How to configure Jaws voice settings

Introduction

This is the second paper in the Nomensa Insight series. It looks at one of the most vital areas of the Jaws For Windows (JFW) screen reader software, the Voice Settings. It will also introduce one of Jaws' most powerful features, the ability to configure Jaws to behave differently in different applications. Unsurprisingly, the basic voice settings play a vital role in the way Jaws behaves. The 'Voice Rate' and 'Punctuation Level' can all vary the nature of the listening experience. These settings can be found under the Voices menu, where it is possible to configure all of the Jaws voices or just one. Moving on from the first paper in the series (Basic Settings), this document will look at how the voice rate and punctuation levels can be configured throughout Jaws and for an individual application, but it will leave specific voice character adjustment for another time. Step by step instructions will guide you through the process and throughout there are recommendations and suggestions for ways in which the Voice Settings can be used to enhance the listening experience with Jaws. In addition to this, it is hoped that your understanding of how Jaws works and how it is possible to configure it to suit your own tastes, will increase. Léonie Watson, Nomensa Accessibility Consultant & Expert Jaws User.

Voices

Before making changes to the Jaws voices, it is a good idea to understand a little about them. There are four main areas within Jaws that have a voice assigned to them:

  1. PC Cursor
  2. Jaws Cursor
  3. Keyboard
  4. Tutor and Messages.

There are also several different voice characters available:

  • Reed
  • Shelly
  • Bobby
  • Rocco
  • Glen
  • Sandy
  • Grandma
  • Grandpa.

By default, Reed is the voice assigned to the PC Cursor, Keyboard and Tutor Messages. Glen is assigned to the Jaws Cursor. Although it is possible to assign a different voice to each of these areas and to configure them all individually, this paper takes the more basic approach of making changes that will affect all four areas as one.

Global Adjustment

The Global Voice Adjustment menu controls the rate (speed), punctuation, pitch, spell rate and uppercase pitch. The following sections look at each one in the order they appear in the Global Adjustment window. To investigate the Global Adjustment window, follow the step by step instructions in this document below.

Modify

The first setting within the Global Adjustment window is called 'Modify'. It is this setting that allows the user to decide whether the changes will take effect throughout Windows or just for a particular application. It is important to know that if you wish to make changes to the way Jaws behaves within a specific program, that you must have that program open on your desktop before entering the Global Adjustment menu. There are two options for the Modify setting:

  • Default: Changes will take effect throughout Windows;
  • Application (Program Name): Changes will take effect for the application that is currently open.

NB: If you choose 'Application', the name of the application (which you should already have open on the screen), will also be announced. To investigate this and other settings, follow the step by step instructions for Global Adjustment below.

Rate

The second setting is called 'Rate' and it controls the speed at which Jaws speaks. By default, the voice rate is set to 17 out of 100) and this is a comfortable speed to begin with, particularly to those not accustomed to using their ears as primary feedback. Recommendation: As you become more adept at listening to Jaws, try increasing the speed in 5% stages and see how you get on. Increasing the speed at which Jaws talks can drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to accomplish a task. This is an area where the ability to use different settings for different programs comes into its own. Being able to have Jaws speak your daily newspaper at a slow, coffee break speed is fine, but being able to configure Jaws to speak quickly whilst scanning through your email can save you a great deal of time!

Punctuation

The third setting is called 'Punctuation Level', and it controls the amount of punctuation that Jaws announces. There are four possible options:

  • All: Speaks all punctuation marks;
  • Most: Speaks all but the most common punctuation marks;
  • Some: Speaks little but the most relevant punctuation marks;
  • None: Speaks no punctuation marks.

By default, Jaws is set to announce most punctuation. This is fine if you are new to Jaws or if you require detailed information about the punctuation used within a document. Users may find however that having this much punctuation spoken may be an inconvenience and that it disrupts the flow of the document being read. It is worth noting that Jaws, even with the 'Punctuation Level' set to 'None', will still use pauses and inflection to indicate the points where punctuation marks occur. Much like a human reading aloud Jaws will pause briefly when it encounters a comma, slightly longer for a full stop and the voice inflection rises in tone slightly if a sentence ends with a question mark. Recommendation: set the Punctuation Level to: 'Some'. This will prevent Jaws from speaking almost all punctuation, but it ensures that important punctuation marks like those within a Web address, are still announced. To investigate the punctuation settings, follow the step by step instructions in this document below.

Volume

The 'Volume' setting is the fourth in the Global Adjustment window. It needs little explanation as, providing you are using the default Eloquence voice synthesizer, the following message is given:

Set This Using System Volume Control.

This means that in order to alter the volume level at which Jaws speaks, you need to use the computers volume settings. These are usually found in the Control Panel of Windows. If you are using an alternative hardware voice synthesizer, then it may be possible to adjust the volume by using the right and left arrow keys. To further investigate the Volume settings, follow the step by step instructions in this document below.

Spell Rate Decrement

The 'Spell Rate Decrement' is the fifth setting in the Global Adjustment window. It is used to control how much slower Jaws will speak whilst in spell mode. When you locate a word within a document, like this one, and then hold down the Insert key and press NumPad 5 twice quickly, Jaws will spell that word aloud. It deliberately uses a slower speaking speed, to ensure that it is easy to follow the individual letters being announced. By default, this option is set to 30, which slows down the speaking rate to an ideal level. It is possible to increase or decrease the speed at which Jaws spells words: To Increase: Enter a number higher than 30. To Decrease: Enter a number lower than 30. Recommendation: If the Jaws user is a young person enrolled in early education, ensuring that the letters are announced slowly and clearly can make all the difference to their spelling ability. To further investigate the spelling settings, follow the step by step instructions in this document below.

UpperCase Pitch Increment

The sixth and last setting within the Global Adjustment Window is the 'UpperCase Pitch Increment' setting. It controls the change in pitch that Jaws uses when acknowledging capital letters.. The default is set to 20, and this makes for a sufficient increase in pitch to let you know that you are typing in capitals. It is possible to either raise or lower the pitch at which Jaws speaks when capitals are being used: To Raise: Enter a number higher than 20. To Lower: Enter a number lower than 20. Recommendation: If you are unsure about recognising the increase in pitch, alter this option to a higher setting than the default. This will ensure that you haven't typed an entire passage in capital letters, which can be easy to miss. To further investigate the Pitch increment settings, follow the step by step instructions in this document below.

Exploring the Global Adjustment Settings

1. Opening The Global Adjustment Window.

To access all of the settings mentioned in this paper, you need to open the Global Adjustment window. The basic steps below show you how. Remember, if you want to make changes to the way Jaws behaves for a specific application, then you should have that application already open on the screen before attempting these steps:

  1. Press Insert 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. Press the down arrow key once to reach 'Voices';
  4. Press the right arrow key once and select 'Global Adjustment', to open the window.

At any time whilst you are in this 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.

2. The Modify Setting.

Once the Global Adjustment window has opened, you will automatically be placed at the 'Modify' setting. To explore this setting, follow these steps:

  1. Use the up or down arrow keys to move between the two available options.
  2. As each option is selected, Jaws will announce 'Radio Button Checked', to confirm whether you have chosen 'Default' or 'Application Name'.

3. The Rate Setting.

The next setting in the Global Adjustment window, is the 'Rate' setting. You can reach it by pressing the Tab key once from the 'Modify' setting. To explore this setting, follow these steps:

  1. Make a note of the default setting, in case you would like to return to it later;
  2. Use the left and right arrow keys to decrease or increase the speed at which Jaws speaks.

4. The Punctuation Setting.

The next setting in the Global Adjustment window, is the 'Punctuation Level' setting. You can reach it by pressing the Tab key once from the 'Rate' setting. To explore this setting, follow these steps:

  1. Make a note of the default setting in case you would like to return to it later.
  2. Use the up and down arrow keys to move through the four options, until you reach the level you would like.

5. The Volume Setting.

The next setting in the Global Adjustment window, is the 'Volume' setting. If you use the default (software) synthesizer, Eloquence, then there are no options to adjust the Jaws volume, as it is controlled by your computer's volume settings. If you are using an alternative (hardware) voice synthesizer, follow these steps to make adjustments:

  1. Make a note of the default volume level, in case you would like to return to it later;
  2. Use the left and right arrow keys to decrease and increase the volume at which Jaws will speak.

6. The Spell Rate Decrement Setting.

The next setting in the Global Adjustment window, is the 'Spell Rate Decrement' setting. You can reach it by pressing the Tab key once from the Volume setting. If you would like to explore this setting, follow these steps:

  1. Make a note of the default setting, in case you would like to return to it later;
  2. Using the BackSpace key, delete the number that is pre-entered in the edit box;
  3. Enter a number (either higher or lower than the default) to increase or decrease the spell voice speed.

7. The Uppercase Pitch Increment.

The last setting in the Global Adjustment window, is the 'UpperCase Pitch Increment' setting. You can reach it by pressing the Tab key once from the 'Spell Rate Decrement' setting. To explore this setting, follow these steps:

  1. Make a note of the default setting, in case you would like to return to it later;
  2. Using the Back space key, delete the pre-entered number;
  3. Enter a number (either higher or lower than the default) to raise or lower the pitch of voice Jaws will use for capital letters.

Don't forget that you can use the Access Key, 'Alt O', to save any changes you have made and exit the Global Adjustment window and the Access Key, 'Alt C', to cancel any changes you have made and exit the window.

Final Words

This paper is intended to open up some more of the settings available in Jaws and to continue the process of building familiarity with this application as a whole. It is by no means exhaustive, but it is hoped that you will have discovered some more of what Jaws can offer you, the user. 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. The journey continues with the next paper in the series, which will take the Voice Settings a little further and look at the possibilities that making individual voice adjustments can offer. I hope you enjoy exploring your Jaws settings.

Further reading 

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