A few days ago I was talking to a fellow blind audio buff, and we got into the discussion of what was accessible, with what screen readers are available, and sadly…there wasn’t much. When I look at blind and visually impaired users of a free screen reader called NVDA, as opposed to the access given to people with JAWS – a screen reader that costs 1000 dollars, the accessibility barriers are very jarring, and it’s very disheartening. When blind PC users upgrade to a new computer, they tend to go to NVDA because it has all of the accessibility JAWS does for no fees. But, along with NVDA being freeware (donateware if you want to donate to the developers) your options are very slim.
The two major options for serious music composition on the PC with a screen reader are Reaper and Sonar. The version of Sonar you have to use with any sort of accessible software, is 8.5 – which is about 3 or 4 versions behind the up to date version of Sonar. Same with Reaper, though I think Reaper only has 1 or 2 versions before it. On NVDA, Sonar has a plug in you…supposedly can use to use features? But I have never gotten it to work no matter how hard I try. Reaper has a bit of a better option with Rea Access, but I have never been able to get the hang of using it either with mixing, or with music production so it just…sits there on my computer. The option I use, is audacity – and although it works well, it is very limited in its features. For example, there’s no FX rack, so you have to just keep on undoing and redoing effects. You save a project, and you’re stuck with those settings, unless you save multiple versions of the project in different phases – which is what I do, but it gets rather cumbersome rather quickly. So basically, for me, neither Sonar or Reaper work with NVDA.
The other option, is to use Sonar with JAWS – which, is pricy, as I said earlier. There are two sets of scripts you can use – the Jsonar scripts that are free, and the Cake Talking scripts, which are around 200 dollars. With either set of scripts, you can use all of Sonars features easily. JAWS also has accessible scripts for a lot of different VST orchestra libraries, plug ins, and all in all has better accessibility overall for audio software. You can also use Rea Access with JAWS. But, why do we have to pay so much money to just be able to use software that our sighted peers do? Not even, because these DAWs are highly outdated by now, but they are the only PC options – if you had a Mac, I hear you can use Garage Band affectively, and of course the Pro Tools accessibility, but I am not sure how easy those are to use right out of the box so will not comment on those.
The conclusion me and my acquaintance came to is, that hardware is one of the better options for a blind musician. Like, a Yamaha or Korg keyboard with built in sounds, or a mixing board or something like that. Unless anyone else has some good options – but so far, in all of my research, I haven’t found any other option that isn’t JAWS based (which I cannot afford JAWS at this time) or, Mac based. But considering you would have to buy Pro Tools, which is also a pretty penny, that’s not a super viable option for someone short on cash either.
I know there are probably ways to work around these things, but I haven’t been able to find them and it’s frustrating. And, honestly, I don’t think I should really have to fight so hard to do something I love to do? Like the whole reason I started doing acappella covers is because I just have no means to produce backtracks for my music because of all of these accessibility issues. Don’t get me wrong: It’s fun, and I’m glad I started doing it because now I have a new skillset I can use for things but like, it’s just really annoying that this was a necessity for me in order to make my own music, all because programs I already have on my computer are unusable with my screen reader. Having to install, see if something works, if it doesn’t uninstall the program, is all so tedious and it all just disrupts the creative flow. If anyone has any answers, I’ll take them. But it’s just so sad to me that with all of the technology out there now, accessibility seems to be further and further from developers minds, unless they are strong armed into developing accessibility by some other means. As of now: I’m looking into saving up for a keyboard for music production, because I have tried everything else and nothing has worked for me. If anyone has any advice, or help with these issues, please let me know.