Feed on

Exciting New Feature in JAWS For Windows

Contributed by Joel Zimba, Special Projects Coordinator, MDTAP

With every Autumn comes the JAWS beta cycle.  This year, being no exception, brings us jaws 17 Public Beta.  While it boasts many new features, the exciting one to me is “Smart Navigation.”  In a nutshell, Smart Navigation makes JAWS work in a more reasonable fashion with complex webPages and applications which run in the browser platform—think Google Docs.

In order to better grasp Smart Navigation, I have to employ the dream sequence to take us back to the late ‘90s.  That’s when the “Virtual Buffer” first appeared in JAWS and made the web much more accessible.  Rather than reviewing websites one screen at a time and using clues like highlight for where to click, suddenly, the contents of an entire webpage were brought into a sort of buffer which could be read much like any other document.  The arrow keys would read line by line and interacting with various controls became more fluid.  The default behavior of the virtual buffer was to make a page more linear in appearance.  Links had a line to themselves.  Rather than having things appear as they do on screen, there was a sort of “flattening” effect.

This method worked quite well until the web became more interactive.  Now that it’s hard to tell some web-based applications like Gmail from a desktop-dwelling program, the virtual buffer just doesn’t work so well.  In an ideal world, nobody would care whether a document editor or a mail reader was running in FireFox or on a desktop.  For now though, things are constrained by the ways in which information is transferred and also how web browsers in general function.

With all that in mind, the idea of Smart Navigation was born. The old virtual buffer just can’t keep up, so based on the nature of the control currently in focus, the function of the arrow keys changes.  If you’re in a tagged “menu bar,” the arrows will move from control to control.  Previously, the default would have been to read the name of the control letter by letter.  While this behavior is still available, the new paradigm tries to keep things behaving more like an application and less like a flat page of text.

There is also a Smart Navigation mode for tables.  The same idea applies, in that jaws assumes you want to move from cell to cell rather than spelling the contents of each cell.  This seems to work quite well, and I find Smart Navigation in tables to be a pleasure.

Overall, I think Smart Navigation is a great start.  I would like to see the power of Smart Navigation increased.  Perhaps menus could be treated as a single control when using the up and down arrows, and their contents explored with the left and right arrows.  This could extend to other tagged elements as well. Banners come to mind.  I have no doubt Smart Navigation will grow with successive versions of jaws and in time we will wonder how we got by without it, just as we did with the Virtual Buffer.

Leave a Reply

MDTAP | 2301 Argonne Drive, Room T17 Baltimore, Maryland 21218| Voice: 410-554-9230 Toll Free ⁄ Voice 1-800-832-4827|Email: mdtap@mdtap.org