JAWS (Job Access With Speech)

JAWS is a type of screen reader, primarily used by blind Windows users in a corporate environment.

Related terms

Illustration: A computer monitor sits on a desk with a shark image that represents the JAWS logo. A smiley pet fish in its fishbowl sits on a shelf beside the desk.
Illustration: A computer monitor sits on a desk with a shark image that represents the JAWS logo. A smiley pet fish in its fishbowl sits on a shelf beside the desk.

Long definition

JAWS, an acronym for Job Access With Speech, is a screen reader originally developed by Henter-Joyce that was released for windows in 1995. Its primary focus is on making software used in corporate environments more accessible and efficient for blind users. Tangibly, this means it includes custom-programmed support for many apps popular in large companies that are rarely used in the home environment. These apps include things like Lotus Notes, Terminal 3270 Emulators, Citrix, and many large call-center software packages.

JAWS also focuses on support for the advanced functions of Microsoft Office programs like Access and Excel, as well as providing many custom hotkeys to improve efficiency across the Microsoft Office suite of programs. Due in large part to its significant feature set and enterprise focus, JAWS is widely regarded as the most preferred screen reader for blind people who work in larger organizations.

To further increase accessibility for blind people, JAWS includes a well-documented scripting language called Jaws Script. This language, with its C-like syntax and built-in script editor, makes it easy for blind professionals to program JAWS to work with programs that would otherwise remain inaccessible. The Jaws Scripting ecosystem has created several businesses that specialize in creating custom JAWS scripts for employers who may be unable to update the original application they depend on to add accessibility features.

JAWS has had a long history in the screen reader marketplace. Originally, Jaws For DOS was released by Henter-Joyce in 1989. The Windows version would be released in January of 1995 and remain one of the leading Windows screen readers. After Henter-Joyce merged with Blazie Engineering, a leading manufacturer of Braille displays and accessible note-takers, in the year 2000, the combined company would rename itself Freedom Scientific. Shortly thereafter, JAWS would release a version of the screen reader for Windows Mobile, to be used on the PAC Mate line of Windows Mobile based note takers.

Freedom Scientific has since rebranded twice – to VFO Group and now to Vispero – but continues to manufacture and regularly update JAWS. Further, the company has begun to pivot from a software product with regular releases, to a software as a service, offering a monthly JAWS subscription.

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