July 2015 Issue  Volume 16  Number 7

Product Evaluations and Guides

Evaluation of the Leasey (Learn, Enable, Advance -- So Easy!) Computer Scripts from Hartgen Consultancy

Every person who is blind and regularly uses a computer most likely has a favorite screen reader. That screen reader provides a sizable array of commands for accomplishing common computer tasks, such as those related to word processing and Web browsing. After a while, the practiced screen reader user barely considers how many keystrokes it takes to complete a task, or which features of the screen reader are rarely, if ever, used.

How does the beginner cope with all the options available in today's advanced screen reading packages? How does the advanced user deal with the myriad key combinations needed to finish a day's worth of computing? What if there were a tool available that could not only guide the new computer user through basic tasks, but also provide the power user with more efficient ways to perform computer tasks? For anyone using JAWS 14 or above, Hartgen Consultancy has a package worth considering.

For years, Brian Hartgen has been producing some of the best JAWS scripts around. Anyone with a visual impairment who has used iTunes on the Windows platform for any length of time at all has probably heard of Hartgen's J-tunes. J-say, also from Hartgen, brings the power of JAWS and Dragon Dictate together in a way that allows the power user to control a computer using their voice. Leasey, Hartgen's latest offering, harnesses the power of JAWS scripting in a way that appeals to computer users of all experience levels.

Leasey: JAWS Scripts for More Efficient Computing for People with Visual Impairments

Leasey stands for Learn, Enable, Advance--So Easy! Leasey is a set of JAWS scripts that provide everything from a menu of basic computing tasks for beginners to tools for the advanced user, without getting in the way of traditional computing techniques. In all written documentation and recorded training materials, Leasey is referred to as "she." When used in basic mode, Leasey features human voice prompts recorded by Brian's wife, Louise Hartgen.

How to Obtain and Learn About Leasey

Visit the Leasey website to obtain a free demonstration copy of the program that will run for 15 restarts of JAWS. At the site, you can read the Leasey documentation, check out the Leasey blog, find out what programs are recommended for best use with Leasey, and join an e-mail list of other Leasey users in order to share tips and tricks for getting the most out of the product.

The Leasey Total Package can be purchased for $235 and contains human voice prompts for menus, human narrated help from within Leasey, and a five-hour DAISY guide for anyone who is brand new to computing. For $155, you can purchase LeaseyAdvanced, which does not feature human voice prompts in menus, does not include human narrated help, and does not contain the DAISY guide. A payment plan is available for those who wish to purchase Leasey over the course of one year.

Anyone familiar with products produced by Hartgen Consultancy knows that all user guide and help documentation is extremely thorough and well written. I found this to be the case with all of the Leasey documentation I reviewed for this article including the DAISY Getting Started Guide for beginning computer users.

Setting Up and Configuring Leasey

Leasey Total Package was evaluated for this article.

Before installing Leasey, I recommend that you read the section of the user guide that deals with configuring your computer for best results with Leasey. In particular, it is important that the Windows Explorer title bar displays the full path of files and folders. You can store this path information and quickly retrieve it when, for example, you need to tell your audio editing program exactly where to find your latest podcast masterpiece. Simply let Leasey store the path information and then paste it into the appropriate dialog box when needed. Also included in the user guide are suggestions for configuring Microsoft Word, and Foobar 2000, Leasey's audio player of choice.

After you have configured your computer, the installation of Leasey is very straightforward. After installation, you will be given the opportunity to tell her what programs you will be using on your computer. For example, I used Word 2013, Outlook 2013, Internet Explorer, and Foobar 2000. I could have used Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Winamp if I had chosen to do so.

How to Navigate Within Leasey

Leasey makes use of the set of three keys just to the right of F12 on a standard PC keyboard. These keys are the Print Screen, Scroll Lock, and Pause/Break keys. The far left of these three keys becomes the Leasey Menu key. Pressing it presents Leasey's main menu of options, including managing documents, reading books, listening to music tracks, browsing radio stations, working with Skype, and accessing Spotify.

The second in the group of three keys becomes the Leasey Context Menu key. When using Spotify, this key presents options for working with individual music tracks and playlists. When editing a Word document, this key provides options for formatting and spell-checking. There are hotkeys for performing many Leasey functions as well, but the menus are always there for your convenience.

The far right of this group of three keys is the Leasey Help key.

In addition to the three keys mentioned above, Leasey also uses a layered command structure that will be familiar to experienced JAWS users. The Grave Accent key, just to the left of the 1 key on the main area of the keyboard, becomes the Leasey key. To give just a few examples of how this command structure works, in order to restart your computer at any time, press the Leasey key and your computer will say "Leasey." Then, press Alt+Shift+R to restart your computer. You can shut down your computer entirely by pressing the Leasey key, then Alt+Shift+S. The Leasey Key followed by H brings up a list of hotkeys that can be used in Leasey, a less-verbose option than pressing the Leasey Help key.

When using Leasey in Basic mode, the main menu of options is available when you first start your computer or exit out of an application. This menu is spoken in Leasey's human voice. When in Leasey Advanced mode, Leasey stays out of the way unless you activate the menu or issue another command with one of Leasey's hotkeys such as Leasey key followed by the Comma key to begin highlighting text for manipulation, or Leasey key followed by the Period key to stop selecting a block of text for manipulation. You can toggle between Leasey's basic and advanced modes by pressing Control + Leasey key.

I briefly used Leasey Basic as I reviewed the product, but most of my review was conducted using Leasey Advanced. There is no way to cover every aspect of Leasey in this article, so let's take a look at what I consider to be some of her most notable features.

Word Processing with Leasey

Leasey really takes the novice computer user into account when it comes to word processing. For example, if you choose "Write a Document or Letter" from Leasey's main menu, you must provide a title for the new document before you can start typing. When you are finished, all you need do is press the Escape key to exit your word processor; Leasey automatically saves the document. Also, Leasey can help you properly format a letter. When used in conjunction with LeaseyConnect, Leasey's contact management program, it is a straightforward process to choose your personal address as well as the address of the recipient when formatting your document. Leasey saves your documents in a special location so that only the documents you have created when using "LeaseyWord" are displayed when you next wish to view your list of documents. Keep in mind that you can use your word processor of choice without these shortcuts when running Leasey Advanced. It is possible that you might wish to switch between LeaseyWord and traditional word processing depending on the task at hand.

Surfing the Web with Leasey

Using webpages on the Internet is a must for anyone using a computer. It is not surprising that Leasey has a number of options available to make this task easier. One of the more interesting features of Leasey is the ability to set alerts so that JAWS will go to a specific part of a webpage each time that page is loaded. Many JAWS users will be familiar with "flexible Web" in JAWS. Leasey harnesses the power of this feature in a way that makes setting alerts on webpages quite easy to do.

Listening to Music with Leasey

Local Media and Radio Stations

You can listen to music stored on your computer using Leasey with Foobar 2000. LeaseyTags allow you to act on files in a variety of ways, whether it be adding songs to a playlist or copying files to a flash drive. Leasey maintains a directory of radio stations that can be listened to while you do your work. Whether you are listening to your personal music collection or one of Leasey's featured radio stations, global hotkeys allow you to change the volume, skip to previous and next tracks, and stop music playback at any time, no matter what program you are working in.

Finally, Leasey provides increased access to iTunes on the PC. Using Leasey, iTunes controls are labeled appropriately, and areas of the screen that are not normally readable with the JAWS cursor are made available thanks to Hartgen's scripting prowess.

Using Spotify with Leasey

Millions of people around the world enjoy streaming music using Spotify. People who are blind using mobile devices have found Spotify to be quite useable, but Spotify on the PC has been a real challenge. Leasey tackles this problem head on with a host of commands to make Spotify work with JAWS. Leasey's documentation is very transparent about the fact that Spotify support is definitely a work in progress. I certainly found this to be the case. Any issues I encountered were made less difficult by the extremely thorough approach Hartgen took when it came to writing this portion of Leasey's user guide. By highlighting known issues and giving work-arounds for common problems, Leasey makes Spotify quite useable on the PC. I am certain that improvements will be made over the next updates of Leasey and Spotify.

Using Facebook with Leasey

Program development is often a moving target, and nowhere is this more evident than with Facebook. The developers of Leasey have taken great care to make Facebook as accessible as possible. Leasey opens a blank document for typing status updates and then offers commands to ensure that your status has been posted to Facebook. Keystrokes also exist for moving around in the Facebook app itself. As the Leasey team has been hard at work making Facebook as accessible as possible, Facebook has added some accessibility features of its own. It is now possible to use many hotkeys from within Facebook, making the site easier to use. It will be interesting to see if time and effort continues to be put into making Leasey work with Facebook, or if the Facebook accessibility team will make this third-party support unnecessary in the future.

Searching for Books with Leasey

Leasey adds to the power of sites such as Audible and NLS BARD by providing convenient methods for searching by title, author, and keyword. When it's time to download a title, Leasey takes you to the necessary page for completing your task. This is just one area where Leasey focuses as much on increased productivity as increased accessibility, and it is but one reason many power users should consider this product even if they have been using a computer for a long time.

Staying On Schedule with Leasey

Leasey provides a very simple appointment calendar that allows you to keep track of tasks that are due over the course of one year. Along with keeping track of upcoming appointments, Leasey allows you to stay aware of the time throughout the day by playing Westminster Chimes at predefined intervals such as every quarter hour, every half hour, or every hour.

The Bottom Line

Leasey does much more than this article is able to cover. Whether it is storing blocks of text for later retrieval to use in an e-mail signature, highlighting and working with large blocks of text, or setting bookmarks or "LeaseyPoints" in a document, the developers of the product have been careful to make tasks easy for novice users while allowing experienced users to work without being encumbered by Leasey features they don't want to use at the time.

All written and recorded training materials are thorough and professional. I was especially impressed with the DAISY Getting Started tutorial that comes with the Leasey Total Package. As I listened to the tutorial, I found myself on more than one occasion thinking about how much I would have benefitted from such a training program when I acquired my first computer. In addition, remote training is available for those who need one-on-one human assistance.

I found working with Facebook using Leasey to require a lot of keystrokes, and I wonder if Facebook's improved accessibility efforts will render Leasey support less necessary in the future. As rudimentary as Spotify accessibility is at present, I was very impressed with my success at using the program with Leasey's documentation and keystrokes. I am confident that Spotify accessibility will improve in the coming months.

I would love to see access to the Netflix player on the PC become more accessible, especially with regard to accessing audio described content. Perhaps the developers of Leasey could tackle this project in the future. I'm sure others could find ways for Leasey to make their lives easier as well--the team at Hartgen Consultancy is always willing to listen!

For anyone who owns JAWS for Windows (versions 14 and above) who needs extra assistance with learning to use their computer, I would highly recommend Leasey. For the experienced computer user who simply would like to have yet another accessibility tool in their arsenal, I would highly recommend that they give Leasey a serious test drive. It will be very exciting to see what Hartgen Consultancy adds to Leasey in the future. I expect that Leasey will be with us for a very long time.

Product Information

Leasey (Learn, Enable, Advance - So Easy!)
Cost: Leasey Total Package: $235; Leasey Advanced: $155; 12-month payment plan available

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