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JAWS Petition

August 21, 2003

Via Dreamlettes:

We, the undersigned, request that the developers of JAWS® for Windows please provide us a free/cost effective, stripped down testing alternative. This will lead to more websites being tested to suit your software, resulting in an increased audience and hence increased requirement for JAWS.

Signed. I suggest you do the same.

Reader Comments

Ranjan says:
August 21, 01h

A nag screen not allowing the software to run for a few minutes would be ok.

Rebooting isn’t an option for people who have services of any kind running on their machine.

August 21, 01h

“As for JAWS being ‘broken’, remember that it is *not* a aural web page reader. It is a screen reader.”
From what I can tell, the way it treats web pages awkwardly places it somewhere between the two, which can cause problems for good developers who Do The Right Thing with HTML/CSS.

August 21, 01h

I signed the petition, despite what Tom Gilder pointed out. If Freedom Scientific made more of an effort to get web designers on board, it would only benefit them in the long run because web designers find different problems than web users.

August 21, 04h

There is the free demo of Connect Outloud which is JAWS for the web only - so that should classify as a stripped down version. you can get the demo here:

Nic says:
August 21, 05h

Simon: The problem is that Freedom Scientific doesn’t give a flying leap about user feedback and developer feedback.

Unrelated to web, I develop MS Access based applications. I of course make sure they are fully accessible since they are designed to be used in Centers for Independent Living (small non-profit, non-residential service and advocacy organizations operated by and for people with disabilities). There is a bug in JAWS (well, there are many, but this one in particular) gives problems for a user trying to expand a combo box.

When contacted, tech support basically said “yeah, it’s a bug, we’re aware of it, and we’re not planning on fixing it”…

Hard to fathom, but I feel FS is worse than MS in that area…

creative8500 says:
August 21, 10h

Done. Very good idea, since I too was wondering how to test my website’s accessibility without a free screen reader.

Ranjan says:
August 21, 10h

Thanks Dave for your support!

Jai says:
August 21, 10h

I hope this petition does not get ignored or turned away. I sure hope it works!

James says:
August 21, 11h

signed, supported. thank you.

Nicolás says:
August 21, 11h

Signed. Thanks for diclose the initiative.

August 21, 11h

We wouldn’t need access to JAWS if it simply worked from the HTML and ignored screen styles (and, ideally, supported aural style sheets). If it continues to misbehave then all a free version will do is encourage the practice of bodging code for a broken browser, which is something we’re all trying to move away from.

Jai says:
August 21, 11h

Matt, how do we know it’s broken if we can’t afford to use it? Maybe if we had the opportunity, we could point out the issues to the manufacturer as designers…

Nic says:
August 21, 11h

Interestingly enough, I’ve had a few people advocate *against* testing with screen reader, on the basis that there is no way someone using the software sporadically could be familiar enough with the thing to really get a feel of how their site looks/how usable it is.

While having a bit of an idea might be good, thinking there’s a bug where there might not be because you don’t know how to use the software could cause more problems than it solves.

Also, one of the problem is that not all screen readers behave the same way.

Personally, I’d like to see a petition where we’d demand to see the price go down for USERS, considering the exhorbitant cost (Just purchased a full version of JAWS, plus SMA cost us over US $1,200). Now *that* would make more sense to me :-)

That said, I’m not opposed to the petition and shall sign it ;-)

Eric Ness says:
August 21, 11h

Thanks! Signed it.

michael says:
August 21, 11h

I signed. Number 100 in fact. Let’s hope FS takes notice.

August 21, 12h

Er, hello: JAWS 4.51 Demo Version. Works for a while before you have to reboot.

August 21, 12h

Oops, no HTML:

Darrel says:
August 21, 12h

I was just going to post what Tom did. JAWS, AFAIK, let’s you use the full version for testing. The only catch is the time limit that you need to reboot to reset. This petition seems completely pointless and rather ignorant.

As for JAWS being ‘broken’, remember that it is *not* a aural web page reader. It is a screen reader. It is used to navigate the OS as a whole, reading whatever is on screen. So, it actually is doing what it is supposed to do, reading what a sighted person sees on the screen.

August 21, 12h

Oh and also, if you have VMWare you don’t even need to fully reboot: just kill the virtual machine and you’ve got another 40 minutes.

Dave S. says:
August 21, 12h

And the fact that you have to hack it for developer use doesn’t suggest that maybe this petition is needed after all?

Tim says:
August 22, 01h

Does JAWS have any competitors?

August 22, 01h

Signed, thanks for the link.

Owen says:
August 22, 01h

Tim: I think the major competitor is Window-Eyes from GW Micro:

This is on the Windows platform, obviously. I’m not sure what’s available for Mac or Unix users.

Owen says:
August 22, 01h

Oops! Window-Eyes demo version available here:

Will last only for 30 mins (as opposed to JAWS’ 40 mins) before a reboot is required.

August 22, 01h

The sooner someone comes up with a GPL reader the better - especially for the people who would use it on a day to day basis.

An interesting comparison is that Opera give away developer versions regularly for browser advocacy. I have a free registered version at the office from their programme. Indeed after using it at work, I now pay for my home copy I like it that much.

August 22, 02h

Slightly related: Does JAWS read an araul style sheet? I have one on my site and now I know about the demo…

August 22, 03h

What’s wrong with testing for accessibility using w3m or lynx, having validated one’s code?

Sonia says:
August 22, 03h

“And the fact that you have to hack it for developer use doesn’t suggest that maybe this petition is needed after all?”

Plain and simple - petition signed, thanks Dave.

August 22, 04h

“Slightly related: Does JAWS read an aural style sheet?”

I don’t believe so, Anne, although I haven’t used it. JAWS is supposed to be a screen reader, rather than an aural web browser.

redux says:
August 22, 06h

“What’s wrong with testing for accessibility using w3m or lynx, having validated one’s code?”

the same that’s wrong with writing perfectly clean xhtml + css, validating it, and then expecting every browser to display it correctly. as with browsers, bugs exist, and we need to work around them. and we’re not just talking about some minor spacing issues because of different box model implementations or something…potentially, sections of your page/site can become completely unusable and/or hidden from users with screenreaders just because of a bug in JAWS…
so yeh, THAT’S why…

Dave S. says:
August 22, 07h

Anne - JAWS is not a web browser, aural or otherwise. It doesn’t pick up aural style sheets. It reads what is on the screen.

Martin - Because JAWS is not an aural browser, your XHTML or HTML or whatever you’re writing cannot be expected to render in any standard sort of way. Therefore testing is important.

This is one of the big reasons why developer JAWS is necessary - since no one actually runs it, many myths and assumptions surround what it can and can’t do.

No one is saying you’re bad people for making these assumptions either; quite the opposite actually. That you even care is wonderful - it’s not your fault that screen readers are mysterious and expensive pieces of software. Thanks for signing the petition all; let’s hope something comes of this.

Darrel says:
August 22, 08h

While we are at it, should we start a petition to get MS to release developer versions of IE 7+/PC and IE6+/Mac browser? ;o)

August 22, 08h

Everything is broken. No matter what, we are always doing damage control as designers…JAWS is broken, IE6 is broken, heck, even Mozilla doesn’t always do the right thing.

I have moved away from bad browser-specific code like many, but still use the box model hack and I get over it when my background image doesn’t show up in NN6…but, I would at least like the benefit of knowing how my sites “appear” to JAWS.

More knowledge, as Nic pointed out, can be dangerous if we aren’t careful…but I still choose it over ignorance any day.


Dan says:
August 22, 08h

While I completely agree with the petition, I think it is worth while to point out that there was and will be a free for 30 days beta of JAWS 5.0 available soon. You can read more about it here:

I know they had more info on their site a couple of weeks ago but I can’t seem to find it now :) While it is not a solution to the problem, it is a good opportunity for all of us to check our code against JAWS 5.0 beta.

– Dan

redux says:
August 22, 11h

as a sidenote/question regarding the demo versions: are you not swimming in murky, grey legal waters if you use a demo version for purpouses other than the evaluation of the full product in the light of a possible purchase ? wouldn’t the use of the continued, consistent use of the demo for site testing purpouses be equivalent to running a dodgy, cracked copy ?

just thoughts…

August 24, 11h

Not signed.

Reasons here:


August 24, 11h

Grr, darn it. Wrong URL. Here’s the correct one:


Dave S. says:
August 25, 07h

Kynn - wow, arrogant, self-centered, and asinine? You’re not pulling your punches, are you?

Sorry, but you’re dead wrong. You make it sound like a ‘put up or shut up’ proposition, but I’m guessing you’ve never had to try talking management into spending thousands of dollars on the latest Adobe and Macromedia treats, hundreds of dollars on more memory, and then, oh yeah, an extra grand because we have to hit F5 a few times to make sure 0.x% of our users see the page properly.

I completely agree that it’s highway robbery to all users, but it’s “asking blind users to subsidize the use of assistive technologies by sighted users.”? Come on Kynn, it’s software - it’s not a limited resource.

The *only reason*, and I emphasize because you must understand this if nothing else, but the ONLY reason the developers who have signed this petition are interested are because they have a social conscience and a feeling of obligation toward all users of their sites. Look at the last paragraph of this comment, for example:

The alternative is NOT to grudgingly shell out the thousand, as you seem to suggest; the alternative is to ignore the users of the software, throw out a text-only version of our site (which we all know isn’t accessible either), or just put up a big sign saying ‘Sorry blind users, but we can’t afford you.’ The users are the casualties in the war, and how much sense does that make?

These are the attitudes that we the developers are trying to combat, and faulting us for actually caring is a bad move.

August 25, 09h

My response to Dave is here:

(Read that site before this one.)


Owen says:
August 26, 01h

While I appreciate that Freedom Scientific is the market leader, shouldn’t we also encourage IBM, GW Micro and others to come up with a cheaper/free alternative to their products?

In lieu of using a screen reader, though I now have the demo of JAWS, I’ve used pwWebSpeak to run through some sites (

pwWebSpeak is a speech browser - not a screen reader - now somewhat out-of-date as development ceased some years ago. But it trawls through your markup and reads out what it finds, ignoring style sheets and finding headings, links, images, lists, etc.

I’ve found it gives a useful indication of what users of screen readers might encounter when surfing.

Dave S. says:
August 29, 07h

Kynn Barlett has followed this up again at Maccessibility:

Worth a look if anyone stumbles across this thread at this point.

Mark says:
August 30, 04h

I hate to be put in the position of agreeing with Kynn’s wild rant on the subject, but this petition is ridiculous, and any self-respecting web designer who signed it should be ashamed of themselves (that includes you, Dave S). Freedom Scientific provides a fully functional demonstration version of the latest version of JAWS (currently 4.5.1) that you can run for 40 minutes. Then it stops working until you reboot, then you can run it for another 40 minutes, and so forth ad infinitum. There is no upper limit on usage. The petition claims that the demo version “expires”, which is blatantly false.

Kynn is also correct that JAWS is a complex program with many configuration options and keyboard shortcuts. It is a world unto itself, and you will need to spend at least a solid week with it to become comfortable with it. I did exactly that in my research for writing “Dive Into Accessibility” – 40 minutes at a time. At the time I wondered why no one else seemed to have done what I was doing, and since then I have often wondered why there is so much confusion and ignorance over how JAWS interprets pages when a free download is available for testing. Now I see that it was because you were all waiting for the world to be handed to you on a silver platter.

Dave S. says:
August 30, 05h

Thanks Mark. The subject has been well-debated in the past week and a half over on Accessify Forum, and I’ve been changing my stance as I’ve become more aware of the issues.

I’m definitely not ashamed of my initial support, and I don’t think anyone else should be. The resulting dialogue was invaluable, and the first time I became aware a demo version existed.

Those claiming this petition was about designers assuming they have more right to the software than the blind have entirely missed the spirit in which the signatures were gathered. These are people who actually give a damn; to castigate any of them for misunderstanding or ignorance is to alienate.

Let’s put this behind us and move on. Our hearts are in the right place.

August 30, 12h

IBM has its Home Page Reader 3 – for around $130. Obviously, it isn’t going to have as many functions as JAWS – and there are differences in what is read and how it’s read – but it’s certainly better than nothing. What I don’t understand is why Opera can’t add screen reader functionality to the PAID version of their browser – they’re pretty close already.

Here’s the URL for the IBM HPR. I like it.

August 31, 09h

I hate to be put in the position of agreeing with Kynn’s wild rant on the subject…

Because, y’know, Mark would never write a wild rant. :)


MikeyC says:
September 02, 01h

“Umm, Could we perhaps do a global search/replace on this whole thread… Where one could replace the word “JAWS” with “Macromedia MX Suite”? Comes down to the same thing doesn’t it?”

Uhh…no it doesn’t. If you don’t have access to Macromedia MX Suite then you don’t build your website in Flash. What does this have to do with a developer’s ability to create an accessible website?

Juced says:
September 02, 12h

Umm, Could we perhaps do a global search/replace on this whole thread… Where one could replace the word “JAWS” with “Macromedia MX Suite”? Comes down to the same thing doesn’t it? Or perhaps you guys would like to also charge $50 for a website like the schoolboy next door… My point is: Custom product + small market + few customers = higher price. If you aren’t happy with the price, develop your own software. I do believe that is exactly what you guys would tell a customer if he wanted a top end website (a software product) for 50 bucks. You get what u pay for….

So pay up or…


jim says:
September 03, 03h

We are web designers, we get paid well, they - the user - may well be blind, may be on state benefits, may be working who knows? - the point being if they can afford jaws, then surely we can too? or alternativly use a different screenreader!

Jaws certainly is not the most popular - window-eyes, IBM Home Page Reader, heck there are several available for linux for free! are all equally as popular, it just depends on which section of the blind community you ask. As for accessibility testing, validate your code and you’re halfway there, check against the WAI’s priority levels and you’re done - worried about the cost? - if you’re a competant hand coder it should be quicker than building tag-soup type code!

And at the end of the day, accessibility is not just about blind or partially sighted users, its about learning levels, motability, and all sorts of other disabilities. so come on, stop whining and buy it, or not - use something else.

Hey - why don’t you hire a blind member of staff?

MikeyC says:
September 03, 05h

“We are web designers, we get paid well”

A blanket statement that is a lot less true than it used to be ;)

Erik says:
September 03, 06h

Actually … all the ones who are any good are still being paid well. Its all the hacks who made money when the market was oversaturated with clients who are finding it rough to get paid at all, much less paid well.

Dave S. says:
September 03, 07h

Okay, that’ll do. Consider comments closed on this one. Hop over to
for my follow-up post.