Configuring Jaws to optimise the user experience

Introduction

The Jaws for Windows (JFW) screen reader is one of the most powerful tools available to visually impaired computer users. As a full time Jaws user, I have realised in recent conversations with other Jaws users that few of us make full use of the innumerable settings available.

By understanding the ways in which Jaws can be configured, it is possible to easily tailor the Jaws environment to suit your needs. This can make the user experience both more efficient and more enjoyable.

However, making changes to the Jaws default set-up can seem like a daunting process, especially to a new user. Despite an excellent in-built Help System, Jaws is so comprehensive and so configurable, that it can seem as powerful and perhaps as terrifying as its namesake.

This paper aims to begin unravelling the complexities of the Jaws settings. Starting with the basics, it will form the first in a series of papers that will discuss different areas of Jaws, explaining their purpose and suggesting ways in which they may be altered to suit each individual.

Here we will look at the settings that most easily influence Jaws, exploring how each affect the Jaws voice output, suggesting how and why certain options can be altered to suit the user.

I hope that you find this report useful and use the advice to improve your experience using Jaws.

Changing Your View

Jaws, once installed, arrives on your PC fully configured and ready to use. This default configuration is intended to provide as much feedback as is possible to the new user so they will feel comfortable and learn to use the software easily. It does mean however, that the emphasis is on ensuring that everyone is able to use the software ‘right out of the box’ and as the user becomes more familiar with Jaws, this configuration may mean that too much information is being spoken. Once the user is familiar with JAWS a few changes to the settings can revolutionise the experience provided.

The Basic Settings:

The primary group of settings that can be used to make a noticeable difference to the way Jaws behaves are the Basic Settings. They control Tutor Messages, Access Keys and where and when Jaws will run.

Tutor Messages

Tutor messages provide on the spot guidance whilst moving about the Windows environment. For example, if the user is in a dialogue box containing various controls such as radio buttons and checkboxes, the tutor messages will inform them of the action required to use them. There are three possible options for the tutor messages setting:

Announce menu and control help:

Turns on all tutor messages.

Announce custom messages only:

This will announce messages that have been customised by the user.

Turn off menu and control help:

This turns off all helpful messages.

The default is set to announce menu and control messages, which is extremely useful if the user is unsure of their footing within Jaws. However, as the user becomes more experienced and familiar with the actions required in different circumstances, then they may choose not to be prompted with Tutor Messages at every turn.

Recommendation: I would suggest leaving the default setting (Announce Menu and Control Help) as it is, until you feel confident with using menus and dialogue box controls. Once you have reached this point, I would suggest turning off all Tutor Messages. NB: Custom messages are designed for Jaws trainers, who wish to customise Jaws to facilitate the teaching experience.

Step by step instruction for exploring adjusting the Tutor settings and other Basic Settings can be found at the end of this document.

Access Keys

Jaws can be configured to announce the available hot keys within menus and dialogue boxes. Examples of widely recognised access keys are Control S, to save a document or Alt C, to cancel and exit a dialogue window. There are four different options for this setting:

Speak all:

Jaws will announce all access keys for menus and dialogue boxes.

Speak menus only:

Jaws will announce the access keys for menus.

Speak dialogues only:

Jaws will announce the access keys within dialogue windows.

Off:

Stops Jaws from announcing any access keys.

The default is set to Speak All and provides handy reminders for all the available short cuts. This setting is particularly useful to new Jaws users and even serves those who have several years Jaws experience under their belt.

Recommendation: I would advise that this setting is left as default (Speak All), certainly whilst you are developing your Jaws skills. As you store the more common Access Keys in your head, I would suggest changing this setting to Speak Menus, as this can be a handy reminder, without the need for dialogue box Access Keys which tend to be repetitive.

Step by step instruction for adjusting the access key setting and other Basic Settings can be found at the end of this document.

Running Jaws From Start-Up

When the initial installation process for Jaws is complete, the user is asked if they would like Jaws to run from start-up. For the most part, people choose to enable this setting, as it means that Jaws will begin speaking at the Windows Login screen and enable them to enter their usernames and passwords. Leaving this setting off prevents Jaws from being activated until it is selected by a conventional method for opening an application (EG: via the Start Menu).

This may be suitable if the computer is shared with another person, but care should be taken when turning this setting off, to make sure that the user is able to start Windows and activate Jaws, should they need to.
One way of starting Jaws, is to do the following:

1. Press Control Escape, to activate the Start Menu;
2. Press P, to open the Programs sub-menu and press the right arrow key once;
3. Press J, to open the Jaws sub-menu;
4. Press J again, to activate Jaws.

Recommendation: I find it sensible to have Jaws run automatically, as it gives me greater control over my computer environment.

Step by step instruction for running Jaws from start-up and other Basic Settings can be found at the end of this document.

Running Jaws From The System Tray

By default, the Jaws window will be open on the screen once Windows has loaded. This is useful if the user makes frequent changes to the way Jaws runs, but otherwise it may only get in the way. To avoid this, it is possible to run Jaws from the System Tray. Turning on this option leaves Jaws running from an icon in the System Tray, not far from the clock. The Jaws window can then be activated either by selecting and clicking the icon, or by using the Access Keys: Alt J.

Recommendation: I find it preferable to select this option and have Jaws run from the System Tray. This leaves me with one less application window open on the desktop.

Step by step instruction for running Jaws from the System tray and other Basic Settings can be found at the end of this document.

Exploring These Settings

All of the above settings are contained within one dialogue window, which can be opened like this:

1. Press Alt A to activate the Jaws window;
2. Press Alt O, to drop down the Options menu, unless Jaws is set to run from the System Tray, in which case you need only press the right arrow key once;
3. Select: Basics, to open the dialogue box.

At any time whilst you are in the Basic Settings window, it is possible to use the following Access Keys: Alt O, will save any changes you have made and exit the window. Alt C, will exit the window without saving any changes. The Access Key for saving your changes (Alt o) is the same as the Access Key to drop down the Options menu, when you are in the Jaws window. Don’t worry, this isn’t a mistake. Since they are both used in very different places, the Access Key can be duplicated without any problem.

All of the above settings are contained within one dialogue window, which can be opened like this:

1. Press Alt A to activate the Jaws window;
2. Press Alt O, to drop down the Options menu, unless Jaws is set to run from the System Tray, in which case you need only press the right arrow key once;
3. Select: Basics, to open the dialogue box.

At any time whilst you are in the Basic Settings window, it is possible to use the following Access Keys: Alt O, will save any changes you have made and exit the window. Alt C, will exit the window without saving any changes. The Access Key for saving your changes (Alt o) is the same as the Access Key to drop down the Options menu, when you are in the Jaws window. Don’t worry, this isn’t a mistake. Since they are both used in very different places, the Access Key can be duplicated without any problem.

Adjusting Tutor Message Settings

The first setting in the Basic Settings window, is the Tutor Messages setting. To explore this, try the following:

1. Make a note of the default setting (Speak Menu and Control Help), in case you would like to return to it later;
2. Use the down arrow key to move through the options;
3. As you select each one in turn, Jaws will announce: "Radio Button Checked", to notify you that you have selected an option.

Adjusting Access key settings

The next setting in the Basic Settings window, is the Access Keys setting. You can reach this from the Tutor Messages setting, by pressing the Tab key once. To explore the Access Keys setting, try the following:

1. Make a note of the default setting (Speak All), in case you want to return to it later;
2. Use the down arrow key to move through the different options;
3. As each option is selected in turn, Jaws will announce: "Radio Button Checked", to notify you that this option is selected.

Automatically starting Jaws

The next setting in the Basic Settings window, is the: Automatically Start Jaws, setting. You can reach it from the Access Keys setting by pressing the Tab key once. If you would like to explore this setting, try the following:

1. Make a note of the default setting (Unselected);
2. To turn this option on, use the space bar to place a check in the checkbox;
3. Jaws will confirm this action by announcing: "Checked".

NB: If at a later point you wish to return to the default, so that Jaws will no longer run automatically at start-up, you will get the following message pop up when you save and exit the Basic Settings window:

"Are you sure you want to turn off Automatically Start Jaws? Accepting this will stop Jaws from automatically starting the next time you turn on your computer.
Press Enter to turn off this feature now."

Selecting: Yes, or pressing: Enter, will confirm that you no longer want Jaws to automatically start. Selecting: No, will reverse your choice and Jaws will continue to run when your computer is turned on.

Running Jaws from System Tray

The last setting in the Basic Settings window, that we’ve looked at, is the Run Jaws from the System Tray, setting. You can reach this from the Automatically Start Jaws setting, by pressing the Tab key once. If you want to explore this setting, try the following:

1. Make a note of the default setting (Unselected), in case you want to return to it later;
2. To turn this option on, use the space bar to place a check in the checkbox;
3. Jaws will announce: "Checked", to confirm your action.

Don’t forget that using the Access Keys: Alt O (to save and exit) or Alt C (to exit without saving), can be used at anytime.

You may at some point wish to revert to the default settings and although there is an option within the Jaws Configuration Manager that allows you to restore the factory default, it does not apply to all Jaws settings, some of which we have been looking at in this paper. In light of this, it is easier to make a note of the default settings and use the step by step instructions (above) as a guide and change the settings back manually. This is not a difficult thing to do, so don’t be afraid to experiment with these settings, to begin the process of understanding how Jaws can be configured to suit the way you use your computer.
Final Words

As you look at the basic settings window, you will notice options not covered in this paper. This is primarily because the remaining settings are not as frequently used as the ones we’ve addressed here and consequently, don’t have as much influence over the way in which Jaws behaves. Don’t be concerned to explore these settings for yourself, just make a note of any default settings, so you can return to them later if you need to.

Remember, if at any time you feel lost or concerned about the settings you are looking at, then the Jaws system is always at hand to provide the answers. To access the Jaws Help, follow these steps:

  1. Press Alt A to activate the Jaws window;
  2. Use the down arrow key to find: Help, and select: Help Topics, from the sub-menu;
  3. Use the arrow keys to navigate the tree of different Help Topics and press Enter to select the one you need;
  4. Press F6 to open the Help Book of your choice, in a new window;
  5. Pressing Alt F4, will close the Book Topic window and return you to the tree diagram, displaying all the available topics;
  6. When you have finished using the Help Section, pressing Alt F4 will close the tree diagram window;

The Jaws Help Section is a tremendous resource for all Jaws users, but it can sometimes be overlooked in the search for information or solutions;

Recommendation: Take time to browse through the Help Section, particularly if you have recently installed a new version of Jaws. It’s surprising what you can learn.