How JAWS reads text
Making public statements based on limited knowledge of an assistive technology and with little understanding of how it is used, can lead to incorrect conclusions and poor implementations. For example, a blog post about the JAWS screen reader (amongst other things) and how poorly it supports the reading of paragraph’s in HTML, is being cited to re-inforce arguments in an opinion piece about web accessibility, which in turn is being cited in other debates. In attempt to introduce a little perspective, here is some information about how JAWS reads text.
JAWS support for the HTML
Users can navigate content via the p element in HTML, by using the P (move to next
p element) and Shift-P (move to the previous
p element) keys. When these commands are used, JAWS will move to the next or previous
p element and read the text contained in that
p element and then stop reading. The user can then move to and start reading the next paragraph by pressing the P key. Using this command, JAWS will stop reading at the end of each paragraph independent of style or punctuation. This was tested with JAWS 8.0 and 9.0 on Windows XP using a test page.
The “Say All” command
The “Say all” command INS+DWN ARROW, is a more general command that applies to desktop applications and other situations where text can be read as well as HTML documents. Using this command JAWS will simply start reading from the top of the document, without pausing, until it reaches the end of the document.
For example when a page first loads in a browser JAWS will start reading from the top of the page automatically or the user may invoke the “Say All” command. It will then read all text and text alternatives found on the page. The user can modify the progess of the reading by using the right and left SHIFT keys . Depending on the preference the user has set in the “Say All By” verbosity options, pressing the SHIFT keys will have different effects:
- Line with Pauses: This option reads by line, pausing slightly at the end of each line.
- Line without Pauses: This option allows for smoother reading.
- Sentence: Select this option for applications in which SayAll sounds choppy. This moves the pauses between elements to the ends of sentences, and makes the reading sound smoother.
- Paragraph: This option is very useful in large documents as you can press the right SHIFT key to quickly move through the paragraphs without needing to interrupt SayAll.
The user can stop the “Say All” at anytime (by pressing the CTRL key) and navigate the content using the many other methods available.
As a further test of JAWS support for the
p element in HTML documents, the JAWS ‘Skim Reading’ feature was tested. When the CTRL+INS+DWN ARROW command is used, JAWS should read the first sentence of each paragraph (other preferences also available). Using the test page, it was found that JAWS announced the first sentence of each paragragh regardless of punctuation (for the last sentence in each paragraph) or visual formatting.