Common Sense says
Super screen reader a game changer for kids who are blind.
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
Violence & scariness
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that JAWS is a downloadable "screen reader" application that can enable a kid with a visual disability or blindness to completely navigate and use almost all programs on a Windows-based computer. Although kids as young as 8 can learn basic commands fairly quickly, using JAWS to its full potential requires a steep learning curve. This includes lots of memorization, complex sets of simultaneous key commands, and customization. However, it's the most popular screen reader on the market these days, and the promise of complete computer access and control should be a strong motivator for most kids.
What's it about?
An extremely powerful and versatile program, JAWS can read text and graphic information on a computer in almost any application, providing both speech and Braille output. The software is controlled with keyboard commands that make it possible for a kid with blindness to navigate a computer, create and edit documents, and read Web pages.
You'll download the program onto your home computer, then set it up for your chosen Web browser (Firefox and Internet Explorer are currently supported). Kids can use JAWS's training program to learn the many keyboard commands required to use it and find out how to customize options for their own needs and preferences. Most kids will start out utilizing only the basic commands and add more as they need the additional power. Commands use combinations of keystrokes (for example, Insert + Control + F) to create actions such as "Move to Next Clickable Element" and "Show Recent Speech History." Other keys offer text narration in a male or female voice, plus the ability to customize pitch and speed.
Is it any good?
This is an outstanding, accessible software application for Windows-based computers; it's the most popular program of its type on the market for a reason. But there's a lot of learning to be done to use JAWS. Kids will have to understand the commands and memorize them and know how to use the various pieces of software on a computer. Luckily, there are good, accessible guides available that read aloud to support beginning users.
Once kids get past the first hurdle of getting familiar with JAWS's layout and style, they should be browsing favorite websites and using their computers with ease in no time. Keep in mind that JAWS is designed for Windows, so if your family uses a Mac, you may want to look at other options.
A bonus: JAWS now comes with JAWS Tandem, an additional screen-sharing tool that allows for incredible tech support.
Talk to your kids about ...
- Pick a very basic subset of commands to begin with, such as navigating and listening to a short story once it's on the screen.
- Support your kids by working with them to customize navigation commands.
- Staying a step ahead of kids helps them pick up new skills without all the frustration of trial and error.