On October 24, 2011, Freedom Scientific announced the release of JAWS® for Windows version 13. Most significant about this newest release of JAWS is a new feature which Freedom Scientific calls Convenient OCR. Simply put, Convenient OCR is able to recognize text from a graphical object which contains a picture of text. To my knowledge, this is the first screen access program in America to have such a feature.
While I do not yet know what impact Convenient OCR will have on our over-all access to electronic information, I do believe that it is a development that needed to happen. For years, screen reading programs have had to come up with creative (and oftentimes heroic and undocumented) ways to extract textual information that could be converted into speech or Braille. However, before JAWS 13, no screen reading program in this country could analyze and extract information from a picture of text.
It seems that today, more and more organizations are storing images of documents with no text equivalent. Oftentimes, a blind user will receive PDF (Portable Document Format) files which screen reading software simply can’t read; the user receives a message saying something like, “Alert! Empty Document.” Now, with JAWS 13, the nonvisual user has a better chance at reading those text images that were previously not accessible without sighted help.
It should be pointed out, however, that Convenient OCR will not solve the problem of the visual CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart). Those pesky, squiggly letters are meant to be undecipherable by any computer. Nevertheless, I believe that Convenient OCR will, over time, prove to be an indispensable tool in our never-ending quest to get at electronically-stored information.
If you want to hear more about JAWS for Windows Version 13, you can listen to Freedom Scientific’s FSCast Episode 58, found on the Web page http://www.freedomscientific.com/FSCast/default.asp.