Freedom Scientific Blind/Low Vision
11800 31st Court North
St. Petersburg, Florida 33716-1805
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - February 28, 2002
(Please note: This review is based upon JAWS for Windows 4.0)
JAWS, which stands for 'Job Access with Speech' is an innovative screen reading program for Windows that enables blind and visually impaired individuals to access the information on their personal computer. Including the various applications and programs that can be run on a Widows based PC, both at home and at work. The programs that can be accessed via JAWS range from simple text documents to complicated applications such as spread sheets, calculators. It can also be used to access the Internet and to use email and instant messenging applications. JAWS was developed by Freedom Scientific, which also markets the product.
What is a screen reader?
A screen reader is a software program that is designed to read aloud text on a computer screen. This is usually done using a sound card or some form of speech synthesizing software. There are a large number of speech synthesizers available, and most can be fully customized, allowing you to select from a variety of male and female voices. You can also adjust the verbosity (how much and what information is read) and pitch, tone, speed at which the information is read. Depending upon the speech synthesizer you select, you may have a choice of languages that JAWS can read. Often you can also select the accent of the reader. For example, for English you can usually select between an American and English accented speaker.
By default, JAWS uses the Eloquence speech synthesizer which can read text in American and British English, Castilian and Latin American Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, French, German, Finish, and Italian. All together, this program ships with a total of nine speech synthesizers, including Microsoft Text-to-Speech Engine, Flex Talk Software and Doubletalk PC. You can easily switch between the various synthesizers, which ensures that you will be able to find the 'right' voice to suit your needs.
Besides its screen reading functions, JAWS is also compatible with a variety of external refreshable braille display hardware components, including Braille Note, Braille Lite, Power Braille, and Alva. You can select a braille display option during the installation process, or add or change your braille display options later. In addition to working with external braille display components, JAWS also includes a braille viewer that allows you to 'see' the braille on your computer screen.
More importantly for those reading braille, everything that ships with the JAWS program, including the mailing label on the shipping box, is marked with braille labels so that braille readers can use and install this program without sighted help.
Who JAWS is for?
This screen reading program is suitable for computer users of all skill levels and is designed for use by blind and visually impaired individuals, and by any individual who has a print-related disability. The program is intuitively designed and is very user friendly. Advanced users will be surprised at the breadth of JAWS functionality and the degree to which it can be customized.
JAWS does not magnify text. However, it works well with a variety of screen magnification software programs, including Freedom Scientific's own screen magnification program, MAGic.
I found that setting up and installing the JAWS program to be quick and easy. To install the program, all you have to do is insert the installation (program) disc into your CD ROM drive. The program started automatically if you have your Windows auto-run enabled. If not, you can start the program manually. The program will talk you through the entire installation process. If you don't have a sound card, you will not be able to hear the verbal directions, however all the instructions are also presented visually.
During the installation process you are given a variety of choices on how you want to install the program. You can allow the program to install itself automatically, or you can elect to use the guided installation process. This process provides step by step instructions that will walk you through the entire installation process and will allow you to customize the installation. Advanced users can also use the advanced installation process. This allows you to fully customize the installation. It also gives you the option of installing a variety of braille display components, in addition to offering a wide selection of speech synthesizer and script components.
Once the JAWS program has been installed, you will be prompted to insert the authorization disc that comes with the JAWS. Once this disc has been installed, you can begin using the JAWS program.
Getting started with JAWS has been made extremely simple by the program itself, which includes detailed help instructions. It has also been made easy by the fact that the program ships with a number of handy aids. These aids include a set of basic training tapes, a Quick Start Guide in large print, and a Quick Reference Guide in braille.
There are five basic training tapes, and these tapes serve to teach you how to install and use the program. These instructions will walk you through all the basic components of the program, and they are excellent. Rather than just saying, do this or do that, these training tapes guide you, step by step, through the various applications. They tell you exactly what is on the screen, and the various options that you have, and how to access these options. By working along with the tapes, you will quickly master the JAWS program.
The Quick Start and Reference guide provide basic information about the program. Each includes a detailed lists of the various shortcuts (keystrokes) that can be used to access menu commands and to control many of the program's functions, such as telling the program to say a character or to read a line or to chance the voice rate. If requested, JAWS will even tell you the color and font of the text being read.
JAWS is set up to run with a variety of common (popular) software applications including the Windows operating systems, Microsoft Word, Corel Word Perfect, Power Point, Outlook Express, Netscape, Internet Explore, Eudora Pro, Windows Office XP, AOL Instant Messenger, Adobe Acrobat, Juno, Real Player, Quicken, Lotus Notes, and many, many more applications.
Specialized scripts can also be added that will enable JAWS to work with programs not already included in the basic programs. Often these scripts can be obtained from the company marketing a particular application, from Freedom Scientific, or from a variety of support groups, such as the JFWlite and JFWlist email support groups.
In addition to the technical and training support offered by Freedom Scientific, the JFWlist and JFWlite lists are also excellent resources if you have any questions about how to use the JAWS or for correcting any problems or conflicts that you are having with the program. These lists will also help you learn some novel shortcuts, and learn lots of 'tricks' that help you to make, and get, the most out of using the program.
JAWS is designed so that it can be used 'straight from the box' and so that most people will find that they will be able to master most of the basic functions in short order. However, there is a learning curve associated with learning how to use any new piece of software, and some aspects of the program will take longer to learn than others. Nonetheless, this is one of the easiest to use, full-function screen readers that I've evaluated and I was amazed at its ease of use and functionality.
For the purposed of this review, the JAWS 4.0 for Widows program was installed and evaluated on a PC running Window 98, 2nd edition, 127 MB of RAM. Throughout this trial, I did not encounter any problems with the computer freezing up, or any conflicts between JAWS and any other software already installed on the computer.
If you are considering purchasing a screen reading program, I recommend that you try out demo versions of as many as possible in order to find the one that best fit for your needs, and your budget. Demos of most screen reading software programs can be downloaded directly from the Internet. To download a free demo of JAWS, check out Freedom Scientific's JAWS for Windows download page located at: http://www.freedomscientific.com/fs_downloads/jaws.asp.
JAWS 4.0 runs on PC's running Microsoft Windows 95/98/Me/ NT 4.0/or 2000.
You also need a Widows compatible sound card to run Eloquence for JAWS, or you will need a JAWS compatible synthesizer.
Also necessary is:
32 MB RAM
30 MB hard disk space for Windows 95/98/Me or
50 MB hard disk space for Windows NT/2000
CD ROM drive
Floppy disc drive
VGA or higher video adapters
JAWS 4.0 is designed to run on a 32-bit system, for those using a Windows 3.1x system (16-bit), JAWS 2.0 is included on the JAWS 4.0 installation CD.