Set JAWS free!

JAWS, Job Access With Speech, is the world’s most popular screen reader, developed for computer users whose vision loss prevents them from seeing screen content or navigating with a mouse.

A tweet from my friend Nicolas Steenhout reminded me of one issue I often run into with clients: They ask for how to best test their sites in popular screen readers and I routinely name the ones most often used. That includes the most named “Primary Desktop/Laptop Screenreader”, JAWS.

Nicolas Steenhout@vavroom

Went to check out pricing to purchase Jaws. Looks like because I'm not in the US, I have to email/phone a Canadian dealer. WTF? Isn't this 2022?

Nic is correct: Here in Germany it is the same picture: A long list of dealerships1 2 but no way to purchase online, let alone naming a price.

The US website has prices and even “buy now” buttons. A personal license costs $95/year if you are using your computer non-commercially. $1285 allows you to use the current version of the screen reader commercially, too. (For example to work, which the “J” in JAWS stands for!)

Freedom Scientific seems to make it hard on purpose to get their software outside of the US. It’s so complicated that I have rarely seen someone outsde the US actually include JAWS in their testing. Some people use the 40-minute demo version as a work-around, but that does violate the terms of use.

I actively advice users to test in alternative screen readers first: NVDA is a great free alternative for Windows. Mac OS users can use VoiceOver for testing. And usually, in 95+% of use cases, that is totally fine: websites and applications working in those browsers will also work in JAWS. And of course the needs for accessible websites are much broader than tailoring your app to specific screen reader and browser combinations.

But when you have very complex UIs that warrant throurough testing, it would be so much easier to also test with JAWS. But the hassle provides an unnecessary barrier for these people who want to do the right thing.

And yes, Freedom Scientific’s sibling company3 TPGi has the JAWS Inspect product, which shows the speech output as text which can be helpful in some situations. But without real screen reader interaction, its results are limited. And interactive scenarios are exactly the situations where using the real thing matters.4

It’s easy to see how limiting access to their software limits testing which in turn makes it harder for their users to get to tested sites. It actively produces a worse outcome for their clients.

In addition $1285 per JAWS license version (so roughly every year) might not be affordable by many accessibility professionals, especially those who start out or are self-employed.

Freedom Scientific’s goal should be to put JAWS into as many developer hands as possible, because if websites work best in JAWS people who need screen readers will chose the commercial product on the market. Make it easy to rent JAWS on a virtual machine by the hour. I’m a happy Assistiv Labs customer5 and the ease of having a Windows screen reader on hand has transformed my work.

Please, Freedom Scientific, set JAWS free6 and make it easily accessible, for developers and for users.

  1. Some of these dealerships even have accessible websites!
  2. And yes, the German Freedom Scientific website still uses tables for layout.
  3. It might be worth noting that Freedom Scientific and TPGi are brands of Vispero, which is one of the largest accessibility companies on the planet that engages also in testing and consulting. Technically, we’re competitors in the same market, but of course they are huge.
  4. Also the price of JAWS Inspect is apparently “Schedule a Live Demo with us”.
  5. This post is not sponsored. But cough see — Update: After publication of this blog post, Weston from Assistive Labs became a supporter. Thank you!
  6. Not like in “free beer”, more like in “Freedom Scientific”.

Comments & Webmentions




  • 💬
    2022-07-08 22:15

    During the lockdown I wanted to buy 2 licenses for the 2 month project. Two months after I still couldn’t make it because Germany. I had to drive 4h in the middle of a pandemic to get the card swiped… at the end none of the 3 companies I talked to in Germany could deliver 😭

  • 💬
    2022-07-08 21:45


  • 💬
    Tim Kraut replied:
    2022-07-09 09:45

    I totally agree! I don't get why they're doing this... Another issue I've had with Jaws is that you can't even install Jaws on a M1 mac (via Parallels Desktop) 🙈

  • 💬
    Dafydd replied:
    2022-07-09 19:25

    AbilityNet’s default desktop SR is NVDA for testing purposes. JAWS in popular and powerful, and we use it on request (e.g. corporate clients that provision JAWS to internal staff). But we — a non profit charity — partly use NVDA as it is more fundamentally aligned with ourselves.

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