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as presented and demoed by Jason Morris


JAWS is a screen reading program created by Freedom Scientific. It gives visually-impaired people a means by which they can navigate around a typical Windows interface. It is loaded at startup and speaks aloud icon names and menu items as the user uses special keys to navigate amongst them. The functionality of the mouse is converted into the following keyboard commands that are used for navigation and selection:

  1. Left, Right, Up and Down Navigation (keypad)
  2. Left or Right mouse click
  3. Enter
  4. Page up and page down


In addition to using JAWS, Jason used a brail box as he navigated through the icons and his documents.

Although it carries a hefty price tag (~$4,000), it aids in the navigation by providing extra information and allowing the user to read rather than to hear what is on the screen.

When in Navigation mode, it displays the current directory, the currently selected file, and the icon location.

When in file reading mode, it allows the reader to feel the words in brail as he scrolls through the text.


Although it is the best available option to visually impaired people, Jason’s demo revealed numerous shortcomings of JAWS:

  1. JAWS is entirely memory based. The frequent updates to the program require relearning various functions (i.e. Jason got lost in the new menu structure resulting from his recent upgrade to JAWS 5.5).
  2. A secondary cursor is necessary to allow the user to visit menus and other built-in windows functions which can be confusing (at times, Jason was not able to tell which part of the screen he was attempting to select).
  3. JAWS does not work with any Adobe products, Netscape Navigator or Outlook Express.
  4. Popups are especially annoying and hard to deal with.
  5. Complicated web pages with many links (like Amazon ) can be nearly impossible to navigate.
  6. A crash of JAWS renders the entire computer useless until it is rebooted.


Despite this hefty list of drawbacks, JAWS has the main benefit that it enables people with visual impairments to successfully use a typical computer. Although there seem to be many idiosyncrasies and difficulties in its use, with a high level of patience, JAWS and other screen readers can open the world of computing to people who may otherwise be excluded.