Jaws is the most advanced screen reader programs. My
impressions as a sighted person were gathered after using the free demo
for 1 hour.
Overall impression from using Jaws
I found Jaws to be an effective tool for communicating information
from web-pages. I could “listen” to web-pages and comprehend the meaning
as if I were reading them.
As a sighted person, however, the experience required patients and
was frustrating. It took patients to process information at a slower
rate than by sight because the information could only be acquired
sequentially. Frustration came from learning the new command set. It was
also frustrating to view web pages not designed for Jaws.
While learning to use the Jaws commands it was useful to reformat
the web page (commands INS F5). All text read while using the commands
was visible in the reformatted web page, which made it easier to
understand the functionality of each command.
The content of the web site was easier to understand with prior
knowledge. With newspaper web sites, for example, knowing about
current events makes the short article headings understandable. Without
prior knowledge the headings would blend together incomprehensibly.
The easiest pages to understand were those with continuous text.
Comprehending the material was as easy as reading a book or listening to
a tape. Some of the final project reports on my web page were an
example of this.
The tutorial on Jaws had a very useful feature. At the start
of the page there was a link to skip to the main content of the page.
This avoided moving through the navigation links repeated on each page.
There is a large learning curve to become familiar with Jaws’
commands. Using the keypad becomes intuitive with practice. Using the
key combinations with ALT and INS was less intuitive because they are
not part of the Windows keystroke paradigm. In fact, pressing ALT
without another key will have the side effect of activating the menu
Clutter that surrounds newspaper articles, such as from the New York
Times, makes it complicated to comprehend the article. The heading
of the page is filled with text not intended to be read, however, Jaws
is not designed to skip this text. In addition, many links have to be
traversed before reaching the article. Once the reader starts with the
article, the reading is interrupted by ads. A sighted person would
be able to glance over an ad, however, the Jaws user must listen to
everything. I had lost the article’s train of thought by the time
the reader continued with the article.
Using the key equivalents to the mouse buttons seems to be very
dangerous; for example, the menu of a right mouse click varies depending
on the object under the mouse. So the behavior of the mouse menu is
In my short time with Jaws I was impressed with its
flexibility to read many differently formatted Windows. However, I
also came across several bugs.
- On a newspaper web site it was useful to “tab” over the many links.
However, the “tab” function stopped working when a flash ad was
- Although reformatting web pages useful, it did crash on a simple
- Changing the speed of the Jaws voice seems to incorrectly change the
blinking rate of the cursor. I verify this by repeatedly setting the
voice speed and observing the change in cursor blinking rate.
- Formatting the headings of newspaper articles needs improvement. It
seems that the many links at the start could be organized as pull down
menus. The menus could be similar to the “file”, “edit”, and “view”
menus of a Windows application. The links could be divided into
different categories. With the links in menus the reader can start
reading the article almost immediately. If the person is interested in
the links, he/she can select the menus.
- Sometimes I like switching between windows (ALT-Tab), however, when
switching back Jaws will restart to read the page from the top. It would
be better to continue were it last finished.
- One can get used to the different keystrokes, however, having
modalities, such as in VI, does not seem to have passed the test of time
(in my humble observation). It seems that the key arrangement, such as
on the keypad, makes for an intuitive understanding of the function
keys, such as 8 moves up and 2 moves down.