Monday, August 22, 2022

The Hidden History of Screen Readers

Sheon Han:

Blindness made working as a mechanical engineer difficult. When he consulted Florida’s Division of Blind Services, a counselor told him that computer programming was becoming a popular career for people who are blind.


In 1987, they founded Henter-Joyce and soon released the first version of their screen reader for DOS. They called it JAWS, which stands for Job Access With Speech, but is also a playful reference to another DOS screen reader called Flipper, like the dolphin in an eponymous 1960s TV show.

JAWS was not the only screen reader in the market, but it had original features like the dual cursor — one application cursor for navigating elements on the page and another that could move freely like how our eyes move around the screen. It also had built-in Braille support and a scripting language for users to customize their workflow.


It was only in 2019 that an open-source alternative — NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) — finally overtook JAWS in popularity. (JAWS took back its dominant market share in 2020, but just barely).

See also: Upgrade.


3 Comments RSS · Twitter

Yes. All very moving.

A curious absence of discussion of mainstream screen readers by OS vendors, but I suppose a superficial critique of corporate priorities is a start.

@Sebby There’s a bit about that in the Upgrade episode.

@Michael Awesome, thanks. I'll try and skim that. Also, thanks for bringing this to attention.

Leave a Comment