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Over the last few weeks of working with, and developing an ASP.NET application for, use with JAWS, I've found a few JAWS keystrokes to be particularly helpful. (For those unfamiliar with JAWS, it is the industry-leading screen reader software for those with visual disabilities.)

  1. The Control key. I call this the "shut up" button. It stops JAWS from reading. After a while you'll find yourself using it a lot.
  2. Insert + Down arrow. This causes JAWS to begin reading at the current JAWS cursor position.
  3. Tab (and Shift + Tab). When working with web forms, this is a commonly used key. It jumps the highlighted cursor between form elements.
  4. Insert + Z. This is a toggle for something called Virtual PC Cursor mode. It basically switches you between entering keystrokes that are interpreted as commands to JAWS vs. entering keystrokes to interact with a web application.
  5. Arrow keys. Right arrow reads the next character. Left arrow reads the previous character. Up arrow reads the previous line. Down arrow reads the next line.
  6. Control + AltĀ + arrow key. Our web application uses a lot of GridViews that get rendered as tables. JAWS has some nice table reading features. Control + Alt + Right arrow reads the next table cell. Control + Alt + Left arrow reads the previous table cell. Control + Alt + Up arrow reads the next cell directly up from the cursor. Control + Alt + Down arrow reads the next cell directly down from the cursor.

I was lucky enough to be selected to spend a day with one of our non-sighted users. It was a very enlightening experience and I gained a lot of perspective. She was not trained or very knowledgeable regarding JAWS, although she was very tech savvy and able to use the computer quite efficiently in general.

Not knowing any of the special keystrokes in JAWS, she tended to use the Tab key and the Arrow keys for almost everything (except for button or link clicks which are accomplished with either the Space Bar or the Enter key). I was surprised that she was not more fluent with JAWS, but like any sighted user who considers themselves computer literate, she had just jumped into things and figured things out by trial and error.

For some more perspective on using JAWS from a non-sighted user's perspective, the following article is worth your time: Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites: Observing Users Who Work With Screen Readers

Posted on Monday, April 28, 2008 2:33 PM | Back to top

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