JAWS Topics: FINDing your way around a Word document

Hey y'all, it's been a while since I last posted but I am excited to get back at it today!

I wanted to share a tip or strategy for navigating long Word documents if you are a screen reader user.  This strategy is verified to work with JAWS, but it will likely work very similarly for those who use NVDA to access materials and pair up a braille display

Here's the problem:

I often work with the English teachers at our school for the blind, and especially in high school, they have long Word documents that they want their students to read.  That's not really an issue for most of our students, as students with low vision can manipulate the document according to personal preference or use a screen enlargement program like Windows Magnifier, and students with less functional vision can use a screen reader to read the document.  Hmm, well that might be the problem after all, because listening through a screen reader isn't exactly reading, is it?  Let's just run with this idea.  Since we prefer our students to read materials for themselves through direct contact with print, either visually or in braille, our students who use screen readers should also learn to use a braille display.  

Now, we're back at the issue of reading long documents.  What if the document is a story, and the class progresses through the document day after day.  Well, eventually, students will need to jump quickly back into a document and find their place where they had last left off.  As a sighted user, that's no big deal because I can just scroll down and scan the lines of text until I get where I need to be.  Braille and screen readers don't have this benefit of scanning multiple lines of text at once, as the screen reader and braille display only reads and displays the immediate focus of the screen reader.  How, then, can such a user quickly get to a given section of a document.

The Strategy

To start, I am assuming that JAWS is on and a Word document is pulled up.  

Use the Find Command

  • Press Control + F to execute the Search/Find command.  The Navigation pane will appear on the left-hand side of the window, with the cursor ready for users to type a word/phrase search.
  • Type the word or phrase you are looking for, based on your recollection or teacher's input.  Word will automatically display any instances of your word or phrase.  Suggestion: If you use a very specific phrase, you will likely only have one suggestion--- the exact spot in the text you want to navigate to!  Otherwise, after entering your search entry, use the up and down arrow keys to hear the various instances of your search terms in context. 
  • When you hear the phrase you want, press Enter to select it.  Word will automatically route the document focus to that exact location in the document, with the word/phrase highlighted.
  • Press Escape, and the JAWS focus will shift from the Navigation pane to the highlighted text in the document.  Press the left arrow, and your cursor will be right in front of the desired text.

What this means 

What this means for screen reader and braille display users is that, primarily using a keyboard, users can quickly navigate to any location in a document, provided they know what they are looking for, and be ready to listen or read in braille what they specifically want to read.  There will not be a need to laboriously read long stretches of text to find where you left off.


I hope this is a helpful guide for y'all!  Please let me know if you have any thoughts or questions!

Read more about: Assistive Technology