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JAWS 18: Not A Minor Update

Scott Davert Wednesday, 02-Nov-2016 2:56 PM ET
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Every October, VFO, formerly Freedom Scientific, releases a major update to the JAWS for Windows screen reader. Some years include more new features than others, but this year's update has a variety of changes that may effect you. This is the first major update since the VFO acquisition of AI Squared, makers of the ZoomText magnification software. We've detailed many of the new features below.

Migrating isn't Just For Birds Anymore

In JAWS 17, the ability to merge settings with a previous version of JAWS was taken away. It has returned in version 18, and should launch after you install JAWS 18 for the first time if the screen reader detects an earlier version. However, the ability to migrate settings from one version to another only begins with 17. It's not possible to migrate your settings from JAWS 16 to 18, for example.

The Settings Can Move Even More

It's now possible to export your settings to another computer or JAWS user. You will find this new feature under the Utilities menu. You have the option to export all settings or different parts, like only speech settings or application specific settings. By default, all items are unchecked, so just press the space bar to check the ones you would like to export and follow the prompts to finish the process.

Touch These Features

Tablet users can now configure in the Ease Of Access Center to have JAWS start instead of Narrator using the accessibility shortcut volume up key along with the Windows key. Tablet users can now also find a list of all of the JAWS gestures for their tablet. This can be achieved by pressing Insert with the Space bar, then typing in J for jaws, followed by typing the word "gesture". This will bring up a list of all JAWS gestures for both the program you are currently in, and also the system in general. These are also readable by finding the appropriate section of the help menu.
There is now also touch support for the on-screen keyboard. Users have the option to use either Touch Typing or Standard typing. if you are an iOS user, these terms will be familiar to you, and their associated settings also mirror what they are with VoiceOver on the on-screen keyboard with iOS. Standard typing requires that the user find the key they wish to press and then lift their finger and then double tap the letter. Touch Typing allows the user to find the virtual key they wish to press, and simply lift their finger to add that character to the text field. Also related to the keyboard, the user has the option to have keyboard echo set to characters, words, or both. As a general comment, using JAWS 17 on a Surface tablet when compared to 18 does seem more responsive when dragging my finger around the screen and performing gestures. Prior to JAWS 18, it was not possible to do Windows based gestures with JAWS enabled. you can now do this by using a new gesture, which the VFO Group is called the 4 finger rotate gesture, the next gesture will be passed through JAWS to the tablet directly. A 5 finger rotate gesture will disable all JAWS specific gestures until the user performs another 5 finger rotate gesture to reenable JAWS gestures.

It's A Speaking Speaking Mouse Mouse

Another new feature in JAWS 18 is to have JAWS speak what is under the mouse, which is known as Mouse Echo. Find it by bringing up the Settings Center and typing in "mouse echo. Once this is turned on, you will be able to move your mouse around, or use a touch pad connected on a laptop, and get speech feedback about where the Mouse Pointer is located. You can also configure a delay for when the speech will begin after moving the mouse, configure whether JAWS should stop speaking where the mouse pointer is if it's moved to another point on the screen, and control the verbosity of the feedback to read by character, line, or paragraph. Finally, there are also options to speak the description of items on the screen such as whether it's a link, on a heading level, or button. These options are also configurable on the fly by using Insert Space from anywhere, followed by the letter E for Mouse Echo.

Magically Zoom Around When You Turn 18

The VFO Group indicated that JAWS 18 will work much better with ZoomText 11 regardless of which order the programs were installed. This is important because if you want to install JAWS 18 now, you can do so and not have to worry about how well the 2 programs operate together. The improved compatibility means that magnification specific commands and activity will be given to Zoomtext, speech commands to JAWS, and that JAWS will override Zoomtext if there is a keyboard command conflict. prior to 18, this could depend on a number of factors about the user's configuration. If the user still wishes to perform a keyboard command in Zoomtext that conflicts with JAWS, they can press insert with the number 3 to invoke the keyboard pass-through function of jaws and input the command they need. There will also be visual tracking of the text JAWS is speaking, whether that involves JAWS reading the performing of a Say All command, or during navigation through various aspects of Windows.
This more seamless integration will also occur with Magic 14, which the VFO group has reported will be released in January. Magic 14 will have all of the low vision and speech enhancements found in JAWS 18.

Shut Up, JAWS Is Speaking!

Audio Ducking is not another form of a speech synthesizer that sounds like Donald Duck, but actually drops the volume of other programs when JAWS is speaking. You can quickly toggle it on and off by pressing Insert with space, followed by D for "ducking". You can also configure Audio Ducking from the Settings Center to only be active in specific applications if you do not wish to toggle it on and off.

Other Enhancements

The Vocalizer Expressive speech synthesizer has been updated to version 2.2 improving responsiveness. The ability to restrict the virtual cursor in dialog boxes, better use of the auto advance function in braille displays, and improvements to ARIA support on web pages are among other enhancements in JAWS 18. Please see the source link for a more complete list.

This update requires the use of a SMA, and is not free to existing JAWS 17 users who do not have an upgrade remaining. If you wish to check your serial number to see if it's eligible, you can go to JAWS, launch the Help menu, and choose about. Alternatively, you can consult the SMA pricing and information page to see if you are eligible. Even if you are eligible, you will need to download JAWS 18 manually and install it, or you will need to wait for your DVD to arrive by mail.

Source: Freedom Scientific
Category: News
Displaying 5 comments.
cw Thursday, 03-Nov-2016 07:01 AM ET:

Interesting, but not enough interesting for me to upgrade from 15 to 18 at this time. I will have to get a really good deal to make the upgrade. I am running the pro version of 15 and the site is telling me that it would cost me $750 to make the upgrade and get my SMA up to date. I guess that if I needed to go to 10 and or need something else in JAWS 18, I would be forced, per say, to switch over to NVDA. I do wonder how many others run into the same problem? I know that they have done good deals before at the different conventions, but I really do not see that as a good deal if I go to one of the conventions just to get said good deal. Also, most of the time, going to said conventions is out of the question. I can usually catch the best parts of the conventions from the blind bargains casts which leave the deals mostly for me.


darknexus Monday, 07-Nov-2016 09:48 AM ET:

Here's the thing. All of these features they're highlighting are either features that they themselves removed or that already exist everywhere else. Mouse echo? NVDA Window-Eyes, VoiceOver for Mac all have had it since day one. Settings merge? They used to have it and I don't believe that removing a feature just so you can put it back later deserves emphasis. Better web support? Well it couldn't really have been much worse. Meanwhile features like auto-detecting USB Braille displays and actually fixing their god awful support for Office 2016 are ignored. For me in particular, JAWS is a non-starter because I use a Braille Edge to switch between my work PC and iPad while working. As soon as I switch back, even though the HIMS driver supports automatic display detection, JAWS refuses to connect. NVDA and Window-Eyes work just fine with this arrangement. So the bottom line, as it appears to me, is that VFO want to brag about finally catching up and fixing their own mistakes while they are still lagging behind in critical areas. Ironic that Window-Eyes is now under VFO, too.


darknexus Monday, 07-Nov-2016 09:49 AM ET:

Oh yes, forgot to mention, their prices are as outrageous as ever for this wonderful privilege of playing catch-up.


67sixstring Thursday, 10-Nov-2016 1:20 PM ET:

It's a shame that the remarks of DarkNexus are spot on. And there are many other reasons to feel jaded when other features like Research It resources get and stay broken. Robust coding should allow for maintenance updates to older versions of Jaws to keep the functionality working. While I will no longer pay for Jaws updates for my personal copy of V12, my support for updating my employer's site license SMA for Jaws is waning as NVDA continues to close the feature gap. It's time I put my money where my mouth is an make a long overdue donation to NVAccess.org.


admin Thursday, 10-Nov-2016 3:19 PM ET:

that Jaws has as far as features? I know some corporate places are weary of open-source software and the gap in tech support, but what about features? One that comes to mind is contracted braille input, something that is actively being worked on based on recent commits to NVDA.I'll throw this out there then. What is NVDA missing


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