Building an API for JAWS Users May Be Useful to People with Cognitive Disabilities

Research It is a new feature that enables JAWS users to quickly access information.  It uses APIs of publicly-available databases to retrieve the information on demand.  For each of the databases on, I could create an API for JAWS users.  I could then develop a Web-based search interface to query that API and others, and that is accessible to people with cognitive disabilities.


JAWS (Job Access With Speech) is screen reader software used mainly by people who are blind or who have a significant visual disability.  It reads aloud in a voice the information sighted people see on their computer screens.  Yesterday, I attended a demo of JAWS 11, the newest version.  It was held at the Perkins School For The Blind by Eric Damery of Freedom Scientific, the maker of JAWS.

Research It

Of the new JAWS 11 features Mr. Damery demonstrated, it was Research It that caught my attention.  It is designed to be the equivalent of desktop gadgets.  Sighted people can glance at a desktop gadget to obtain information, then quickly return to their primary task.  Research It serves the same function for JAWS users.

With a single keystroke, JAWS users can open a field in which to type a query for weather reports; local businesses; FedEx-package tracking; baseball- and football scores, etc..  At the time of this writing, Research It can access 17 information sources.  Mr. Damery mentioned he had six more under development.


An Application Program Interface (API) is a software component that enables interaction with other software.  An API controls which data can be accessed and what can be done with them.  When JAWS users type a search term, such as “pizza; 33716”, Research It queries a publicly-available API that returns a list of pizza restaurants within and around that Zip code.

Building an API for Research It

I am considering creating an API for the databases of, a Web site maintained by New England INDEX, the UMass Medical School project for which I work.  I would also create custom rule sets and lookup modules for Research It to access the API. This would be particularly useful to JAWS users living in Massachusetts because the databases contain information about disability-specific programs and services within it.

Possible Search Interface

Using best practices of accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities, I could then develop a Web-based search interface to query the new API of the databases.  On that Web site, the search interface would not need to use the API because it would directly access the databases.  However, it could be embedded on other Web sites so their users could query databases via the API.  It also could be extended to be more universal; it could query the APIs of other publicly-available databases.  This would be especially useful for bypassing inaccessible interfaces such sites may have.

For many of the Research It search demos, Mr. Damery used two-word terms.  At least one had three, that for city, state and “weather”.  Although I am sure the intention is to keep search terms as simple as possible so using them is speedy, others could require even more words.  Implementing their syntax and remembering them may be beyond the capabilities of users with cognitive disabilities.  Therefore, I would likely develop an alternative solution I previously discussed, a search-wizard interface.

Note: On March 1, 2010, Freedom Scientific will conduct a Research It Webinar on creating custom rule sets and lookup modules.

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