Using the Jaws For Windows Screen Reader with Unicode IPA fonts

by Dr. Robert Englebretson

the purpose of this page is to provide step-by-step instructions to enable users of the Jaws for Windows screen reader (manufactured by Freedom Scientific) to be able to access material written in Unicode IPA fonts. Please be aware that this does not actually add text-to-speech rules for IPA (it does not enable Jaws to fluently read IPA as if it were text) -- but what it does is to provide English glyph labels for all IPA characters in Unicode. I.e. Jaws will read the word [θɪŋ] as "theta SmallCapitalI Eng" but it will not read it as "thing".

In order to use Jaws For Windows with Unicode IPA fonts, you will need the Jaws For Windows screen reader, version 17 or later. (If you are using a version of Jaws prior to 17, please email me for instructions that will work with older versions.) You will also need a fully compliant Unicode font. I highly recommend the Doulos SIL Font as a good font to use for IPA characters. It is fully Unicode compliant and costs nothing to download and use. This font contains the full IPA Unicode character set, something which many other Unicode fonts generally available in Windows may not provide.

* Note: I am not affiliated with FreedomScientific, and this page is provided "as-is". For official FreedomScientific documentation, see the section in the Jaws help file entitled "Adding Speech for Special Symbols."

Please feel free to e-mail me at reng {at} with any comments or suggestions.

  1. First, you need to browse to the Jaws shared folder. This is where you will find the synthesizer configuration files (which have a file extension of .sbl). This is "C:\Users\All Users\Freedom Scientific\JAWS\XX\SETTINGS" where XX is the number corresponding to your most recent version of Jaws.
  2. Note that character definitions are specific to the speech synthesizer and language you are using. So you need to be sure and open the file for that synthesizer, and edit the section corresponding to the language you are using.
  3. Using WordPad or another text editor that supports UTF8-encoded text files, open the .sbl file for the speech synthesizer you want to use to read IPA symbols. For example, if you use Eloquence, open eloq.sbl. If you use Vocalizer Expressive, open VocalizerExpressive.sbl.
  4. Move your cursor to the bottom of the language-specific section for the language you are using. For example, if you use American English, you would search for "[0x409]", which is the section header for American English. (0409 is the Microsoft Language Pack code for American English.) Then, arrow down through that section until you reach a blank line, which will be right above the comment lines for the next section.
  5. Now, right-click on the following link: IPA_SBL.txt and choose "save target as" from the context menu. Save this file on your desktop, or in any other convenient folder. This file contains the Unicode values of all of the (non-ASCII) IPA characters, along with their English names, in the appropriate format for a Jaws synthesizer file. (If you want IPA labels in a language other than English, you will need to edit this file and replace all of the English names with the glyph names in the target language.)
  6. Open this file, and copy the entire contents to the clipboard.
  7. Paste the entire contents of IPA_SBL.txt (which you just copied to the clipboard) into the .sbl file you have opened, at the cursor position specified above.
  8. Save the .sbl file. Note that you have to have full administrative rights to do this; you may need to save it to a temporary location and copy the file back into the shared settings folder to overwrite the one that is currently in use.
  9. Exit and restart Jaws.
  10. To test to make sure the new symbol definitions are working, read the following word using the synthesizer you just modified: [θɪŋ]. Jaws should speak the three IPA glyphs that make up this word, and you should be able to arrow through the word character by character.

In addition, I have also created a JBT file which adds IPA Braille symbols to Jaws when using a braille display. Please feel free to e-mail me at reng {at} if you would like a copy of that as well.

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