2010 Conference: Once upon a library: NVDA and The Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa by Keiran McNabb and Moata Tamaira

This paper was presented at the 2010 conference of the Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities. You can read the full paper below, download the Word version, flip through the slides or listen to an audio recording of the presentation. Keiran and Moata also showed a video during their presentation – you can download a copy of this at the New Inventors site (look for episode 6).

Download this presentation

Word version of full paper

Audio recording of Keiran McNabb and Moata Tamaira’s presentation (MP3, 34.6 MB)

Presenters’ bios

Moata Tamaira MLIS, BA Hons

Moata Tamaira is a blogger, librarian and social media junkie. Her current role is as Content Editor with the Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa, The National Library of New Zealand, managing and maintaining the organisation’s online presence. Prior to her current role she was employed in the public library sector, and had a variety of roles at Christchurch City Libraries during her eight years there, including Māori reference librarian and online content author.

Keiran McNabb

Keiran McNabb is a Technical Support Analyst for the Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa, The National Library of New Zealand. Prior to her current role she was employed in the public library sector, working for Digital Library Services of Christchurch City Libraries for eight years, where she specialised in creating and supporting desktop software installations to meet the ever growing and changing needs of public library customers and staff.


The Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa is a service of The National Library of New Zealand and provides free access to broadband internet services in public libraries so that all New Zealanders can benefit from accessing, experiencing and creating digital content.

The intention is that this free service benefits anyone who has access to a public library but one customer in one library pointed out that there was at least one way in which this could be improved, by including NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access) software on the computers we provide to public libraries.

Beginning by allowing access for one customer via a USB drive, through a process of communication and testing, over 500s computers in APNK partner libraries around the country now have this accessibility tool installed. Setting this benchmark has meant that at least one major metropolitan library (Christchurch City Libraries) has followed suit installing NVDA on their 170 public internet computers. Will others follow?

This presentation will detail how the timeline of the rollout of this product, further measures undertaken to improve accessibility for library customers and possibilities for the future.

In 2009 the Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa was the proud recipient of the Extra Touch Award from the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand in appreciation of its contribution towards assisting blind and vision impaired people to achieve independence.


Slide 1

Once Upon a Library: NVDA and The Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa

Keiran McNabb & Moata Tamaira

Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities Inc. 2010

Slide 2

Photo of Hawera Library

Slide 3

The Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa…what is that, exactly?

Slide 4

The Digital Strategy (2005)

  • Connectivity
  • Confidence
  • Content

Slide 5

We provide –

  • Fast broadband
  • PCs & Printer
  • Wifi
  • Digital repository & scanner
  • Helpdesk support & staff training

Slide 6

The Funding

  • National Library of New Zealand funding
  • Funding from the Digital Strategy through the Community Partnership Fund and latterly direct grants.
  • Contribution from Partner Libraries needed to retain the current level of support long term.

Slide 7

Where are the APNK partner libraries and marae?

Map of New Zealand showing location of partner libraries and marae from Kaeo in the Far North to Stewart Island in the south.

Slide 8

Photo of Dunedin city library, computer area with 19 APNK PCs installed in March 2010 (complete with webcams and headsets)

Slide 9

Photo of Gene Gibson & Keiran McNabb with Extra Touch Awards, October 2009

Slide 10

What is NVDA?

Slide 11

NVDA = Non Visual Desktop Access –

  • Free open source product
  • Available in a portable version for use on USB drive
  • Works with Windows operating system
  • Available in over 20 languages

Slide 12

The New Inventors

ABC Television

Broadcast date 10 March 2010


Slide 13

One person, acting locally

  • Brought the product to our attention
  • Made suggestions about how to configure it
  • Provides us with ongoing feedback
  • Keeps us in the loop on other products that are available

Slide 14


  • Over 500 PCs in 120 APNK libraries all over NZ now have accessibility software installed
  • Christchurch City Libraries has followed suit in their 20 libraries
  • Who will be next?

Slide 15

The recipe to making it work

  • A solid, secure, stable infrastructure
  • Belief in the “access for all” philosophy
  • Listen to, and communicate with your customers. They’re experts…not you.
  • Having a free, usable product available – if no one makes one, we can’t use it.

Slide 16

The best thing about a recipe is that anyone can follow it.

  • APNK and Christchurch City Libraries have come on board.  Who is next?
  • Ingredients aren’t that exotic.
  • Why stop at libraries?
  • Think globally, Act locally!

[end of slides]

Full paper: Once upon a library: NVDA and The Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa


The Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa (APNK) provides free access to computing equipment and fast broadband in public libraries so that everyone can benefit from accessing, experiencing, and creating content online.  The APNK was acknowledged in 2009 for its work in extending this access to blind and visually impaired customers with the Extra Touch Award from the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand.  This award recognises “outstanding contribution towards an improvement in access or service to blind and vision-impaired people living in New Zealand”[1] and was mainly given for the work APNK has done in providing accessibility software for use by its customers.

This paper discusses the process by which this, and other accessibility tools were integrated into the APNK service, what important factors allowed this to be achieved, and challenges for those providing computing services to the public.

What is the Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa?

In May 2005, the New Zealand government’s Digital Strategy signalled the importance of connectivity, confidence and content as key enablers to ensure New Zealanders benefited from the digital revolution. The Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa is one of the projects listed in the Digital Strategy, and a successful bid was made to the Community Partnership Fund for initial funding.

The APNK operates as part of The National Library of New Zealand – Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa and since 2007 has installed 520 PCs, 118 printers, and 95 wifi hotspots in 120 public libraries (and recently, 2 marae) in all parts of the country, from Kaeo in the Far North to Stewart Island in the south.  In all locations, use of the service is free in keeping with the aim of ensuring optimal accessibility for users.

In addition to the physical equipment and fast internet connection, the APNK provides ongoing helpdesk support and maintenance including software updates.  All 561 APNK provided PCs are a standard build, that is they all have the same software installed and are configured the same way.   This allows the small APNK team to provide knowledgeable and effective support.  This support is available via a toll-free 0800 helpdesk number with staff available during hours of library opening (including weekends and evenings).  The APNK computers do not sit around for days or weeks with ‘out of order’ signs on them – problems are dealt with quickly.  The machines are modern, fast, come with headsets and webcams and support USB flash drives, memory cards, CD and DVD writer-players.  The software installed includes the necessary plug-ins and add-ons to ensure most websites load and meet the needs of the modern computer user.

What is NVDA?

NVDA stands for Non-Visual Desktop Access, an open source screen reader that can be used within a Microsoft Windows operating system.  NVDA allows blind or visually impaired users to navigate around and use desktop applications.  Buttons, menus and menu items are ‘read’ and verbalised via synthetic speech that is available in over 20 different languages (te reo Māori is not currently offered).  NVDA can be installed on a PC or can be run from a USB stick or other portable media.  NVDA is covered by a GNU General Public License.

The Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa and NVDA

The APNK’s first library installation took place in Kawerau in November 2007 and these continued up and down the country during the following year.  In September 2008 the seven libraries of the South Taranaki District Libraries network received PCs (pre-installed with a range of software) as well as wifi hotspots.  Included in this series of installations was Hawera Library.

Shortly afterwards APNK was contacted by Hawera Library staff on behalf of a visually impaired customer, Gene Gibson, who had attempted to use NVDA Portable from a Flash drive on one of the new APNK machines but had been unable to do so.

Prior to this customer request, APNK staff had not been aware of NVDA.  As a result, the product’s capabilities were investigated and it was decided that this was a tool that should be available for library customers in order to make the APNK service accessible to as many people as possible.  That week a configuration change was made to allow the portable version of the product to run. New software is blocked by default as this presents a security risk to the network so an exception was made in this case.  From that point on, Gibson, or any other customer wishing to use NVDA could do so using their own version on a USB drive.

APNK machines are upgraded, or “re-imaged” annually, so NVDA was added to the list of new software to be installed on all machines.  The next re-imaging took place May – June 2009 and over this period all 460 PCs (as that was how many formed the network at that time) were installed with NVDA.  In July, in response to feedback from Gibson, some changes were made to the configuration of NVDA as installed on these machines.

Gibson’s enthusiasm for the product and willingness to provide feedback led APNK to consult with him prior to the 2010 re-imaging project on other products and on the configuration of such.  This is now an ongoing relationship that allows Gibson to get the best use out of our service, and provides APNK with a hands-on “informant” or tester of the technology.

Other Accessibility Features

As mentioned in the section above, since becoming aware of accessibility software, APNK has taken steps to provide other tools of this kind.

In February 2009 Stratford’s Library manager contacted us to say a visually impaired customer had recommended a screen magnifier (Magnifying Glass). They understood that the Windows XP screen magnifier was available to use but recommended a free product that they felt offered better zooming capabilities.

APNK contacted the customer directly, who made some very useful recommendations, and pointed out that this software could be of broader use, for example, for someone who had simply forgotten to bring their reading glasses.  The software was easy to install and was rolled out (having been trialled at Stratford first) across the network of 460 PCs in March 2009.

At the end of last year this same customer recommended a superior product to Magnifiying Glass, called QZoom, which has been installed on APNK computers since March 2010.

APNK machines are also installed with Adobe Reader which has a “Read out loud” feature for PDF documents.  Seven of APNK’s partner library networks hold subscriptions to an online newspaper database called Press Display which is accessible via those libraries’ APNK PCs. This database also has a “listen” feature that allows users to have articles from hundreds of different international newspapers (including many from New Zealand) read to them.  Headphones are included as standard equipment with all APNK PCs – essential for products like these and NVDA that have a “reading aloud” component.

Philosophy, Practise, and Making it Work

The ability to successfully integrate accessibility software and products into the APNK service can be attributed to key features of the network in two different spheres – the technical, and the personal.

Technical –

  • Having in place a solid, stable, secure infrastructure before contemplating being able to address customers “specialised” needs.  The APNK has a very solid infrastructure which makes rolling out changes and developing the service a much smoother, streamlined process.  Having a solid base to start with is what allows flexibility in the long term.
  • The APNK philosophy is to provide a desktop computer similar to what might be available at home with a setup that doesn’t alienate its user, e.g. users can right click for context menus, have a choice of browsers (Internet Explorer vs Firefox), have a choice of word processors (Open office vs Microsoft), can listen to music, watch dvds, edit their photos from their camera. Headphones with built-in microphone and Skype are installed for communication.  The aim in providing the technology this way is to foster a sense that the customers have ownership of the computers and are comfortable using them.  The hope is that this will encourage more extensive use in the wider community and hopefully also encourage customers to share ideas on improvements of the service – which is exactly what happened with the NVDA and Magnifying Glass software suggestions.
  • The nature of the program was important.  NVDA is free and open source software.  APNK would not have been able to consider installing this software on nearly 600 computers unless it were free.  Continued development of products like this will be key in maintaining a high level of service for customers with accessibility issues.
  • Having a network with standardised hardware and software meant changes could be made in a structured, efficient manner.
  • Having dedicated, knowledgeable staff on board with the skills to make updates and changes happen was crucial.

Personal –

  • APNK is committed to ensuring ICT access to everyone and to breaking down barriers that might prevent access.  There should be no discrimination based on ethnicity, income, geography, or disability.  This made providing accessibility software a priority for the organisation.
  • When it comes to specific tools like NVDA, the APNK team don’t assume they know what’s best for their customers.  The team are learning as they go and it could be their customers that do the “teaching”.  Allowing customers to provide feedback directly to APNK (the public can submit questions and comments via a form on the APNK website) has been very valuable and in some cases has engendered an ongoing relationship between user and organisation.
  • Good and effective communication between library customers and library staff.  Frontline staff are usually the first port of call for customer feedback.
  • Maintaining good and effective communication between library staff and APNK.  Ongoing changes and updates affect their work and their customers and when teething problems occur it is library staff who raise the red flag.


If anything can be learned from the experiences of the APNK team in facilitating access to computing services in partner libraries, it would be that remaining responsive to customer needs is paramount.  Despite managing a network that encompasses 120 libraries within 39 different local authorities, it was listening to, and leveraging the knowledge from, a single library customer that began the process of APNK installing NVDA.  Because of one person, acting locally, the customers of 120 libraries around the country can now use this tool and others.  Moreover, Christchurch City Libraries, using APNK software as a benchmark, has installed NVDA on the PCs in their network’s 20 libraries.  The challenge is for all public libraries (and other organisations) who offer computing services to their customers to do the same.  The challenge is for others to “act locally, but think globally”.

Is this an achievable challenge? APNK staff are not disability services advocates.  Within the team there is no particular expertise in that field however the installation of software and communication with members of the blind community was achieved fairly easily and was given priority because it aligned well with the organisation’s “access for all” philosophy.  Where there is clear customer need, whether it be from a visually impaired customer, or from Balinese refugees needing a special font installed in order to read their own language on screen, the team is committed to coming up with solutions and rolling them out in as timely a manner as possible.  If the organisational culture is one of “customer focus”, if “access to all” is not just a slogan, if the technical skill and tools are available (or there is a willingness to acquire them), then yes, it is achieveable.


Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa (2009) Who we are and what we do. http://www.aotearoapeoplesnetwork.org/sites/aotearoapeoplesnetwork.org/files/APNKPublicDocument.pdf accessed on 14 April 2010.

The New Inventors (2010) Access and Ability Special – NVDA. http://www.abc.net.au/tv/newinventors/specials/ accessed on 14 April 2010.

New Zealand. (2005) Digital Strategy: creating our digital future. http://www.digitalstrategy.govt.nz/ accessed on 14 April 2010.

NVDA Project. (2010) http://www.nvda-project.org/ accessed on 14 April 2010.

Scoop. (2009) Libraries Add That Extra Touch For Blind People http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/CU0910/S00263.htm accessed on 14 April 2010.

[1] Scoop (2009)

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