JAWS Topics: Navigating Menu Bars

In this post, I am going to build upon the basic navigation skills outlined in my previous JAWS Topics post.  We will be providing some information on how to access and navigate the menu bars of programs that you may have opened up.  Why is this important?  Well, default and basic settings may be sufficient for users to start, but we often will find that there are settings we would prefer to set in different ways to best suit personal preferences, etc.  We may wish to change settings in our word processors, internet browsers, as well as in our accessibility software like JAWS.

So let's talk about how we can access the JAWS menu.  I am assuming that, as a JAWS user, you are not using your mouse to move the cursor to any menu bar items.  So, what do we need to do to access the menu bar?  The answer lies in the "Alt" key, always to the left and right of the space bar.  When you press the "Alt" key, the screen reader's focus will be placed on the Menu bar for you to begin navigating.  Remember as well, using the "Alt" key is not JAWS specific; "Alt" is a Windows-based shortcut that works in most programs like Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.).  As a non-example, however, some programs like Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge do not respond to the "Alt" key.  They do not have traditional menu bars, replacing those with settings menus that require program-specific shortcuts to access.

JAWS is a program whose main window does respond to the Alt key.  When you press the Alt key, JAWS's focus is placed on the first of four menu bar items: Options.  To move between the menu bar items, the user will use the left and right arrow keys.  To open up a menu bar item to see its menu contents, the user will press the down arrow when the screen reader focus is placed on the menu bar item.  A menu list will drop down and appear, and the user will be able to arrow up and down through those options.  Some items in the menu list will have sub-options, indicated by the word "Collapsed."  In order to explore those sub-options, the user will use the right arrow to "Expand" the menu item to display the sub-options.  To select a given menu item, the user will press the Enter key.  If you are done browsing in an expanded section or even just the menu bar item, you can press the Escape key to close out the most expanded section; Pressing escape repeatedly will eventually take your focus back to the original menu bar items.

In sum, here is a list of the keys to use for navigating programs' menu bars when they have one:

  • Place the screenreader focus on the menu bar: Alt key
  • Move between items on the menu bar: Left and Right arrow keys
  • Open up a menu bar item: Down arrow
  • Move between a menu bar item's options: Up and Down arrow keys
  • Select a menu option: Enter key
  • Cancel or close a menu: Escape key

I hope this basic step helps you in your understanding of how you can use JAWS and other screen readers to access and adjust program settings!  Now, you will be able to navigate the JAWS window to locate commonly used settings like Braille settings and the main Settings center!  Look for more posts to come soon that address navigation and manipulation of options in dialog boxes!