By Curtis Chong
[tweetmeme service=”idbonline”] In early July, I attended a three-hour session conducted by Freedom Scientific during which the company provided a sneak preview of JAWS for Windows Version 12. Freedom Scientific has been working on this newest release of JAWS for more than a year, and it is hoped that JAWS 12 will be released before the end of 2010.
Long-time JAWS users will be interested to know that in JAWS 12, Freedom Scientific proposes to replace the familiar JAWS Configuration Manager with something called the Settings Center. In the Settings Center, you can search for the setting that you want to change and then simply make the change. It is no longer necessary to explore a variety of menus to track down where, for example, you can change the level of punctuation that JAWS speaks or increase the speaking rate of JAWS. Also, in the Settings Center, your last 25 changes will be displayed at the bottom of the tree view, making it easier for you to fix a setting that might have been adjusted incorrectly or adjust settings that you change frequently.
Another feature included in JAWS 12 is the ability to operate your computer from the Braille keyboard of any connected refreshable Braille display. Using the Braille keys, you can enter any character that would be entered through a standard QWERTY keyboard, and this includes all JAWS commands as well.
Also, a proficient Grade II Braille user will be able to enter text in contracted Braille and have the result reverse-translated on the fly. I do not see much value in this feature for me, personally, but I hesitate to criticize the investment in time and effort that has been made by Freedom Scientific; I simply do not know how many Braille users out there have been longing to operate their computer from a Braille keyboard.
The final noteworthy feature in JAWS 12 is the ability to use a Virtual Ribbon in Microsoft Office. Some blind computer users have expressed frustration with the ribbon that has been incorporated into Microsoft Office 2007 and now into Office 2010. What Freedom Scientific is proposing for JAWS 12 is to give the Office user the choice of whether to use the ribbon as is or to use the Virtual Ribbon provided by JAWS. This Virtual Ribbon provides a user experience that feels more like the traditional menus with which a lot of people are familiar. Time will tell whether this feature is worth the investment. As for me, since I feel quite comfortable with the Office ribbon as it is, I will probably choose not to use the JAWS Virtual Ribbon that comes with JAWS 12.
In all, JAWS 12 seems like a bit of an improvement over JAWS 11. Certainly, Freedom Scientific has incorporated some new features which some people will like. As for me, I would wish for features in JAWS which make it easier for blind people to compete in the workplace–something which Freedom Scientific seems to have lost sight of over the years.