A Bit About Leasey: Adding Extra Functionality to JAWS and Fusion

I wanted to call out a third party program which is used in conjunction with JAWS or Fusion which is called Leasey, which stands for Learn, Enable, Advance .. So Easy. Leasey is developed by Hartgen Consultancy, which also produces and sells other software packages as well as providing excellent training for users of JAWS and Fusion.

It contains over 50 features but it can be divided into two modules or components.

One component is called Leasey Basic. It is ideal for new or inexperienced computer users, users with cognitive-related disabilities or just someone who wants an easy, consistent, menu-driven interface for their computer. Instead of the desktop, start menu or task bar it uses a simple menu, read by a human voice. It also contains context-sensitive menus and a help system, also human narrated.

The other component is called Leasey Advanced, which is ideal for intermediate or power users. It contains a huge array of features. Some include:

Leasey Clips

These are like separate clipboards, with a total of twelve, which retain their information even after the computer has been restarted.

Leasey Texts

This allows you to save a list of text blocks which you can insert into a document, with the option of storing abbreviations to expand into your desired block.

Leasey Cuts

Allows you to store shortcuts for Web pages as well as to specific files and folders.

Leasey Alerts

If specific text appears on a particular Web page JAWS can immediately move focus to that text when the page loads. As an example, I have a Leasey alert set whenever the text “Search Results” appears on the Google Web site. This way, once I perform a search the JAWS virtual cursor immediately jumps to the beginning of the search results as soon as the results page loads.

Leasey Search

While we’re on the subject of searches this feature allows you to search a variety of different services without the need to first open a Web browser. I like to think of it as an extension of the Research It feature in JAWS. As an example, I can perform a search on Google, a TV database, a music database and many more sites.

Microsoft Word

Just a few features specific to Word include:

  • Hotkeys have been set up to move the cursor to the next, previous, first or last spelling error as well as the same for grammatical errors. This is very similar to a feature in Window-Eyes, which I personally requested for Leasey.
  • A modified user interface to work with the Microsoft Word spell checker.
  • A modified interface for performing search and replace.


Leasey Tags

The ability to tag any file in any folder for copying without needing to use the standard shift or control keys with arrow keys to select the file.


Leasey Radio

A radio tuner.

Leasey Diary

For keeping track of appointments.

Leasey Connect

a built-in address book

.. and a lot more.

The phrase “a lot more” cannot be emphasized enough. I have only mentioned just some of Leasey’s features.


I had nothing to do with the development of the software, short of suggesting some features which the developer graciously decided to add. I paid the full price for the software, receive no commission from any sales and am not affiliated with Hartgen Consultancy, which produces and sells the software. I’m just an enthusiastic Leasey user and wanted to get the word out about this amazing software.

Leasey must be used along with an activated copy of either JAWS or Fusion. This means that it does not function with other screen readers or without JAWS or Fusion running.

The Leasey Central Web site provides a complete list of features, short audio tutorials along with transcripts, detailed product demonstrations as well as links for downloading a trial version or for purchasing the software.


My Feature Wish List for JAWS 2020

My Feature Wish List for JAWS 2020


A little over a year ago I wrote a blog post explaining why I chose to add JAWS to my accessibility toolbox for my screen reading needs. I still use NVDA on a regular basis but I must say that I use JAWS as my primary screen reader. I will always continue to endorse NVDA as it is a very good screen reader and fills a very important need, providing a free screen reader supporting around 50 languages, ensuring that visually impaired people around the world have free access to a Windows computer. However, JAWS offers some tools and features which are not found in NVDA, some of which I mentioned in the previously referenced blog post. And if those features weren’t enough I have even more capabilities with the amazing third party Leasey software, available at a very reasonable price from Hartgen Consultancy.

With all of the capabilities being offered by JAWS as well as from Leasey there are still some features that I’d like to see added to JAWS. The 2020 version of JAWS is a bit of a milestone for Vispero as we are heading into the 25th anniversary for the JAWS screen reader. Very few software packages can boast that they’ve been available for such a long period of time, let alone specialized software such as screen readers. JAWS has consistently been available for nearly 25 years, constantly fixing bugs as well as adding new features and refining existing ones. I’d like to see Vispero add some special features to celebrate the 25th anniversary of what has become a fabulous and extremely capable and powerful screen reader.

I don’t necessarily feel that a ton of new features should be introduced all at once. In the past the company would introduce a new major update in September, bumping up the version number and adding lots of new features, with maintenance updates being released every few months after that to fix bugs and refine the newly added features. Starting with JAWS 2019 I’m noticing a slight shift in the way features are being introduced. Rather than releasing one major update with a boatload of new features the company seems to be adding features throughout the release cycle for that particular version, as they did when they added Picture Smart, the image recognition feature, around March of 2019. I highly approve of this approach and it’s one that I wish more companies would consider adopting. Releasing one massive update with a ton of new features potentially means more bugs that users will have to contend with, making more work for the development team. Introducing a few new features at a time means the opposite: less work for Vispero’s developers and a smoother experience for those of us who use the software and who depend on it to behave reliably. Microsoft does this with Office 365 but I wish they’d adopt this approach with Windows 10 and I sure wish Apple would do this with iOS.

Now that I have that preamble out of the way here is my personal wish list of features that I’d like to see added to JAWS 2020 and beyond.


A More Flexible Way to Copy Web Content to the Clipboard.

Fortunately, Leasey does address this issue rather nicely, for which I’m very grateful. However, for the benefit of those users who may not even know that Leasey exists let me explain the current situation. In addition to using standard selection commands to select and copy content from a Web page into the clipboard JAWS has another method for selecting text. However, the steps to do this must be followed just so in order for this feature to work. Here is how you must do it.

  1. Move the virtual cursor to the beginning of the block of text you’d like to copy. I usually do this at the beginning of the block of text but I believe that you can start at the end of the block.
  2. Press ctrl+Windows+K. This sets a temporary place marker at the location of the virtual cursor.
  3. Move the virtual cursor to the end of the block of text to be copied.
  4. Press the layered keystroke insert+space.
  5. Press the letter M (for mark.)
  6. Press ctrl+C to copy the block of text to the clipboard.

Admittedly, this set of steps is easier than holding down the shift key and using navigation commands. However, I’d like to see a little more flexibility. As an example, why not allow the user to place a mark at the beginning as well as at the end of the block of text using the same hotkey. Even better, could there be a way to place a mark at one end of the block of text and then, after moving to the other end of the block, have a hotkey which copies the text from the mark to the current cursor location into the clipboard?


Allow JAWS to Start in Safe Mode

There’s not much more that I could say beyond the above heading. I believe that Narrator can do this and, if memory serves, Window-Eyes also offered this capability. There are times when we may need to start our computers in safe mode to troubleshoot a problem and currently JAWS doesn’t function when in this mode.


Cursor Keys Feature From Window-Eyes

Users of the Window-Eyes screen reader, which is no longer available, will likely remember the cursor keys feature. For the benefit of those who may be unfamiliar with this feature I will explain how it works.

The Cursor Keys feature allowed you to assign functions to a cursor navigation feature without taking away the key’s original function. Here’s an example.

Suppose that I want the Home key to speak the character to the right of the cursor but I still want that key to move the cursor to the beginning of the line when I press it. This would mean that pressing the Home key moves the cursor to the beginning of the current line of text and then the screen reader would then speak the character at the cursor position. Window-Eyes allowed for this with a feature called Cursor Keys, which was also available in the Vocal-Eyes screen reader for DOS. You would first pick the cursor key you wanted to assign a function to, such as home, end, page-up, page-down, up arrow, down arrow, etc. You then had a list of functions which you could then assign to the cursor key you had chosen. You could actually select up to two separate functions for the cursor key but bear in mind that the cursor key would still do what it was intended to do. With JAWS, you can access the Keyboard Manager and assign a script to a cursor key but doing so will usually prevent that key from performing its original function. If you know the JAWS scripting language you could, of course, write a script and assign it to that key and you could then have that key perform any function or set of functions that you wanted it to do. The point is that Window-Eyes allowed you to do this without needing to worry about writing scripts. In my opinion, since Vispero made the decision to stop developing Window-Eyes they should consider adding features which were unique to that screen reader to JAWS so that JAWS users can continue to enjoy and benefit from those features.


Add Acapela Voices

It’s true that JAWS does ship with a fairly wide array of voices. In addition to Eloquence, which I still use and often prefer, we now have access to voices from Nuance, as well as being able to use Microsoft’s own set of voices. However, I’m quite a fan of Acapela’s voices and I’d like to see them included with JAWS, even as an optional download.


Allow Dialogs to be Navigated and Interacted With Using the Virtual Cursor

To some extent this is something that Narrator is beginning to do and I would absolutely love to see this capability added to JAWS. Currently, when a dialog appears you can navigate the dialog by pressing tab or shift+tab to move from one actionable item to the next. By actionable item I’m referring to items such as buttons, edit fields and combo boxes that you can not only access but which you can also interact with by pressing keys such as arrow keys to navigate within a combo box or the space key to press a button. This is fine but many dialog boxes contain textual information that you would otherwise miss if all you did was to navigate by pressing the tab key. You could use the JAWS cursor to navigate through a dialog box but this cursor may not always function in all dialog boxes. Also, you have to remember to press the slash key on the number pad to press a button. You could place the dialog in the virtual viewer by pressing insert+alt+W but all you can do in this mode is to read it. If you want to interact with the dialog you would have to press escape first to exit this mode. What I’m requesting is the equivalent of Narrator’s scan mode. While in a dialog pressing insert+Z would convert the current screen into the equivalent of a dynamic Web page. This would still allow you to navigate the dialog by pressing tab or shift+tab as you always have done in the past. However, you could also use standard cursor keys to navigate through the dialog just as you currently use them to navigate Web pages. Informational text would be instantly readable. Combo boxes, edit fields and list boxes would allow you to press enter while you’re focused on them which would then enter forms mode, allowing you to interact with them. Pressing enter or space on a button would press or activate that button. This capability would allow dialog boxes to be navigated with the same level of efficiency that we already have with Web page navigation.


Startup and Closing Sounds for JAWS

This is certainly not a major feature request and it might have very little impact on most users. However, it would be nice to have the ability to have a sound file played when JAWS first starts or when it closes, either during a Windows shutdown or when a user chooses to close it.


Allow Users to Assign a JAWS Hotkey During the Startup Wizard

During the startup wizard JAWS should give the user the option of assigning a hotkey to start JAWS in the event that it’s been shut down. Many users know how to do this by accessing the JAWS properties on the desktop. Some users may not know how to do this and JAWS should make it easier for both groups of users. Window-Eyes used ctrl+alt+W as its shortcut key and NVDA uses ctrl+alt+N. Can JAWS please give the user the option to use ctrl+alt+J or, better yet, allow them to assign their own?


Progress Indicator Tones

This is something which I’m honestly surprised that JAWS hasn’t implemented years ago, considering that this feature existed in Window-Eyes and has been a part of NVDA, perhaps even before that screen reader’s first public non-beta release in 2009. I’m referring to the percentages you often hear when performing an action such as installing a piece of software or when copying a large file or group of files from one folder to the next. Leasey from Hartgen Consultancy implemented this feature in 2019 and I was one of the users who requested it. Still, this is something which I think Vispero should consider adding to JAWS as a standard feature which could optionally be either turned on or off by the user.


Allow the User to Assign Numbers and Punctuation Keys When Using the Navigation Quick Key Manager

I love the navigation quick key manager. As an example of how I use it I’ve chosen to assign the “any link” hotkey to the letter K as I got very used to being able to navigate links with K and shift+K with NVDA. For those who wonder what I did with the Placemarkers hotkey I assigned that to M and unassigned the ability to navigate by frames, as this is a feature that I don’t really need. I’d like to see the capability of assigning keys to these functions other than letters, such as numbers, punctuation keys or keys which are specific to the number pad.


Script Writing Wizard

The JAWS scripting language is perhaps one of the most powerful features found within JAWS. By writing scripts you can add features and capabilities to JAWS that many people wouldn’t even think that a screen reader could do. As proof of this just visit Hartgen Consultancy to see what Brian Hartgen has been able to accomplish with JAWS scripting. However, let’s be honest. The scripting language is a programming language and it needs to be learned in order for it to be mastered. Why not make this a bit easier by implementing a script writing wizard for new or inexperienced users. It could prompt them with a series of questions with choices for things like “what would you like this script to do”, with a list of functions from which to choose. It could perhaps work a bit like the Cursor Keys dialog did in Window-Eyes. Perhaps an interface like this wouldn’t be able to offer every type of function but it would at least allow most users to write some basic scripts.


JAWS Script Repository

Over the years many people have written scripts for JAWS. While some are available for purchase many of them, perhaps most of them, are available at no cost. The problem is that you either have to know where to obtain them or you have to perform some Google searches and hope that you’ll be able to locate them. This never made sense to me. It would be like buying a Kindle and then finding out that the only way to download books for it is to go to sites such as Joe’s Kindle Books or some other third-party site. NV Access offers its official addon repository for NVDA users and Window-Eyes offered Script Central, which behaved much like an app store, allowing users to browse, download and install scripts right from the screen reader itself. I never understood why Vispero doesn’t host its own script repository for its users. This would greatly extend the capabilities of JAWS for many users and it would ensure that user-created scripts would always be available.


USE AI to Guess and Reclass Controls

JAWS is now starting to use artificial intelligence to recognize photos with its recently added Picture Smart feature. However, what would be both very helpful as well as innovative would be to have the option of having AI attempting to identify controls and then reclassing them. As an example, if you had a control which looked and behaved like a button but which wasn’t an actual button it would be fantastic if JAWS could examine the control and say, “hmmmm, that looks like it could be a button” and then JAWS could then allow the user to interact with that control as if it was a button. This would have to be an option which the user would need to enable, as JAWS could certainly make some incorrect guesses.

Improved Help

The documentation that comes with JAWS has always been both accurate as well as comprehensive. The problem that I have with it is, to be frank, that it’s dry and sometimes uses overly technical language which could go over the heads of some users, particularly those who may be new to computers.

As an example, if you are on the Windows desktop and you press insert+F1 for context sensitive help or what JAWS refers to as screen sensitive help, you will receive this message, which begins with the following text.

“The desktop list view contains application icons and desktop items.”

Press the first letter of the desired item to move to it.

To open or start it, Press ENTER.”


This is, of course, true. However, it’s a bit too technical for some users. What’s a list view? What’s an application icon? Why can’t it say something like the following.


““You are on the desktop.

The desktop contains a list of items such as programs, folders or even documents.

Press up, down, left or right arrow to move to each of these items.

You can also press the first letter of an item to immediately move to that item.

When you find an item that you want to open, press enter.”


Writing documentation is an art more so than a science. Admittedly, it’s not easy to write documentation which appeals or speaks to all users. I do think, however, that the needs of the new or inexperienced user should be considered when preparing the documentation.


Beginner and Expert Mode

One of the features which Window-Eyes offered was the ability to have two separate modes. When Window-Eyes was first installed it would default to a beginner mode. In this mode, not all menu options were available. However, the screen reader did contain just enough features to allow the new user to control basic options, such as adjusting speech settings. Once you switched to the advanced mode you would find that all of the menu options were available to access. I used to provide training to blind and visually impaired adults in the use of assistive technology and many of them wouldn’t initially need some of the more advanced features which JAWS has to offer. This might also be a good reason to alter some of the screen sensitive help, perhaps simplifying the language when JAWS is in its novice mode.


Allow the User to Customize Screen Sensitive Help

One feature which would solve the problem of confusing or overly technical language in the screen sensitive help would be a way to allow the user to customize or alter these messages. This is something which Window-Eyes allowed the user to do. It would be fabulous if assistive technology instructors could do this as we could then modify these messages and adjust them for the needs of the individual users they are working with. They could, for example, add specific instructions or other hints that might be applicable to that user’s particular computer. Perhaps this could be done with another hotkey which might be missed or too complex for a user to accidentally press, such as insert+shift+F1.


Remove “Task Switching” Message When Pressing Alt+Tab

Many times JAWS says “task switching” when the alt+tab key has been pressed. Sometimes, it even says this twice. Depending on the voice being used and on the speed of that voice this message can be both annoying as well as time-consuming and it simply doesn’t need to be spoken at all. Can we please just have that message eliminated?



Improved Support for LibreOffice

I think we can all agree that the support JAWS offers for Microsoft Office, at least when it comes to Word, Excel and Outlook, is superb. If you use a screen reader and you need to compose and edit documents or spreadsheets Office is definitely the package to get, particularly if you’re a JAWS user. However, Office isn’t free of cost. Sure, you can subscribe to Office 365 on an annual or even on a monthly basis but the fact is that some people simply can’t afford the extra expense. Fortunately, there are some free alternatives, one of which is LibreOffice, available from the Document Foundation. LibreOffice does offer basic accessibility and works reasonably well with JAWS. However, it doesn’t offer the extra level of accessibility that we’ve come to expect with Office products, such as Word and Excel. As an example, LibreOffice Writer should include the same configuration options found within the Quick Settings dialog as we have for Microsoft Word. Users who either can’t afford Office or who just want an alternative to Office deserve the same level of access.


Improved Support for Popular Antimalware Programs

This is a topic I’ve written about previously. Years ago I would have never recommended Microsoft’s Windows Defender as its ability to defend against malware was pretty lackluster. However, recent reviews suggest that this is changing for the better and Windows Defender can now be considered a reasonably good antimalware solution. While I personally believe that Defender has a somewhat unintuitive user interface the fact is that it is very accessible with screen readers and it’s safer and more reliable now than it was in the past. However, JAWS still needs better access to today’s more popular and commonly used security solutions. A few years ago I wrote a review of Kaspersky Antivirus and how it works with the NVDA screen reader. With JAWS I find that access to Kaspersky is a bit hit and miss. At times JAWS actually did a fairly good job reading most of the labeled buttons in the main Kaspersky window, even better than what I experienced with NVDA. I noticed this improved performance shortly after installing Kaspersky but the performance in this window totally degraded after a while. Perhaps this was due to a Kaspersky program update which introduced accessibility regressions. Navigating with the touch cursor helps but access to this and other critical packages needs to be top-notch. Freedom Scientific should invest the same amount of resources in making the top antimalware programs accessible as much as it does in making other programs accessible, such as Microsoft Office and Google Chrome. I’ll agree that developers of these programs should take responsibility and include accessibility in all of their software. However, it may take some serious advocacy on the part of screen reader developers to make this happen. Screen reader developers should also assist, where possible, in writing scripts to make these packages as accessible as they do with Microsoft Office. Having robust security on our Windows machines is essential. However, these programs are useless if they generate warning messages or if they require our input and we’re unable to reliably access these messages and interact with their controls


Improved Support for Mozilla Thunderbird

Mozilla Thunderbird has been my preferred email program of choice for over ten years. On my computer its performance is faster than Microsoft Outlook and its commands are similar to Outlook. JAWS does offer some support for Thunderbird but I would suggest that this support needs to be improved. Here are some examples.

  • It is currently either impossible or, at least, exceedingly difficult, to reorder the columns in a mailbox. Some of this is Mozilla’s fault for not providing a keyboard-friendly way to do this. Currently, I have to use the Mozilla Apps Enhancements addon for NVDA in order to perform this task. This means that I have to unload JAWS and then load NVDA inn order to easily reorder columns in the message list from the keyboard.
  • Allow a hotkey to move to or open a list of attachments
  • Remove the title of the message from the top line of the message, including the occasional “X Unicode” symbol. The first line of an email message should be the first actual line of text that appears in the message body, just as what we have with Microsoft Outlook.
  • When deleting messages from a message list, such as the inbox, please remove the occasional “not selected, not selected” prompts that JAWS occasionally says.

In short, I’d like to see the same level of accessibility in Mozilla Thunderbird that we already enjoy with Microsoft Outlook.


Allow the User to Pause and Resume the Reading of Text During a “Say All”

This is honestly an idea that I took from NVDA but I think it’s a useful feature. Essentially, while continuously reading text using the “say all” command allow a press of the shift key to pause rather than stop the reading of text. As long as the user hasn’t moved the cursor to another location or hasn’t switched to another program a second press of the shift key could then resume the reading of text at the point where the reading was first paused. I’m aware that the left and right shift keys are used for skim reading commands but the left and right arrow keys could still be used for this purpose. Vispero could always add a setting to allow the user to choose whether the shift key is used for either skim reading or as a pause/resume key.

Include the Option to Speak the Version Number of JAWS on Start-up

Because a new JAWS installation does not remove previous versions of JAWS there are many users who, for several reasons, may have several versions of JAWS installed on their computer. It would be nice if, as an option, JAWS could announce its version number as it starts, as in “JAWS 2020 Professional is ready.” Window-Eyes included a similar option and I’d love to see it included as a JAWS feature.



That wraps up my wish list for features that I’d personally like to see added to JAWS 2020 and beyond. As JAWS is a fabulous screen reader now celebrating its 25th anniversary users should be treated to a landmark, game changing and innovative release for the JAWS 2020 cycle. I’d love to read your comments as to features that you’d like to see added to JAWS.



iOS 13 Tip: Quickly Activate Reader Mode in Safari

In previous versions of iOS it was fairly easy to activate reader mode while on a supported page in the Safari Web browser. All that was needed was to navigate to the Reader button, located toward the upper left hand corner below the status line, and, if you are a VoiceOver user, double-tap. iOS 13 has somewhat changed this procedure as it is now necessary to first activate the Format Options button in order to locate and then activate the reader view. However, there is a quicker way to activate the reader mode that is almost as fast as it was with iOS 12 and earlier. Simply double tap and hold the Format Options button. This will enable the reader view.

Useful But Lesser Known iOS Apps: Next Phone Meeting of the Philadelphia Computer Users Group for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Many of us are very familiar with using VoiceOver on our IPhone, Ipad or iPod Touch devices. As we become more confident with using these devices we soon

hear about useful apps which are not only popular with sighted people but specialized apps which benefit visually impaired users, such as money identifiers

like Money Reader, apps for scanning text such as KNFB Reader and Seeing AI and apps for reading books with Voice Dream Reader or BARD. However, there

are plenty of lesser known apps which some of you may find just as interesting or useful. These apps may not be generating the latest discussion on the blindness lists but you may find them just as useful and interesting.

This will be the subject of our next phone meeting, scheduled for Friday, November 30 at 8:00 PM. Our guest presenter will be Glenda Such, who has been

working in the assistive technology field for over thirty years. In the 1990s she was a manager with AbiliTech’s assistive technology department, which is how I came to know her and, eventually, worked for her for several years. Glenda is a passionate iPhone user who has evaluated hundreds of apps and

is eager to share her knowledge with you, as well as answering your questions.

As an example, she will tell you about an app which can turn your iPhone into a distance magnifier, allowing a low vision user to point a camera at an

object and to have that object enlarged for easier viewing. You may have heard of apps to recognize your money but are you interested in an app which can recognize different types of plants or flowers, such as its name, where it came from, its life cycle, and even a description about the appearance of its

overall shape, bark, leaves, pedals and seeds. Are you interested in finding out about an app that turns your iPhone into a fax machine? How about apps which give time announcements, other than the typical Westminster chimes that you might regularly encounter? How about an app which lets you know how fast

you’re traveling? Are you interested in apps which can translate from one language to another, including an app which will let you scan something in one

language and have the text translated into another language? How about a couple of apps for saving on items in stores as well as getting free products?

Glenda will tell you about them!!

To participate, the number to call is (712) 432-3900. When prompted for an access code, enter


391 477


followed by the pound key.

Along With NVDA I’m Also Now Using JAWS 2019. Here’s Why.

I had initially been a user of the JAWS screen reader since version 1.0 began shipping. I didn’t purchase it at that time but the product came out while I was working for Blazie Engineering in the 1990s. In addition to producing products such as the Braille ‘n Speak and Braille Lite, Blazie Engineering was also a distributor of many third-party products, such as screen readers and speech synthesizers, and the company had been selling JAWS for DOS when I first began working there. When JAWS for Windows, or JFW as it was sometimes called, began to ship Blazie received a copy right away. In January of 1995 I had to have my tonsils removed and was out of work because of this for two weeks. During those two weeks I had the pleasure of unboxing, installing and learning JFW 1.0 while I was recovering and really liked the software. After I left the company I bought my own license but I let it expire while running version 6. Later I began using NVDA and discovered that it was quite a nice screen reader. In the summer of 2009 I began using NVDA exclusively on my home computer and was very happy with it. It continues to offer some nice features and benefits not found in JAWS and, for my needs, I found it to be more than satisfactory.

During this time I was working as a trainer for Associated Services for the Blind where the agency kept their license of JAWS up to date. New versions of JAWS continued to be released and I kept up with what was added. When I left ASB and began working at Comcast as a member of their accessibility team I was able to continue using JAWS with a current license, which is always kept up to date.

As I continued to use and learn more about the newly added features introduced in each annual update I began to encounter features which JAWS had added but which were not available with NVDA. With products such as Office offering a subscription model with their Office 365 packages I really wanted to see Freedom Scientific offer a similar package to its users. With the release of JAWS 2019 FS (now part of Vispero, formerly VFO Group) announced that subscription packages would be available for some of their software packages, with JAWS being the first.

I was quite excited about this as I’d now be able to pay just $90.00 (a bit more with local sales tax) to immediately upgrade from my old license to a new, shiny JAWS 2019 license. This morning I visited Freedom Scientific’s E-store, found the page offering the JAWS annual license, placed it in my shopping cart and then completed my purchase. I immediately received two emails, one confirming my order and the other email containing a link for me to download and activate my software.

I went to the link and downloaded a tiny file which then allowed me to download and activate my software. I opened the program and, with no drama, JAWS was downloaded, installed and activated on my machine. The process was incredibly simple and, upon a restart, my desktop contained the JAWS 2019 icon to start my screen reader. As an added bonus, people who subscribe early as I did actually receive more than one year of use as my subscription officially expires on January 31, 2020, giving me almost fourteen months of actual use.

Now I’ll talk about why I actually decided to start using JAWS at home again. While I was always very happy with NVDA and will continue to recommend and endorse it there were some features and benefits which JAWS offers which are presently not found within NVDA which I really wanted on my home computer. Specifically, these features are:

  • The ability to copy a portion of a Web page into an email message with the formatting retained, including links and headings. I often repost various news articles and press releases to the mailing list for the Philadelphia Computer Users’ Group for the Blind and Visually Impaired. These articles usually contain links and headings which I’d prefer to have preserved in the email message. JAWS is able to preserve the formatting of portions of a Web page which are copied and then pasted into other documents or email messages. Currently, NVDA does not possess this capability. For a while I would use Window-Eyes as a backup screen reader to complete this task but this product is no longer in development. This was a decision made by VFO last year which I still strongly disagree with as it has diminished the screen reader landscape.
  • The ability for quick navigation keys to wrap. As an example, suppose that a Web page contains five headings and my virtual cursor is at the bottom of the page. With NVDA, pressing the letter H causes NVDA to inform me that no more headings exist on the page. This is, of course, correct. However, pressing the letter H using JAWS would cause the navigation to wrap back to the top, moving my focus onto the first heading. I believe this feature can be disabled for users who don’t want navigation to wrap but I found it to be a useful (though not a necessary) feature.
  • Responsiveness. Using Espeak, which is still my favorite synthesizer, NVDA is quite responsive. By responsive I’m referring to the delay between pressing a key and hearing the letter, number or character which was pressed. Even more important is the delay when pressing arrow keys to review a Web page, email message or a document. Again, in nearly all cases NVDA is pretty responsive when doing this when using Espeak. When I use the legally obtained drivers for Eloquence and Nuance voices (such as Tom and Samantha), the responsiveness improves even more, providing performance nearly as good as what you get with JAWS. Notice that I said “nearly.” When using NVDA with Eloquence or with Nuance the responsiveness is quite good and would be fast enough to satisfy nearly any speech user. However, if I’m going to be honest I have to say that the responsiveness with JAWS is just a bit snappier when reviewing a Web page with arrow key navigation. Is it significantly so? Not to me. It’s still somewhat noticeable. However, reviewing Word documents with NVDA, at least on my home computer, is a slightly different matter. The responsiveness when navigating using arrow keys is noticeably slower than what I see when performing the same commands in other programs. My work computer, which has far more RAM and more high-end specs, does not exhibit this type of delay. My admittedly slower Dell OptiPlex, with 8 GB of RAM, exhibits delays that I find annoying and, to be frank, unacceptable. When I compose documents using the open source Libreoffice Writer, performance is what it should be. Using JAWS 2019 on my home system the performance in Word, while still a tad bit slower compared to other programs, is quite good and definitely acceptable, making JAWS an attractive choice for me when using Word.
  • Text Analyzer. For me, this is one of the features which makes JAWS worth paying for. If I’m composing a document where correct formatting is not only desired but essential then I’d prefer to use JAWS with Microsoft Word. It allows me to easily track formatting changes and errors such as changes in font, color, mismatched spaces and other punctuation, etc. It’s very customizable and easy to use. NVDA currently does not offer this capability.

    If we’re going to compare the two screen readers to determine which one contains more features I feel that JAWS is the clear winner. It’s not worth debating; JAWS is, at the time of this writing, more feature-rich than NVDA. I’ve always known and accepted this. However, while I am not at all dissatisfied with NVDA the fact is that there are just a few features which it currently lacks that could really benefit me as a JAWS user. I’ll also say that NVDA continues to offer features which are not currently being offered in JAWS. Examples include:

  • Free of cost. This is pretty obvious. I’ll also admit that just because a piece of software is free doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good. However, in the case of NVDA the screen reader, while lacking some of the more advanced features of JAWS, is still a very good and capable screen reader. This also means that subsequent updates, of which there are four per year, are also free of cost to the user. This means that there are no SMAs to pay for or keep track of.
  • It can be run portably. NVDA can be run from any folder on your hard drive without installing it. It can also be run from any external drive, such as a USB drive, in the same way. This means that you can take NVDA to just about any Windows machine and run it without the need to install it first.
  • Progress indication tones. This is something that NVDA has had since its early days. Window-Eyes eventually added this feature and it’s a feature that I wish JAWS would add. Essentially, if you’re performing a task such as downloading or copying a file JAWS is able to periodically read the progress in percentages, such as 20 percent, 40 percent, etc. When you hear JAWS say 100 percent then you know that the task is complete. This is fine and NVDA can do this as well. However, NVDA can also report this as ascending tones. Instead of hearing verbal announcements you hear quick tones which raise in pitch as the task nears completion. When the tone gets to its highest pitch then you know that the task is complete. Admittedly, this is not effective or helpful for users who are deaf or who have severe hearing difficulties. However, I have grown used to this feature and really wish JAWS would implement it. Now that I’m becoming more of a JAWS user I will suggest this to Vispero.
  • Works with Kaspersky. Those of you who don’t use or who want nothing to do with Kaspersky’s security tools won’t care about this. However, I use Kaspersky Antivirus and, while it doesn’t work perfectly with NVDA, it works reasonably well enough in that I am able to control the program. JAWS is, frankly, totally blind to any controls within the Kaspersky window, making it completely inaccessible to a JAWS user. This is another issue I want to bring to Vispero’s attention.
  • A more simplified interface. JAWS is running into the same problem that Windows 10 is now running into. Windows used to have all of their settings available via the Control Panel. Windows 10 still offers the Control Panel but now has their new Settings app with most features you’d want to access and change. However, some settings haven’t been migrated over into the Settings app yet and so you still need the Control Panel for some settings, although the Settings app does try to link to Control Panel items where it can. JAWS has a Settings Center, formerly known as Configuration Manager, where many of the JAWS settings are located. Like the Windows 10 Settings app you can even search for items that you’re looking for. However, like Windows 10 JAWS doesn’t have quite all of the settings you might be looking for contained within their Settings Center, such as changing voices or speech parameters, along with other settings. Instead, you need to open the JAWS window and open either the Options or Utilities menus for these items. By contrast, when you run NVDA you press insert-N for the NVDA menu, arrow down to Settings, press enter and all settings for the screen reader are available. To be fair, NVDA is a much newer and admittedly simpler screen reader and so you could argue that these two factors make the interface more manageable. JAWS has been around since 1995 and so they’ve had an additional eleven years to add extra features.
  • Pressing Home or End echoes the character at the cursor. When you use NVDA, pressing the Home key always speaks the first character on the current line, which I find very helpful. JAWS does this when using Microsoft Word but it doesn’t seem to do this in other applications and I think that it should. In fact, I can find no way of changing the behavior of the Home key unless you know scripting.

Many JAWS users will want to point out some feature of JAWS that I haven’t mentioned which is not available in NVDA. Of course, there are many but I’ve mentioned the ones which I would personally want to use. Placemarkers is a feature that I might wind up using but I have no real desire to use it but I may change my mind as I begin to use JAWS more at home. NVDA does actually have a Placemarkers addon but it’s not as intuitive or easy to use as it is with JAWS. Flexible Web is another JAWS-specific feature that I don’t feel a real need for but which I might use more often now that I’m once again a JAWS user at home.

I guess the real question is whether I will switch screen readers and use JAWS as my primary screen reader. My honest response, right now, is that I am not certain. However, even if I do switch over to being a JAWS user there will likely be tasks that I’ll still need NVDA to assist me with, such as accessing Kaspersky. In fact, it’s always good to keep at least two screen readers, along with several Web browsers, on your system, if possible, to deal with accessibility challenges or barriers that you might encounter where one combination of screen reader and browser might prove to be more effective than another. I will also continue to support and endorse NV Access, both with financial contributions as well as continuing to spread the word about their free and excellent screen reader.

For now I am enjoying the process of using and getting reacquainted with JAWS. I will continue to blog more about this as I continue this journey and would love to read your comments about this post.