Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – JAWS 13 Review: Part One

On Monday, October 24, 2011, Freedom Scientific released JAWS version 13. I am surprised they called it 13 since many of us think of 13 as an unlucky number. Here are some of my thoughts on this release.

First, the new Optical Character Recognition (OCR) feature is the first of its kind in the world of screen readers. This feature allows users to read PDF files that currently are not readable by screen readers. The way it does this is by taking an OCR of the document you are attempting to read. Once this is done, you use the JAWS curser to move and read the document. Be sure to check out the “What’s New” option in the help menu to get specific instructions on exactly how to use this feature. The feature will also work when you are playing some DVD Movies. These movies are usually not accessible to us because a menu will appear on the screen giving us some options to pick and these options haven’t been readable in the past by screen readers. I’ve tried this at home with a few DVD’s and got very different results with each one. Some will OCR fine and others are still not readable. Maybe in the future, they can improve this feature since this is the first time it appears in a release of JAWS.

The new Quick Settings replaces the Insert V dialog box. I personally hated that dialog box because I felt as though there were many options there and it was difficult to remember which option you had changed when you hit spacebar and made a change. Now, with Quick Settings, the options are all arranged in a tree view, very similar to the Settings Center, found first in JAWS version 12. You can move to an option, change it, and also know how long the changes will stay in effect. You can check how long an option will stay in effect by pressing your applications key when you’ve arrowed to an option on the tree view.

The next thing added is the new Table Layer Keystrokes. This is an attempt to help the end user not need to hold down so many keys when they are moving through tables. This is a great idea for those who have trouble and I think it will greatly help people who have limited use of their hands. The only issue I have with this feature is that you need to start it by pressing a few keystrokes, and if you press Escape after you’ve started it, you have to start it all over again.

This brings me to a point I must make about JAWS–it is a very feature-rich program with lots of items and choices for the user to make about how they wish it to behave. You can adjust features for specific programs, or you can adjust them globally, meaning they will affect how JAWS behaves in any situation. Somehow, I feel that over the years, they’ve added so many features that it really becomes difficult to remember where things are located and it can be very overwhelming for new users to become comfortable with. I just wish there were a simpler approach to the program.

Next week, I’ll write more about JAWS 13 in part two for you. In the meantime, you can read about all the new features at http://freedomscientific.com/downloads/jaws/JAWS-whats-new.asp

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