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.
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?
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!)
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.
- Some of these dealerships even have accessible websites! ↩
- And yes, the German Freedom Scientific website still uses tables for layout. ↩
- 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. ↩
- Also the price of JAWS Inspect is apparently “Schedule a Live Demo with us”. ↩
- This post is not sponsored. But cough see yatil.net/support. — Update: After publication of this blog post, Weston from Assistive Labs became a supporter. Thank you! ↩
- Not like in “free beer”, more like in “Freedom Scientific”. ↩