JAWS 2021 Updates: OCR Directly into a Word Document

What is JAWS OCR?

JAWS OCR is a feature that performs Ocular Character Recognition (OCR) on graphics, documents, application windows, and the computer screen. What is OCR? It is process wherein textual information is generated from an image file, thereby making is accessible to screen reading software.

Why would one want to use OCR? Many times screen reader users may encounter files or images (etc.) that visually contain text but JAWS can’t read them. For example, if I take a picture of street sign, there is no way for a screen reader to read the text on the sign. There is no textual data in that image file. However, if I use a program to perform OCR on the image, now I have text that can be read.

A more common use of OCR is dealing with scanned documents. If I have a printed document and I put it through a scanner, the file that I get on my computer is little more than an image. Visually, all the text can be read. However, the file contains no text, so JAWS would not be able to tell you anything about it. If you take that file and perform OCR, you can generate text for JAWS to read.

How do you use JAWS OCR?

Perform OCR on the current control (such as a graphical button) | Insert + Spacebar, then O, then C
Perform OCR on the current application window | Insert + Spacebar, then O, then W
Perform OCR on the entire screen | Insert + Spacebar, then O, then S
Perform OCR on a PDF document | Insert + Spacebar, then O, then D
Perform OCR on a file | Insert + Spacebar, then O, then R
Cancel OCR in progress | Insert + Spacebar, then O, then Q
Get OCR help info | Insert + Spacebar, then O, then Question Mark (Shift + Forward Slash)

Perform OCR on a control

Let’s go through instances in which we’d use the commands above, because there are a lot of them. Starting at the top, why perform OCR on the current control? This would likely be a troubleshooting step. It’s relatively common that we encounter a button in an application or in webpage that JAWS calls blank or unlabeled or simply has no information on. Many times, the developed forgot to add this description because the purpose of the control is indicated visually. Imagine a button that says “Print” on it, but JAWS calls the button blank. Using JAWS OCR, we can read the visual text on this type of control.

Perform OCR on the application window

Similar to above, this feature, in my mind, would be much more commonly used as a troubleshooting feature rather than a way to do reading. So, when might you use it? Possibly on an application that JAWS is encountering a lot of unlabeled or blank information. Maybe a particularly inaccessible webpage? Or a piece of software that hasn’t been designed for JAWS?

Perform OCR on the entire screen

Again, this feature is more for troubleshooting than reading documents, etc. I might use this feature is my PC is performing strangely, and I am suspicious there is a pop-up window on the screen. In some instances, messages or alerts from certain application or system software can pop-up on the screen. Despite the messages being displayed on the screen, JAWS can’t actually get these windows in focus, they only respond to the mouse pointer. If that were the case, you could use the screen OCR feature to see what might be lurking on your screen.

Perform OCR on a PDF document

This is where the fun begins for JAWS OCR. As we saw above, the first three commands were more there for troubleshooting. However, document OCR allows us to read those files lacking textual data. So, I open a PDF and JAWS has nothing to say? I perform my JAWS OCR document command (Insert + Spacebar, then O, then D). JAWS will say that OCR has started, then a new window will open with my text results. I can read through the text results the same way I would read anything, using the up and down arrows. I can Alt + Tab away from the document window and come back. Very easy!

Perform OCR on a file (New in JAWS 2021)

This last feature is what was added with JAWS 2021. Now, a JAWS user has the ability to scan an inaccessible document from Windows File Explorer. But why? Can’t you just open a PDF a read it that way? Yes – but this feature is a little different. Instead of opening in a JAWS results viewer window, you can have the results sent directly to a Word document. Further, you can use this feature without having to remember any key commands. From file explorer, use Shift + F10 to open the context menu on the document you want to scan. Then, you’ll now see options in the context menu to use Convenient OCR to Word with JAWs and Convenient OCR with JAWS.

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