WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

JAWS license not developer friendly

For years, we have recommended to developers that they download the trial version of JAWS to perform basic evaluation of the accessibility of their web sites. Our recent, and quite popular, article on using JAWS to evaluate web content again makes this recommendation.

The demo version (which runs for 40 minutes per session) can be a valuable tool for web developers to not only ensure their content is accessible, but also compatible with this, the most popular of screen readers. The ability for every day web developers to test actual accessibility of their web content is not only important, but has greatly increased the accessibility of web content for blind users.

We were recently apprised that the licensing agreement for the trial version of JAWS states:

… these demonstration or evaluation licenses are not permitted for purposes of development and testing of JAWS scripts, applications, HTML coding, or other Web Based code.

In other words, you cannot use the demo version of JAWS for web evaluation. In fact, you can’t even use the demo version of JAWS to determine how well the full version could be used for accessibility evaluation.

Screen readers are very complicated pieces of software. As such, it is mostly understandable that they are so expensive ($895 for the standard version of JAWS). For many developers, the limitations of the demo would facilitate purchasing a license. And certainly the fact that the demo version of JAWS has been used for accessibility evaluation (obviously despite the licensing terms) has resulted in a great number of JAWS purchases.

But for other developers, particularly those that would perform only basic or occasional JAWS testing, the cost is not justifiable. The licensing terms for JAWS hurt these developers’ ability to create accessible web content for blind users. Such limitations are not apparent in demo versions of other screen readers, including Window Eyes.

With technology advancing, the ability for developers to use screen readers to evaluate web content is increasing. Indeed, with some web technologies, such as Flash, AJAX, and PDF, screen reader testing is about the ONLY mechanism available for true evaluation.

If Freedom Scientific has an interest in ensuring that their audience – screen reader users with disabilities – continue to be provided with accessible materials from the developer community, it would be incumbent upon them to modify their licensing terms to allow basic evaluation by developers or to provide a more reasonably priced license for developers who would use JAWS only rarely for accessibility testing.

If you would like to see a license change or version that allows testing, I invite you to contact Freedom Scientific.


  1. Steve Green

    I agree with most of what you have written but you are wrong when you say “you can’t even use the demo version of JAWS to determine how well the full version could be used for accessibility evaluation”.

    The license terms specifically permit this, saying “Software licenses which require either system reboot after a certain period of time … are to be used for evaluation prior to purchase only”.

    In any case, what is there to evaluate from a developer or tester’s standpoint? JAWS is the de facto standard for testing because of its market share. You’re either prepared to pay for it or you’re not.

    We do a lot of testing and training with JAWS so it was easy to justify buying the Professional version, but I can see that most developers and testers would not make use of much of the product’s capabilities. I don’t see how Freedom Scientific could base a license on how frequently a developer uses the product, but maybe they should offer a cut-down version that only supports web browsing.

    It would be interesting to hear what developers would be prepared to pay for such a product. Any takers at say $200?

  2. Sailesh Panchang

    Well Freedom Scientific did have a product called Connect OutLoud which would mainly work for browsing. Check if it is still available. It was priced for around $200 and was sort of a limited version of JAWS.

  3. Michael Wigle

    I checked the EULA for Window-Eyes and then called them to confirm that you are allowed to use their demo in 30 minute mode for as long as you like for any purpose you like. Obviously, if you use it alot they would like you to purchase it but they in now way require it. That is one of the differences in phoilosopy between the two companies I have liked about GW Micro.

    They also don’t have the extensive authorization system that can cause annoyance if you have no Internet access. The Internet command structure is very similar in the two applications and quite honestly, I would suggest web developers consider using Window-Eyes to test sites instead of Jaws. It saves any possible legal ramifications and gives the same result.

  4. Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis

    The problem with testing in just one version of just one screen reader (either a cut-price JAWS or the Window-Eyes demo) is that features and bugs can vary considerably from version to version and product to product. On an corporate intranet, you can make some assumptions about what assistive technology people are likely to be given by the company. On the public web, you can make no such assumptions: the variety of screen readers, browsers, and configurations is innumerable.

    Paying to use Connect OutLoud to simulate JAWS is the worst of all possible options, since its feature set (in terms of web browsing) is very different and a certainly a poorer approximation of the JAWS experience than using the Window-Eyes demo.

    While JAWS is the most popular screen reader, the rare figures I’ve seen don’t suggest it dominates the screen reader market to the same extent as Internet Explorer dominates the browser market:



    My vague impression from screen reader mailing lists is that JAWS users are more likely than others to be using an older version of their screen reader. So even if there are substantially more JAWS users than Window-Eyes users, there are probably a lot fewer JAWS 9.0 users than Window-Eyes 6.1 users.

    I’m not sure how interested I’d be in spending my own cash on a single version of JAWS at a cut price. I would however definitely be tempted to spend the same money on an annual licence to use any JAWS demo limited to 30-minutes per session for web testing purposes.

    P.S. It would be good if it were indicated what markup or markdown (if any) is allowed in these comments.

  5. Joe Clark

    Gee, and people were on my case six years ago for musing that Jaws should be available at reduced cost to developers. (I got yelled at by Kynn, MCMayTechnoDanceRemix, and others, including a Freedom Scientific VP who actually did yell.)

    Who knew they had been intentionally blocking developers all along?

  6. Allen Hoffman

    I think screen reader-like functionality should be a high priority in open source tools like the web accessibility toolbar. AT vendors just don’t seem to recognize the utility of their tools for this task and market testing tools as an added revenue stream. I wonder if anyone has tried using System Access To go for this purpose?

  7. Darrel

    Wow. ‘Freedom Scientific’ is such an ironic name given this.

    I agree with Allen. It’d be great if developers took just half the money they were going to spend on a ‘test version’ of JAWS and sent it off to one of the open source projects instead.

  8. Tom

    Does anyone have any thoughts on the built-in screen reader in Windows Vista? Is it at all valid for testing purposes, or is it so different that one can’t generalize the experience to true screen readers such as Jaws and Windows-Eyes?

  9. Ed

    I am a novice (read total newbie) web site creator… in fact this is my first public website. It’s a free website for ham radio operators.
    I have a blind woman in our radio club and want to learn to create my website optimized so she can read it using JAWS.
    No way am I going to pay 800-some-odd bucks for a license to JAWS just to make sure she can read my page!
    It seems like the JAWS developers would go out of their way to help website creators like myself learn to optimize our pages so that JAWS users (their customers) could use JAWS to read them.

  10. dot tilde dot

    so it looks like people who want to test websites should better evaluate if jaws would be a good purchase and test with their newly written website.

    i’m not familiar enough with american law to tell if this particular bit of the jaws eula is enforcable at all. i know from the legislation that i am living in that there are clauses that are not.

    i dont get these people. 40 minutes is enough of a nag actually.


  11. deizel

    I’m still going to use the demo to be honest. Why pay when they can’t stop me?

  12. Bruce Gingery

    There is a lot of comment on pricing for JAWS above. Here is another wildcard.

    I would not willingly pay $1.00 for Windows-only software (including, ever, the purchase nor use of Vista), and have not seen a good MS-DOS emulator that could feed the DOS version of JAWS from the web. If I were to try to rely upon a Windows-only tool, it would not have access to the internet. The XP and prior that I do have, will never run out of a sandbox.

    As for anything that requires an overall system reboot. That’s a total non-starter.

    Festival/Festvox/FreeTTS “Speak text-to-speech” still requires a lot of ear tuning, perhaps as much as (for some people, more than) rsynth “say” and “nasay” (for unix NAS), but it has a built-in XML parser, so offers promise for the XHTML and XML web. I have not had time to evaluate “say” nor “eSpeak” nor “Flite” from the Astrisk open-source PBX, as yet. It may be import of the other mentioned items.

    I also have not (yet) evaulated the text-to-speech capabilities of Apple Mac OS/X Leopard, however older Macs had excellent built-in voices. … Cepstral, iVox, … Reportedly, Leopard includes built-in Text-To-Speech engine, which allows the Mac to talk back to you any written text.

    http://freetts.sourceforge.net/ and
    http://asterisk-espeak.sourceforge.net/ and
    http://asterisk-flite.sourceforge.net/ and

    ftp://svr-ftp.eng.cam.ac.uk/comp.speech/synthesis/ and http://sourceforge.net/projects/rsynth/

  13. Mike Calvo

    Quite an interesting thread! Well, for us at Serotek it’s easy. Use http://www.satogo.com or feel free to download and use our screenreader installed. In certain situations, we will be happy to provide evaluation copies for true website evaluators if they need extended lengths of time to test. System Access provides Accessibility Anywhere. Isn’t it about time the rest did the same?

  14. Frederico Caldeira Knabben

    Well, JAWS is not a developer tool. It is supposed to be a screen reader. Developers will not use it to read the news in their preferred news site, but exclusively to test their applications, ensuring that they are compatible with… JAWS. There is nothing to do with accessibility here. It’s just a compatibility matter.

    Having applications compatible with JAWS, can definitely help on making JAWS more used. Of course the opposite is also true, but no one is asking Freedom Scientific to pay us to be compatible. We just need fair licensing terms. After all, if a developer extensively uses JAWS for testing, s/he simply gets annoyed with the 40 minutes limit and just buy it, if s/he can.

    Things go really hard for us Open Source developers, with commercial tricks like this.

  15. Nik

    Thanks for the link, Mike, I’ll have to check out your screenreader.

    As for JAWS, I used it once years ago to test my site, got fed up with the 40-minute-and-then-reboot cycle, and never touched the thing again. 40 minutes wasn’t enough to get familiar with even the basic functioning of the software, and there’s no way I was going to try to justify a $900 piece of testing software for 1-2% of my users. If “Freedom” Scientific wants to make it that much trouble to test compliance with their software that’s their business, but I really can’t be bothered.

    I wonder how much it costs them to make their software work with websites that haven’t tested for JAWS compliance?

    Too much stick, not enough carrot.

  16. James Pepper

    If you design your website correctly, you really do not have to test it in JAWS. If you follow basic practices, make the site W3C compliant, you are set. I think the demo is enough.

  17. Per

    Just to let you know: In European countries such as Germany blind persons have to pay €1600 till €2300 for the screen reader Jaws. This are about $2000 till $3000 and not “only $900”. . Updates are expensive as well. Because of this reason a lot of blind users cannot afford the updates for the newest Jaws versions. This means, they have to browse the net with IE6 because IE7 and FF are not working well with older Jaws versions. This is a huge problem. I am searching for collaboration with political accessibility workers to make the trading policy of Freedom Scientific publicly known by govermental agencies in Europe. Help is appreciated!

  18. Alexis Antonelli

    If you think this is bad, imagine how bad it is for the visually impaired people who actually NEED the full version of Jaws to use their computer and the Internet. I teach a typing class to visually impaired people using Jaws in a computer lab. Most of them are on very fixed incomes and so they can not afford their own copy to use at home. Something needs to change there.

  19. Will Martin

    Writing a legal clause in to prevent people from testing their work for compatibility with your own software is basically clueless. Which is pretty much par for the Freedom Scientific course.

    Happily, there are other alternatives for accessibility testing. In addition to assorted developer toolbars, there are also a couple of free/open source screen readers. Windows users needing to test with a full-featured screen reader can try Non-Visual Desktop Access, or NVDA, which is available free from:


    The learning curve on NVDA is fairly steep, but worth it. It’s a full-featured screen reader, in that it can read not only web content but also other applications such as Word or Excel. It works with both Internet Explorer and Firefox (best with Firefox 3). It’s open source.

    There’s also FireVox, an extension for Firefox which turns it into a self-voicing browser. That’s available here:


    FireVox is rather easier to learn than NVDA, largely because it’s restricted to web based content. Also, it only works with Firefox. On the other hand, it’s free of charge, open source, and works on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms. I use this frequently for quick spot checks; it’s handy to set up a second Firefox profile in which to install FireVox, so that you needn’t have it nattering at you all the time if you don’t need it to.

    It would naturally be better to test in JAWS as well. But any testing is better than no testing, and if my pages work well in NVDA and FireVox, chances are good they’ll work in JAWS as well. That being the case, I’ll use the programs which don’t throw up nasty legal barriers against developers.

  20. thacker

    JAWS since version 6 [older versions were not tested] still does not recognize a closing punctuation mark prior to the closing tag of an element, e.g. paragraph or lists. A period is spoken as a dot. Run-on sentences occur.

    Designing for the various assisted technology user agents is reminiscent of the browser wars. The accessibility standards groups and quasi-governmental agencies should have addressed the most basic of issues with the user agents by now.

    As far as their EULA restrictions for Web site testing, oh well. There is a crack out for version 9.0 and I have read that it is very competent. Freedom Scientific has worked very hard to get ripped off.

  21. Evan

    Contact FS about the license? What, ask politely that they change a license that’s ignored developers for years now? Look, we want to do the right thing, but FS is perfectly aware of this problem and have chosen to ignore it. I’m with thacker above: given the choice between stealing JAWS writing them a nice email, it’s frankly easier to steal it.

  22. Alexis Antonelli

    Here is another free screenreader ,called Thunder, available at http://www.screenreader.net/.

    I just starting using it and it works pretty well. You may be able to use this instead of JAWS.

  23. Tom

    As mentioned above, a particular version of a particular screen reader does not provide full testing results.
    But also, how about people with other types of disabilities and other types of assistive technologies?
    There’s so much out there in so many versions that I would never finish developing a site if I wanted to make it accessible with all technologies. I would advocate good coding practices, on the long run it takes care of lot’s of problems.
    For further discussion, read:


  24. msn

    If you design your website correctly, you really do not have to test it in JAWS. If you follow basic practices, make the site W3C compliant, you are set. I think the demo is enough.

  25. Stev James

    HI. I’m a blind JAWS user and have done a little website building. This licencing clause is an absolute joke, unless I’m misunderstanding. FS are disallowing the 40 minute demo version to be used to test your projects for accessability. Freedom Science Fiction is a name some have coined.

    I am one of those JAWS 6 users, confined to using IE 6, until such time as I can afford an upgrade. This means in practicle terms, many sites are basically unusable. Particularly the AJAX heavy ones. Facebook, many media sites. If I had no JAWS 6 I couldn’t afford to buy JAWS. In that scenario, I’d be forced to find a cracked version. Accepted, the development costs, relatively small market means software like this commands the price it does. Screenreaders with this level of safistication are not just another piece of software. They’re akin to a VDU. The absence of which renders your computer a mere aunamoent. Take away my ability to use a computer effectively and I’m condemned to lifelong unemployment, marginalisation and ignorance. I’m not going there again. Avoiding that supercedes any copyright issue you can name.

    Appoligies for minor rant. And spelling.

  26. Keith Hinton

    I would say that website accessibility is important. Making sure sights are W3C compliant are chriticle to most people. How about HTML2.x, and all that other stuff? Technology is not something that sits around, waiting to change.
    As for Window-Eyes over JAWS, I’d argue that you must try both programs for yourself.
    I’d personally get Window-Eyes if I could and become a GW Micro customer. Have any of you read how Freedom Scientific did that law suit over the pace marker technology in Window-Eyes, wich GW Micro says has been in Window-Eyes sinse 3.0 that applies it’s always been there, and Freedom Scientific has no justifications.
    Freedom Scientific is just making money off JAWS.
    They want your money, too.
    For JAWS Pro, it’s $1095.00 plus shipping/handeling charges. You don’t get remote desktop out of the box, without paying an extra $200 on your JAWS authorization.
    On top of this, I have tested simply deleteing your sound card in device manager and rebooting your Windows XP/Vista/whatever box is enough to trigger yet another activation dialog.
    I’d go completely open-source with something like Debian GNU/Linux, or maybe even try a MAC, but don’t have enough money to get that.
    For folks like me who receive SSI and who are still not working on our own, affording a MAC not to mention Window-Eyes, etc, is…pretty much hopeless.

  27. Amber

    Our company purchased a copy of Window-eyes to evaluate our websites for accessibility because JAWS would not sign our liscence agreement (we are a large company and don’t typically sign general agreements. JAWS lost business I think they should consider changing their legal strategy.

  28. Everseeker

    I used Jaws for Development purposes (I know, I am a rebel)
    In that Rebel vein, I’d like to offer the following:
    Run Jaws in a sandbox or VM with a snapshot taken right at tool start. At just before the 40 min mark, I reloaded from my saved snapshot and in like 15 seconds, was back in business…..

  29. Thomas Hey'l


    I run a rather accessible website in german language and yes, we have fully blind and heavily visually impaired users. We had our first contact with Freedom Scientific back in late 2004, first with a very polite developer, and asked why Jaws would behave so weird in certain correct coding situations. We also asked why Jaws does not even support the most simple aural styles (i.e., “speak: none;”).

    The answer was quite surprising. Jaws ignores aural stylesheets completely because nobody uses them. And the strange behaviour results from the fact that at that time only very few websites had a valid source code. They had or have enough trouble in making invalid and maybe unstructured code readable. They gave me the advice to use invisible images of at least 2 × 2 px size (Jaws 6 ignores smaller images) and to use their alt attribute for information 🙁 .

    During the mail discussion, we passed a list of common errors to Freedom Scientific. Some of them have been fixed during the years. Stev James’ post exactly describes our main problem. The cost of Jaws licenses in Germany prevents user from upgrading. Thus, we have a big overhead in the XHTML code to ease the listening pain a little bit. I.e., Jaws 6 reads certain punctuation elements in english language even if german is selected (“slash”). All we could do was to code / for IE7 users – and IE6 users still “stood in the rain”, as we say here. That’s 35 bytes instead of one. Jaws 6 has lots of bugs in math equation and symbol reading, and with a default install, the expanding of title attributes is turned off. The only way to cause a speaking pause is a “full stop” (period, space, line break).

    We asked Freedom Scientific a cheap licence for developing and testing purposes. They offered us a license that was even more expensive than a standard license. More than that, the company found quite offending words in the answer.
    Unfortunately, there is almost no alternative if you rely on german language output.

    We solved the problem in a very simple manner. I found some friends and blind people who are interested in better website reading. They help us as real testers (anyhow a better idea). This is not much work now, since working techniques do not need to be changed, and for any new case, a simple test page is quickly coded. A tester and I phone via speaker and microphone, so I hear what Jaws reads myself. In case of necessary adjustments, I make ’em on the fly, the blind helper reloads the page and in most cases we are done with it.

    Two years ago, we set our hope on Fire Vox, but to my mind, there’s a certain stagnation in the project and no support for german in sight (neither for the Opera reader).

    It might interest you that the mandatory health insurance in Germany does not pay a single cent for a screen reader. I know some blind that must use braille – which is very time consuming – because they cannot affort a Jaws license. That’s a shame.

    Regards, Thomas

  30. Michael

    To Will Martin: thanks for the tip on NVDA. I wanted to make sure my web-based on-line application form could be used by someone using Jaws. I will have a go with NVDA instead.

  31. Niral

    Freedomscientific is a monopolistic money driven company that really don’t care for their customers! The day Freedom Scientific goes out of business and another company over powers them, is the day I will jump and shout with joy!

  32. Nikki Kealy

    Ok, i think i will save this for thenext time I’ll have to argue with Frank (friend of mine) about it! I wasn’t wrong 😀

  33. Harry Pearce

    I used Connect OutLoud and was extremely happy for the price. Less than $200 and it was pretty similar to JAWS although slightly limited in some respects.

  34. Christophe Strobbe

    I can’t find the quote “these demonstration or evaluation licenses are not permitted for purposes of development and testing” anywhere on the Freedom Scientific website. Have the licensing terms been changed or can you only view them during and after the installation process?

  35. Jared Smith


    The licensing terms are displayed and you must agree to them during the installation process.

    I spoke with the program lead for JAWS recently and he indicated that from their viewpoint they are doing developers a favor by not allowing evaluation and not providing a low-cost JAWS alternative for developers. He said that it takes a commitment to learning JAWS and that better evaluation will occur if developers really learn the ins and outs JAWS or leave evaluation to those with visual disabilities who have already paid for it.

    Apparently developers can’t be committed to learning the basics of JAWS without shelling out $1000+ first???

  36. Ed Green

    To be honest I dont think they would enforce their licensing clause if someone chose to ignore it. This is good software and should be freely available to all that need it. Open source is the way to go.


  37. Kevin

    IMO you should *not* test for compatibility with Jaws. We, the disabled community, should stop supporting companies that exploit us by charging us the price of an entire freaking computer for accessibility solutions.

    Sometimes I think about starting a free class and teaching people how to use software like Orca and NVDA. The more people that are educated about the alternatives, the sooner companies that prey on us will go out of business, which would make me very happy.

  38. Johnny Boy

    I have been using Jaws for many years with any issues. Open source is the way they need to keep it!

  39. tim

    try NVDA, non visual desktop access a free alternative to jaws and video intersept crap and system access is great as well!

  40. Jane Brown

    Hi, I’ve been using Jaws for a long time and it’s very useful. I really think that an open source is the best way to keep things running… 🙂