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Testing the Windows screenreader NVDA on a Mac

How to test NVDA screen reader behaviour on a Mac:

  1. Download Microsoft Edge VM from https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-edge/tools/vms/
  2. Download Virtualbox and import the Edge VM image.

Then in the VM:

  1. Install guest addons in the VM
  2. Download & install latest NVDA from nvaccess.org
  3. Download & install SharpKeys and use it to map left an alternative key (eg. Left Ctrl) to the Insert key. This is needed because Macs do not typically have an “Insert” key which is the prefix for many NVDA commands.
  4. Log out and log in again for SharpKeys changes to take effect. Pressing Ctrl+N should now launch NVDA.
  5. Configure NVDA to use “Laptop” keyboard layout in the NVDA menu (NVDA+n) => Preferences => Keyboard Settings since the desktop layout relies on many keys which do not exist on a standard Mac keyboard.
  6. Install the Focus Highlight addon for NVDA which makes it easier to see what object currently has each of NVDA’s different focus targets.
  7. Enable the “Speech Viewer” log window via NVDA Menu => Tools => Speech Viewer so you can see what NVDA is saying more easily.

When testing, you may want to try different browsers and in particular Firefox which has historically been the best supported browser by NVDA.

@WestonThayer
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Shameless plug, but if you don't have time (or disk space) to deal with a VM, I built a cloud-based test lab so you can get started in a few seconds:

https://assistivlabs.com/assistive-tech/screen-readers/nvda/testing/on-mac

@dave-kennedy
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A few performance tips:

  1. In Finder, browse to Applications/VirtualBox.app/Contents/Resources, control click VirtualBoxVM.app, select Get Info > Open in Low Resolution.
  2. In VirtualBox:
    a. Select Machine > Settings > Storage > Add optical drive > VBoxGuestAdditions.iso > Choose.
    b. Select Machine > Settings > Display:
    i. Video Memory > 128 MB.
    ii. Graphics Controller > VBoxSVGA.
  3. When the virtual machine is running:
    a. Select View > Virtual Screen 1 > Scale to 100%.
    b. Select View > Auto-resize Guest Display.

Credit goes to this Redditor: https://www.reddit.com/r/virtualbox/comments/houi9k/how_to_fix_virtualbox_61_running_slow_on_mac/.

@hispanic
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Thank you for writing this up! Very helpful.

@kruzyk
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kruzyk commented Feb 14, 2022

This helps me a lot:

Some folks have reported issues with setting vram for the vGPU on when using VMSVGA to the max supported (i.e. 256 megs) using the Virtual Box VM Manager GUI. You can side step this by just using the CLI command:
VBoxManage modifyvm "Name of VM" --vram 256

Also this from https://dequeuniversity.com/mac/windows-screen-readers:

For some newer Mac machines with touch bars, SharpKeys may not be the best solution. However, there is an alternate open source program called Karabiner Elements that is a powerful and stable keyboard customizer that should work if SharpKeys doesn't.

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