Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Bridges Blog Series: Access April 2024

Awesome JAWS Access Tools: Convenient OCR and Voice Assistant

Access April with Our Bridges Resource Library

This month we take a deep dive into what may be the most important need of blind and low-vision people in our current Information Age: ACCESS. Accessible assistive technology (AAT) is great, but it’s only a tool to access the materials we need. We need to know how to use our technology, determine whether or not something is accessible, and advocate for the access we need if necessary.

  • April 2: Accessibility of the New “IRS Free File” Tools
  • April 9: Chris’ Favorite JAWS Power Moves
  • April 16: Awesome JAWS Access Tools: Convenient OCR and Voice Assistant
  • April 23: JAWS Picture Smart AI Feature April 30: Chatting About ChatGPT

This week we’ll take a look at two handy JAWS features that help us access information more efficiently.

Convenient OCR: When It’s Not Accessible the First Time

So here’s a scenario: You get a document and try to read it, only for JAWS to say something like “blank document” or “graphic.” Sound familiar? Of course; it happens all the time.

But all is not lost! There are many options to make inaccessible documents accessible using optical character recognition (OCR); check out our Top 5 Accessible OCR Options Bridges Resource Library entry for more information. Conveniently (as the name suggests), one of those options is located within JAWS.

How to Use Convenient OCR

Convenient OCR works with both hard copy documents scanned with a flatbed scanner or camera and PDF files of the type we mentioned above. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Once a document is open or a paper is on the scanner, press JAWS key + space to activate the “layer command.” You will hear a click.
  2. After you hear the click, let go of the previous keystroke and press O for OCR.
  3. If you’re scanning a PDF, press R; if you’re scanning a paper, press A.
  4. JAWS will scan the document. Then it will display a window that you can read as you would any other document.

More Convenient OCR tips

Our project coordinator’s personal favorite part of Convenient OCR is that you can save a document you’ve scanned as a Word document so it can be edited or read again at any time. This is great for forms you get in the mail or classwork emailed in an inaccessible format. Need to hear Convenient OCR in action? Check out these brief YouTube videos that demonstrate the feature.

Using Convenient OCR to Scan A PDF Document

Using A Camera and Convenient OCR to Scan a Hard Copy Document (with a PEARL Camera/Video Magnifier)

Voice Assistant: “Hey, Sharky!”

What is the JAWS Voice Assistant?

For a long time, we had to learn a lot of keyboard commands in order to use JAWS screen reader software. While knowing those commands is great, there is now a way to get JAWS to perform actions in response to voice commands: JAWS Voice Assistant.

JAWS’s Voice Assistant feature is based on the concept we’re familiar with from computerized assistants like Siri and Alexa. A user can activate it by saying a command, then perform a number of tasks by using their voice. In this case, the command is “Sharky,” and the tasks it can perform are specifically related to JAWS.

Power moves with Sharky

Remember the “power moves” we talked about in last week’s Transition Tip? Many of them can be done through Voice Assistant, particularly those involving navigation. For example, to get a list of links on a website, you could either press JAWS key + F7 as mentioned last week or say “Sharky, open the links list.” Interestingly, we can also use Sharky to OCR a document with the Convenient OCR feature mentioned in the previous section.

More Sharky details

Our JAWS Voice Assistant Information Bridges Resource Library entry sets forth more JAWS Voice Assistant details, including the languages it understands, settings you can change, and a long list of JAWS Voice Assistant commands.  

Listen to Sharky perform

To hear Sharky in action, check out this JAWS Voice Assistant YouTube video demonstrating the feature. You’ll notice that occasionally the demonstrator needs to ask Sharky multiple times before it will do the task he wants it to do. It can be a bit finicky at times, though it has improved from the version he was using (JAWS 2021) to the current version (JAWS 2024). It is also worth noting that some computer microphones can be sensitive, so it’s helpful to be close to the mic or to have headphones in when you talk to Sharky.

We Are Here to Help

We encourage all who want to make the most efficient use of JAWS to give these features a try. If you have questions or need a one-on-one training session, contact our free Bridges Helpdesk anytime.

Please check out the Bridges Technical Assistance Center Resource Library today!

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Bridges Technical Assistance Center’s Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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