Onscreen keyboards and word prediction with screen readers: incompatibilities

Someone asked me about onscreen keyboards and keystroke or word echo software. There’s something about onscreen keyboards that screen readers don’t seem to like, at least if the onscreen keyboard includes word prediction or word completion. The common feature of inserting a space after a prediction might have something to do with it, as might the clipboard-paste style of inserting the prediction itself. Virtual Keyboard in particular seems to confuse things; readers like Narrator or Thunder report word predictions as “Space” or “Backspace.” But Virtual Keyboard really goes to hell with NVDA.

If you select predictions without typing, you’re fine; NVDA will read the word and it appears onscreen with no problem. But if you type toward a word prediction before selecting it, NVDA will actually screw up the text output in a particular way: it will put the word after the letters you’ve already typed, and backspace the last letter or so. For instance: I aam trying to tytyp. Also, NVDA prevents Virtual Keyboard’s automatic punctuation from working properly.

NVDA will work with the Windows 7 onscreen keyboard. The drawback, however, is that the completion isn’t as good or customizable, and perhaps more importantly, the dwell time can’t be lower than half a second. If you’re a fast selector, that could become inefficient very quickly. To an extent, it will also work with Click N Type, but there again you have completion rather than prediction. At least it’s more customizable than Windows.

Narrator works with neither the Windows onscreen keyboard nor Click N Type.

As for screen readers that work with Virtual Keyboard, I’ve found one: the text to speech option in WordQ, which is kind of redundant since you’re using a word prediction program to read other word predictions in your onscreen keyboard. There is also the very rudimentary Screen Reader freeware by Jacquelin Potier, which will read literally everything under your mouse cursor. Be aware that you’ll have to slow your dwell time for the keys to be read properly.

Also note that if you’re using switch scanning on any onscreen keyboard mentioned above, neither NVDA nor Narrator will announce the keys until they’re actually sent.

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