NVDA – a free, open source screen reader
Testing your work with a screen reader, especially if you’re building something that is more advanced than a basic info website, is likely to help you create a more accessible website.
The best thing is to have actual screen reader users test your work, but that isn’t always feasible to do on a day-to-day basis unless you happen to have a co-worker who uses a screen reader. So being able to do some testing on your own is pretty much a necessity.
There are several screen readers to choose from, but one that is particularly appealing is NVDA. It is free, open source, works with Firefox, and has support for WAI-ARIA. The catch is that NVDA is Windows only, so Mac users like myself will need to use virtual machine software like Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion to run it. I can live with that.
If you’re wondering why testing with Apple’s VoiceOver screen reader (which is shipped with Mac OS X) is not enough, there are a few reasons. One is that VoiceOver doesn’t have that great support for WAI-ARIA yet, another that it lacks some features that NVDA has, and a third that, just like testing with several different web browsers, it’s good to test with several different screen readers.