donation or through organizations spending money and things like that.

MC: Yeah. Look, our donations — so interestingly, from our users when we added our support — better support for Microsoft Office in the last year, that seems to have increased our user — donations from users by at least 25 percent. So people seem to be very happy with that and are happy to support that ongoing work, which is really great. Of course, we have our support from — continual support from Adobe, which we're very thankful for. They sponsor us every year. We've just come on board with Google as well recently, in the last year, and we've worked — obviously, they provide us with sponsorship; but in return, we're working with them to help them enhance their accessibility in Google Chrome and Google Docs.

JM: Mm-hmm.

MC: And I think that's really — I think that's been a really good choice of Google's, to — to work with others in the industry rather than, you know, sort of just by themselves. I think we can all work together and make Google products — because everyone uses Google products, and we've got to make sure that they're — they're accessible.

JM: Sure.

MC: Yeah.

JM: How do you balance that — when you're getting a donation from an organization which obviously is meant to help the product — and of course, they — you know, they want something in return. They want their products to work well. Is that — you know — I mean, would you ever turn one down, or do you just, like, as long as they're willing to fund it and fund the development, it's okay —

MC: Yeah, it really depends. I mean, at the end of the day, the two that I've talked about — Google and Adobe — at the end of the day, they're still sponsorships. So —

JM: Sure.

MC: — it's not — it's not as if we have to work per hour per, you know, whatever per price. But yeah, no, we get a lot — we get a lot of freedom with both of those —

JM: Mm-hmm.

MC: — sponsorships, which is really good. They care about NVDA in generally — in general, but obviously, also we — we're very happy to provide our expertise where we can.

JM: How much do you — how much are you guys getting in in donations? Or is it mostly user? Is it mostly organizations, or where's the split?

MC: I'd say it's still about — a quarter is user donations, I would say, and then the other three quarters from sponsorships and/or grants, so —

JM: As a nonprofit, do you guys have to release how much you bring in in a year as far as that, or —

MC: There's no rules to say that at all.

JM: Mm-hmm.

MC: We make our — most of our annual reports — I'm not so sure of the current ones out there — but we — you know, we're — we're happy to show our annual reports to people. I mean, you're — you're looking at — in U.S. dollars, the running of our organization is — is around — I have to be careful because the Australian dollar keeps moving —

JM: Oh, gosh, yeah.

MC — around the U.S. dollar.

JM: Yeah.

MC: You know, it's very dynamic.

JM: Well, you can say it in Australian, and people can —

MC: Okay. Well, it's — yeah. It should be — it's about — we're looking at about 400,000 Australian —

JM: Sure.

MC: — to run everything, so that should be —

JM: Which is very lean. I mean, really, if you consider —

MC: Yeah.

JM: — that's — that's paying for, you know, you and Jamie and Gary —

MC: Exactly.

JM: — and also travel and other costs and —

MC: That's right. Exactly. That's right.

JM: What would be — in a perfect world, what would be your ideal budget?

MC: Well, look, I don't really want to talk in numbers, but —

JM: Right.

MC: — what I can say is that, on top of what we have, I think we'd like to — we would definitely want another full-time developer with us —

JM: Mm-hmm.

MC: — because only me and Jamie are developing, but we're also running the organization as well. As I said, Gary's more there as a — in a consulting role —

JM: Mm-hmm.

MC: — but, you know, I still do a lot of the bookkeeping and, you know —

JM: Sure.

MC: — some — some of the accounting stuff as well —

JM: And you can't be developing when you're here at CSUN.

MC: Exactly. Yeah, that's right.

JM: Yep.

MC: So it's — it's very hard. So yeah, we — so we need another developer. We'd like some more — maybe another sort of maybe part-time admin person. And yeah, I mean, the sky's the limit, really.

JM: Well, of course. Sure.

MC: Yeah, but —

JM: Yeah.

MC: — they would be the two most important things right now, yeah, I think.

JM: Now, of course, in addition to you guys as developers, you have done a lot in recent years, really, honing and developing your add-on system. I've seen a lot of — of decent, really cool add-ons over the past couple years.

MC: Yeah. So from very early on, obviously, because NVDA was open-source, people could obviously —

JM: Right.

MC: — contribute. And we sort of had a — a roundabout way of providing scripting for applications, which we call app modules. But — and, you know, people ran with that; but — but we found that it was getting out from underneath us — as in, you know, people were doing all these weird and hacky things. And so we decided to standardize that a bit and provide an actual add-on system. and that came in in about in, I think — version 2012.2, I think. And that's been really good. The community's really taken off there with add-ons. And we have — we, you know, we have add-ons for speech synthesizers, both free and commercial, and lots of different add-ons — an OCR add-on, an add-on to enhance our touch support — there's just heaps around. And, you know, we don't know what half of them are. (Laughs)

JM: Most are free, but there are some paid ones as well?

MC: Yeah, yeah, most of them —

JM: How — how does that jive with an open-source screen reader?

MC: Look, we — we would prefer that most of them be free — or at least, the — the first and foremost is that they're open-source. In fact, the license states that at least the code that interacts directly with NVDA has to be open-source. So even with a — let's take, for example, the Nuance Vocalizer —

JM: Sure.

MC: — speech synthesizer add-on. You know, most of that code that interacts with both NVDA and Vocalizer is open-source; but obviously — the Vocalizer engine itself is obviously not. But that's okay.

JM: Right. In the licensing, or whatever. Yeah.

MC: Yeah. But that's okay because it — just as long as it doesn't talk to NVDA directly — which it doesn't. It's sort of the code in between. The add-on code does, so that's okay. And so we're — we're happy enough with that situation. I think we're just really about making sure that the blindness community comes first. You know, a lot of people don't — you know, 70 percent — or 75 percent, I think — world average — of blind people are unemployed.

JM: Yeah.

MC: You know, so a lot of people just can't afford things. So we have to make it free when we can.

JM: Where does — if someone wanted to — to write some add-ons or to contribute, where would be the place to start on that? Is there a guide for —

MC: Yeah. There is a developer guide — there's — there's a developer guide for NVDA and also an add-on guide written by the community; and both of them are — are very good. And also, they should join the NVDA add-ons list as well. That's where most of the — the work goes on — sort of — people deciding — reviewing add-ons and — and all that kind of stuff. So a few people from the community have sort of stepped up and, as I say, they're reviewing add-ons. They manage — there's sort of like a community add-ons repository now that you can — that you can get your add-on registered with and things like that, so yeah.

JM: Sure. Looking towards the future, what are — what are some of the things that you see on the horizon as far as future features or things that have already been committed to the next version?

MC: So one thing being done currently by some members of the community is — able to access NVDA remotely via another NVDA. So helping, like — say a blind person is doing technical support for another NVDA user or something like that. So —

JM: Yes.

MC: — similar to JAWS Tandem.

JM: That's with Christopher Toth and Tyler Spivey.

MC: Exactly, yes. So they're doing some great work, and we — you know, we're very happy they are, and we're helping them where we can in — you know, just in regards to opinion and consulting and stuff. So that's really great — great to see. And I think they're crowd-sourcing that — that funding.

JM: Yes.

MC: So I — I hope they achieve what they — what they need to to — to pull off that project. We're also looking at support for Citrix and Remote Desktop as well at the moment, so — again, so people are able to work in a remote environment, you know, so they can access their computer office — office computer from home. Also, we've pretty much finished this work, but I think it's going to be released here at CSUN — I believe tomorrow, I think, on a Thursday. In conjunction with Design Science, we've added support for mathematics in NVDA.

JM: Right.

MC: So reading wherever there's — so this includes in Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Internet Explorer and Firefox. So you're able to read mathematics in a meaningful way. It shows it on the Braille display in — so far, in Nemeth code, and you can also navigate the math in a hierarchical fashion as well — so to really drill down in those complex equations.

JM: That's using MathML, correct?

MC: In most — most cases it is, yes.

JM: Okay.

MC: So Firefox and Internet Explorer — certainly using MathML. We use MathML internally as well. In — in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, you need to install MathType from Design Science in order to get the MathML out of Microsoft Word. But once MathType is installed, NVDA'll just, you know, work with it.

JM: Backing up to it for a second, you mentioning NVDA Remote —

MC: Mm-hmm.

JM: — it's probably an interesting project to watch, to see if the users are willing to crowd-source and pay for a new feature —

MC: Yeah, so —

JM: — for a screen reader.

MC: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's an interesting model, and I think, you know, we've — we've considered it in the past; and I think it's a little bit hard for us because we ask for general donations as well, and I think it may get a bit confusing —

JM: Mm-hmm.

MC: — for us specifically. But I'm glad that the rest of the industry is — is looking at this as well.

JM: How's Windows 10 looking?

MC: Yeah, I've tried it out a few times. It's still not good enough to use as a production machine or anything like that. I even can't sort of do —

JM: Mm-hmm.

MC: — MY DEVELOPMENT WORK ON IT THAT WELL YET. But it's looking exciting, especially with, you know, additions like Cortana and all that kind of stuff now on Windows 8; so it's, you know, speech recognition similar to Siri. But yeah, look, not too much has changed as far as accessibility's concerned, so I don't think that NVDA's going to have too many issues in Windows 10.

JM: Well, yeah, the new Internet Explorer, or the —

MC: Yeah, that's the big thing, actually. I think they're calling it Project Spartan.

JM: Yeah, Spartan, yes.

MC: I don't think anyone outside Microsoft has been able to test that yet. I think that's coming soon. Hopefully, we will, you know, get —

JM: Maybe you can find out this week while you're here

MC: Yeah. (Laughs) Well, yeah, and we should — as — as a partner of Microsoft's, we'll get drops pretty soon, hopefully, and we'll be able to start seeing that. And yeah, it's going to be a make-or-break situation, and will either work or it won't. (Laughs) So we will see because I know it's a different —

JM: Right.

MC: — technology, so yeah, let's see what happens there.

JM: It's interesting, considering the — the lower footprint of NVDA versus other screen readers.

MC: Mm-hmm.

JM: Hearing people talk about installing it on these 99-dollar Windows 8.1 tablets and being able to, you know — even if it just has a gig of memory — it's not the ideal set-up, but, you know, you can actually — it's quite a functional screen reader.

MC: Yeah, definitely. And I think it's even changing the situation in — in — even in developing countries. I mean, you know, for — for many years, global NGOs and stuff have been giving away old PCs, you know, with XP on them or whatever; and this is one of the reasons why NVDA has had to continue supporting XP. But now, I'm actually starting to see that they're now starting to just give away tablets and stuff, you know, to developing countries.

JM: Mm-hmm.

MC: And these will be running, you know, Windows 8 or Windows 10 or whatever. And so yeah, it's great to see that NVDA can be working on them because, you know, as much as — you know, Microsoft is doing great work with Narrator, but as — you know, we all know that it's — it's still not there yet for one reason or another.

JM: Sure.

MC: And, you know, I mean, in a perfect world, we would like it to be. You know, we've always said we're a charity; and the definition of a charity is really that it shouldn't have to exist. You know, a charity is providing — you know, to — to solve a need.

JM: Mm-hmm.

MC: But that need really shouldn't exist. So if — if you could use Windows out of the box, that'd be a great thing, and I'd be very happy to slow down our — our own work. But at this point in time, it isn't, so ...

JM: And you mentioned developing countries, obviously. How are you seeing, as far as user numbers and adoption? I mean, surely it seems like it's increasing, perhaps — maybe more so in developing countries than —

MC: It's very hard to get statistics from developing countries directly because a lot of people don't have the Internet, or they — they may have the Internet occasionally. So for example, in India, we — we know sort of from talking to people on the ground there that — that there are a lot of people — an increasing amount of people — using NVDA, you know, in many — in many parts of India; but our statistics show — so just as an example, you know, we sort of roughly know the — the ratio of population to sort of how many people are using NVDA on average in each country sort of thing. And we estimate that it really would be about 10,000 people using NVDA in India, but our own statistics — daily averages only show up at 600.

JM: Wow.

MC: And as I say, that's really pretty much just because not everyone uses the Internet every day.

JM: Right.

MC: So we just can't get —

JM: Where in this country, most people are online every day.

MC: Exactly. So the U.S. is very high. It's our top — it's the second-most country, Brazil being the top for us.

JM: Oh, really?

MC: Yes.

JM: Which would also — so probably a higher — I mean, U.S. wouldn't be the highest per capita, but it is one of the —

MC: No. Well, I mean, your — your population is big, obviously 300 million.

JM: Yep.

MC: But yeah. And again, similar to India with China, we have very small statistics; but again, you know, from other people I've talked to, we know that it's being used a lot.

JM: Yeah.

MC: So it's just — however, though, in China, probably not being as used as — maybe as much as in India; and that — that's to do with regulations in government and things like that as well.

JM: Sure. On a completely different topic, I see you guys have been doing some more work with speech synthesizers and trying to find a — a better default. There's that Edward voice that came along with —

MC: Yes.

JM: — eSpeak. How is that all going?

MC: Look —

JM: I know — it's — it's a love-hate thing with — with eSpeak, of course.

MC: (Laughs) Yeah. Yeah, no, look, you know, we — we still use eSpeak ourselves. But — and we've obviously gone down the Eloquence route several times and investigated it; and it's just — we've — proving very hard to get — you know, even for us to be a reseller.

JM: Is it perplexing that — that Code Factory got it for Android, when you saw that?

MC: I think that's — that's actually probably — hopefully it's going to help, actually.

JM: All right.

MC: Because obviously, now, you know, Nuance probably had to do some work in — in that regard; so we're trying to track down the people who, you know, organized that deal and see whether we can get something for Windows again, but also hounding IBM as well because of IBM TTS, which is pretty much Eloquence.

JM: Yeah.

MC: Sounds exactly the same. In fact, we like IBM TTS more because it has further languages — several Asian languages. It has Chinese and Japanese. And so anything on that front would be good. But — so yeah, for a while there, we — we started to change our — our direction slightly and say, Well, all right. Fine. If Eloquence really isn't available, then let's look at doing something ourselves in the form and synthesis place.

JM: Mm-hmm.

MC: And so — because there's so much great research material out there because — without going into too much detail — but, you know, this was all started by this — this guy, Dennis Klatt, in the late '70s and early '80s; and he did some, you know, wonderful work. And — and Eloquence and DECTalk are — are based on his ideas.

JM: Sure.

MC: And so, you know, all this work was done; and then it sort of stopped in the '90s because of people wanting to go to concatenative synthesis — so more like your — you know, your Vocalizer and all that kind of stuff because it was more — you know, dare I say more sexy or something. (Laughs) You know.

JM: Yeah. And — and they've gotten pretty good over time, but it's still — it's — Eloquence just has its — I don't know what it is about it. I mean, it's just really snappy, and —

MC: I think it's — it's really because you can't predict its pronunciation. See, with a synthesizer, it doesn't have to sound like a human, but it does have to be predictable so that your brain can, you know, just trust it and understand that, when you hear new words, you can roughly understand how they're spelled or whatever. But a lot of time, with concatenative synths, if they haven't — if they're not programmed to know the word, you can — you're going to end up with a lot of junk, you know, that you can't understand at all, and especially at fast rates.

JM: Sure.

MC: It's terrible. So — yeah, so we — we started a little bit of work — I call it Speech Player. And this was to sort of bring together a few little other projects that people have had. So obviously, we had all the — the open-sourced code from — from Dennis Klatt himself in the early '80s. That's available on sort of servers from MIT and stuff.

JM: Mm-hmm.

MC: And then the — someone had a Python library, which was doing some form of synthesis. Now, it wasn't that great, but I was able to borrow some of the definitions and stuff from it. And so really, just pulling things — sort of like, actually — how I started NVDA, actually, in that I pulled a few libraries together and things, just sort of saying, Oh, look. If you use this and this and this, you can make a screen reader out of it.

JM: Yep.

MC: And it was the same with this Speech Player. I sort of pulled them together and then started, you know, improving it more. And, you know, we came up with something fairly good. But — however, we did a survey last year to find out what people liked and, interestingly enough, one of the lowest ones was the actual Speech Player itself on the survey because — I think because of timing and stuff. It's still very hard to get that timing right.

JM: Sure.

MC: And look, DECTalk and Eloquence — they have good timing, but only because they've — you know, this has been over 10, 20 years of improving.

JM: Well, and — and maybe we're just subconsciously used to it, too.

MC: Exactly.

JM: Yeah.

MC: That's right. You can never please everyone.

JM: Eloquence has been around — you know —

MC: Yeah.

JM: — it's been a good friend of mine for a long time now, so —

MC: Mm-hmm.

JM: — it's just, you know, whenever it's there.

MC: That's right. So — and then — so yeah, we did the survey and found out — interestingly enough, we actually found out that — that eSpeak actually did still score quite high in — in —

JM: It has a following.

MC: Yeah, it does. It does. And — so then we also tried a variant — a hybrid of eSpeak and Speech Player where I sort of added — without getting too technical — but eSpeak did have a Klatt implementation, so sort of a little more like Eloquence. But it was distorted, and there were many bugs and stuff like that. So I embedded Speech Player into eSpeak so we could use eSpeak for all the — sort of the rules and the translation and the dictionary processing, but then use Speech Player underneath to do the actual synthesis; and that's the Edward voice.

JM: Gotcha.

MC: And so a lot of people seemed to be quite happy with that. We're — we're not sure whether we're going to make that the — the default just yet, but yeah, we'll — we'll see how it goes in the community and see what's popular.

JM: Awesome.

MC: But I think people just — you know, because I think it's hard for some people to understand that these newer synthesizers — the concatenative ones — they cost a lot to do; and there's no way you can really make that cheap because you need to hire people to do the voiceovers and stuff like that. And there's obviously a lot of proprietary code there.

JM: Yes.

MC: I mean, it's exactly the same as other — other screen readers and stuff. You know, we're — NV Access is great at doing the screen reader part; but, you know, we can't really pull off the synthesizer thing, though we are trying at the moment. So it's not as simple as just saying, you know, Why can't you have that synthesizer for — for NVDA? It's — you know, it's — synthesizers cost a lot of money, and —

JM: Sure.

MC: So yeah, we are working on that, but I think the blindness community also needs to advocate as well in a — in a meaningful way, I think. Rather than just saying, Why don't we have Eloquence, well, go bash on the door of Nuance and — and ask for it, or keep annoying IBM about them releasing IBM TTS, either free or open-source or whatever, you know, and let's see if we can get — you know, make a change here.

JM: Sure. Fair enough. If people want to get more information about NV Access or NVDA, or download it if they haven't for whatever reason, or donate, what's the —

MC: Yeah. Just go to And right on the front page, there's several links to — to the download page there. And yeah, when you download NVDA, we'll ask you for a donation; and it's very much appreciated, though it isn't — it isn't mandatory. And one thing people might notice, actually, when they download the latest release — 15.1 — is that we have moved away from SourceForge now. Downloads are coming from our own private server. So that may be a little bit better download experience now. Yeah.

JM: Hey, thank you so much, Mick. Thanks for all the insight. It's really appreciated.

MC: Okay. Thank you very much.

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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.

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