Freedom Scientific has released the public beta of version 13 of their popular Jaws screen reader into the wild. The 32 bit and 64 bit versions are now available for download at the Jaws HQ site. We had no problem installing the 32 bit version on our old Windows test system and we were up and running in no time without a hitch.
As we wrote last week, the most ground breaking new feature of Jaws 13 is “Convenient OCR”. Convenient OCR provides a simple means to read text on the screen contained in graphical images. It has not been possible to accomplish this feat using any other screen reader before Jaws 13. We believe that Convenient OCR represents a significant advancement in screen reader technology and it will quickly become an indispensable daily productivity tool.
We tested Convenient OCR on two of the most annoying accessibility problems we regularly encounter. The first is an HP printer driver installation program with unlabeled buttons and other inaccessible text. Although it is sometimes fun to just start clicking on stuff to see what will happen, it is unacceptable that common system programs like this are still inaccessible when a simple fix would make them available to everyone. Using Convenient OCR, we were able to easily read the screen text and, for the first time, click on the buttons with confidence.
The other problem we often encounter is PDF files we get from professors and other sources that contain scanned images of text. These images are not readable by the screen reader which reports them as blank pages. (Sometimes it seems as though the screen reader has a little bit too much attitude about this.) While we can always save the PDF and convert it with a stand alone OCR package, what we really want is for the screen reader to read it. We are pleased to report that Convenient OCR does it, and does it well.
We have also been told that Convenient OCR can be used to overcome the shortcomings of Narrator when installing the new Windows 8 beta. It can read buttons and text which would otherwise require sighted assistance. Even though it is essential that Microsoft correct these problems and make Windows 8 accessible, it is good to report that the new Convenient OCR feature of Jaws 13 got the job done.
Finally, we do not want to leave the impression that we think Convenient OCR is perfect and Freedom Scientific got it one hundred percent right the first time. The ability to virtualize the text generated by Convenient OCR into the results viewer so it can be cut and pasted into other documents or read using regular navigation commands is a glaring omission. Freedom Scientific has said that they could not get this feature ready in time for the release. We think the omission probably goes more to protecting sales of their Open Book product, since virtualizing text is at the core of the Jaws system functionality. We hope Freedom Scientific will see the light and provide this functionality right away.