Enabling Technology

Jason Morris and an Overview of JAWS

January 30, 2003

About Jason:

Jason Morris visited our Enabling Technologies class to give us an overview of JAWS, a screen reader for Windows. He is a graduate student in the UNC-CH Classics Department who is also attached to the History Department. Because Jason is a person who is blind, he was unable to fully benefit from the resources available at the
Ancient World Mapping Center. This lead to the development of the BATS project which helps people with visual impairments read maps. Jason also works as a consultant for the Computer Science Department. His office is 5010 Davis Library, which is the Ancient World Mapping Center, and his office hours for Spring 20003 are:

        Monday: 2:00 4:30

        Tuesday: 11:00 12:15, 2:00 4:00

        Wednesday: 10:00 1:00

        Thursday: 11:00 12:15, and afternoons by appointment


He can be reached by email at: caecus@email.unc.edu.



About JAWS:

  • JAWS was designed for and by blind users.
  • Jason uses the number keys to navigate around the screen on his computer. For example, 1 and 7 are page up and page down (respectively), and 3 and 9 are home and end. Jason usually connects a numeric keypad to his laptop to allow him to type more easily.
  • JAWS has two types of cursors. The PC Cursor is used when editing something on the screen. For example, the PC Cursor would be used to type in a URL when browsing web pages. The JAWS cursor is used similarly to how people who are sighted use a mouse. It would be used, for example, when changing the focus to a different window.
  • JAWS has a help mode, which provides audio help similar to the visual "help balloons" that people who are sighted can use when using Windows.
  • JAWS allows you to vary the speed at which you hear text. Jason mentioned that speeds that are too quick make web pages very difficult to understand. He usually has his speed set to 200 words per minute.
  • In JAWS, the pitch of the voice that reads uppercase letters is different than the voice that reads lowercase letters. Similarly, the pitch of the voice when the JAWS cursor is active is different than the pitch of the voice for the PC cursor.
  • When reading the result of a web search, JAWS tells you how many links were found. This is helpful information, not only because it lets you know how successful your search is, but because it also indicates how difficult it may be to find what you are looking for.
  • When reading links that a page contains JAWS will tell you if you have visited certain link before.
  • JAWS also supports different languages. Beside American English, JAWS could read in British English, German, Spanish, etc.
  • Jason is computer literate and it is not hard for him to operate a keyboard, but for people who are not as comfortable with typing, JAWS could be set up so that it will tell the user what key is being pressed at any time.


Possible Improvements for JAWS:

  • Perhaps pitch variation could be used to a greater degree. For example, instead of saying "link" every time an html link is encountered, perhaps a variation in pitch could indicate this.
  • Could we design web pages with tags that indicate to JAWS the length of a page of text? This would be so that page up and page down worked more like they are intended to.
  • There is no easy way for the user who is blind to be aware of network congestion when he is trying to load documents. How could this be improved?
  • Some keys that perform vital functions are located physically close to each other on the keyboard. Could this design be improved to reduce accidentally mistyping keys?
  • It would be nice if JAWS could have an option to close pop-up windows (but only those that are unwanted).
  • JAWS reads only what is on the screen. If a window that is being read is not maximized, the user might not hear all of the important information. Could this be improved?
  • JAWS works best on web pages that are not bogged down with too many links, and with web pages that contain one column of plain text. Some web pages have the same navigational links on every page, so every time one goes to these web pages these links are heard. Could a web page author somehow notify JAWS that there are navigational links at the top and then let the user choose whether to hear them or not?


What We Learned:

  • JAWS is difficult to follow for people who are sighted.
  • People who are sighted use their hands a lot when talking to others, even when talking to people who are blind.
  • JAWS is very useful because it can make technology accessible to people with visual impairments, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
  • Patience, patience, patience!


By Alex Krstic and Kelly Van Busum