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How Does JAWS Help Navigate and Read Webpages?

Jun 22, 2017

Blind and visually impaired computer users rely on screen readers to render descriptions of visual content through a synthesized voice. A popular option is JAWS (Job Access With Speech), which was originally developed for MS-DOS, but is now available for Microsoft Windows.

What is JAWS

JAWS allows users to read the screen with a text-to-speech output or through a refreshable braille display. Users whose vision loss restricts or prevents them from seeing screen content or navigating with a mouse can move throughout a page using keyboard commands.

The JAWS application supports Windows operating systems released since Windows Vista. It can read and work with multiple types of HTML pages, such as websites, help systems, and web-based applications. JAWS’ capabilities include streamlining keyboard functions, automating commands, and eliminating repetition.

JAWS has a variety of features:

  • Multi-lingual speech synthesis (including U.S. English, British English, German, Italian, French, Castilian Spanish, and Latin Spanish)
  • Multi-screen support
  • Speech-based installation
  • Integration with Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Firefox
  • Touch screen and gesture support
  • Access to text of PDF documents through OCR feature
  • Compatibility with screen magnification software
  • Conversion of print documents and graphics-based text to electronic text

JAWS deploys a “virtual cursor” to read and navigate HTML pages. Although the virtual cursor is invisible to sighted users, visually impaired users can read and select text or move to different elements on the page with it.

The application can be configured to launch when a user logs into Windows, or it might be launched by double-clicking the desktop icon or through the Start menu. JAWS has multiple wizards to help configure the program to suit individual needs. Built-in helpers pop up with specific keystrokes to guide users. For example, the Dictionary Wizard automates the task of entering words into the pronunciation dictionary.

Using JAWS

Users manage reading tasks with either single or paired keystroke commands. The JAWS program modifies the purpose of certain keys when used with and without other keystrokes. For example, the JAWS Key+T combination reads the title of the current document.

When visiting a page using Internet Explorer, JAWS immediately begins reading the page from the top down. Users can then rely on Navigation Quick Keys to read specific text or navigate headings, lists, links, and images.

Users can do more than simply read on-page text. JAWS can perform actions like spelling words to or from a cursor point, or recite characters phonetically for clearer understanding. Users visiting web pages that have special links with titles such "Skip to Main Content" or "Skip Navigation" — which are typically invisible to sighted users — can jump past site navigation tools, such as menus and navigation bars and go directly to on-page content.

Some of the more frequently used commands include:

CTRL+HOME — move to the top of the page.

TAB/SHIFT+TAB — move through links on the page

ALT+↑ — move to prior sentence

ALT+↓ — move to next sentence

INSERT+↓ — read all page text (Say All mode)

INSERT+↑ — read current line

PAGE UP/PAGE DOWN — increase/decrease voice rate in Say All mode

INSERT+←/→ — move to the previous/next word

CTRL — stop reading

— fast-forward in Say All mode

— rewind in Say All mode

JAWS can also be used to complete forms. The Forms mode is activated automatically when users navigate to a form control, such as a text field or radio button. The Forms mode automatically deactivates when users navigate out of the form.

JAWS is one of the screen readers the BOIA testing team uses to test website for accessibility.  

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