Web Browsing Basics with Screen Readers

If you're like me, the first time you really sat down to learn to use a screen reading program like JAWS on a Windows computer, you felt a little overwhelmed by the auditory feedback.  Beyond that, I felt completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of commands I needed to know to be able to adjust settings and get around the computer!  Well, over time I became comfortable using a few basic navigation skills: the Tab key and the arrow keys.  These seemed to serve me well enough within programs, where I could get around file menus and File Explorer save menus.  I even used the shift key to move backwards in these menus!

Well, basic proficiency aside, I found these skills completely inadequate when I found myself needing to navigate to and about a webpage.  Tabbing from selectable links simply wasn't efficient enough, and it skipped over non-selectable items.  Similarly, the arrows (up and down, in particular) literally navigated the virtual cursor to EVERY item on the page, a very arduous task that went for a long time until I might run across the content I was looking for.

In the end, I learned a few more skills for navigating more efficiently around on webpages.  I hope these quick tips can help you out and save you time and frustration that I went through! 

  • Up and Down arrow keys: Navigate the spoken content from one item or line to the next. Will usually encounter and speak all information on a page, but this method takes the longest to explore a page.
  • Tab Key: Useful for jumping from link to link. Quicker than using the arrow keys, but will skip over important print information if that is what you are looking for.
  • H key: Navigates the spoken content between headings embedded on the webpage.  A useful tool for exploring a webpage's overall structure. I often will have students explore a page's headings and then arrow down from a desired heading to listen to its contents (presumably, a block of text, etc.)
  • N key: Navigates the spoken content to the next block of non-link text. Useful for skipping past a webpage's many menus and navigation bar information that are often at the top of the webpage.
  • R key: Navigates the spoken content to the next region of the webpage. Many webpages are organized into main regions for easier navigation by screen readers. This command will help users to jump quickly to desired parts of a page.

These are my JAWS internet browsing tips! Do you have any others that you like to use?  Please share those below in the comments!