Used materials and products
Of course, all the utilities I use are free (libre). The speech synthetiser is not. But firstly, it only costs maximum 50 euros for multilingual releases and about 5 euros for English-only with a specific accent (american or british). Actually, today, we are working on other solutions too, which are libre and free, even if a piece of the product is not libre. More details below.
The solutions I propose have for purpose to suit for all the environments, to satisfy various needs. For people who prefer staying on Windows, some solutions exist, except for magnifiers. The most audacious people will try GNU/Linux, which provides a fully accessible environment, free and libre. It suits perfectly for what most sight impaired people want to do, at home or at work, with their computer (browse on the Internet, office, multimedia, etc.).
To make Windows accessible for sight impaired people (opposed to blind people), I do not have other solutions than the magnifier program provided by Windows 7 itself. For blind people, the following tools are available.
A free environment
The free screen readers work better with free software. So LibreOffice, community's release of OpenOffice.org, more dynamic and with the same features and reliability, should be preferred to Microsoft Office. Same advise for various applications: Firefox instead of Internet Explorer, Thunderbird instead of Outlook, etc...
A free screen reader
I install NVDA. This screen reader is the most usable and the experience shows that it can be useful in the daily life. It is learnt easily, as shortcuts are similar to Jaws for Windows, proprietary tool.
The main job of a screen reader is sending somewhere what reads.It can be a braille display or a speech synthetiser. It uses, by default Espeak, fully free.
For those who would not be satisfied, IBM provides a speech synthetiser which has a similar quality as Eloquence of Jaws for Windows. I also suggest to use Pico, speech synthetiser which still can be improved but it is in development. Other speech synthetisers integration can be studied.
NVDA can send information to the braille display. For this, it connects to rl=http://mielke.cc/brltty]BRLTTY[/url]. I provide installing it.
Various solutions are available. The main difference is between command-line environment and GUI (graphical user interface) environment. The user can choose, but I suggest for beginners or those who use the system at work, to use GUI solutions.
The distribution GNU/Linux I use is Debian. Stable, it has an accessibility team, I often and easily speak with French-speaking and English-speaking high-level and motivated developpers, about this matter. Moreover, I control more what I install because nothing is done automatically. It makes easier the service I provide in troubleshooting, maintenance, and it makes possible to control better the updates, it avoids bad surprises for users who would update too quickly. This distribution is famous for being updated rerely,
but I think it is an advantage because it ensures a stability and an optimal working of accessibility of every release. Anyway, I know the distribution very well, so I can, in some cases, make more modern some parts of the stable distribution. It enables to use some modern software without compromising the stability of the whole system. Anyway, the user takes less risks than when it uses often updated distributions. Finally, the migrating between stable major versions does not imply re-installing all the operating system. It is a big advantage to avoid loosing installation time and re-setting some adjustments to improve the environment.
I also provide a minimal support for Ubuntu and Vinux, but without the same warranties. Such distributions do not provide the same flexibility (on-fly updates, full control of what is installed, etc...). I do not trust to Ubuntu enough about the future of accessibility matter. I do not ensure, for instance, that Ubuntu will be accessible in the long-time future. And I want that the user to have a wonderful experience with his accessibility tool.
Moreover, I prefer using a generic distribution, in order to make easier working in a company where collaborating with not impaired people is needed. I am afraid that distributions such as Vinux, accessible but sight impaired-oriented, would be less accessible for not-impaired people.
Finally, other distributions such as RedHat, Mandriva/Mageia or SuSE are only supported in setting graphical tools and accessibility tools, but not for general administration. But I can go a bit further if the user chooses Linux From Scratch, but this environment is for very specific situations.
For the GUI interface, the Gnome environment is used. The accessibility is a major issue of the project, the applications which are integrated are often accessible or easy to make accessible. I did not manage to access to other desktop environment such as LXDE or XFCE, and KDE is not accessible, except for some situations for sight impaired people.
It is orca in the GUI environment. It can send the results of its analysis on a braille display, a speech synthetiser and a magnifier.
As with Windows, IBM's speech synthetiser or Pico are supported. For the IBM's speech synthetiser, I use Voxin tool. Other speech synthetisers can be studied too.
Some words about command-line environment
In command-line environment, BRLTTY has a full function of screen reader. It renders the contents of the screen on a braille display, via the drivers shipped, from the system virtual terminal device. For speech using, speechd-el environment exists, linked to Voxin through speech-dispatcher (to be used carefully) or a connector-software I can provide. The GNU/Linux kernel provides a speakup module to read the terminal with a hardware or software speech synthetiser.
More details about these tools would imply explanations about accessibility architecture of an operating system. But such technical approach may be very long, especially if it is needed speak about all various operating systems. So I do not do the exercise, especially because everyone is not interested in such approach. I rather provide this explanations according to the needs, and I avoid dealing generally with particular situations. More technical details can be found also at the website of each project.
Finally I precise that the warranty of quality applies for the solutions I provide. Other exist, work, but I know them less, (other GNU/Linux distributions or Mac) and I did not select them for my project due to some problems I have with them. The user can try other solutions, ask me for help, but I do not ensure I will be able to help him on such solutions. That is why the price of such services is lower.