Hearing the Internet Tips for Browsing the Web with Screen Readers
Make Use of Headings
If website authors employ headings, they can be a boon for screen-reader navigation. Headings allow one to quickly jump from section to section of a webpage. Jumping through a webpage heading by heading can give you a good overview of the topics it covers. As an example, you may examine the CSP curriculum page by heading. If you use Google to perform a search, you may use headings to jump through your search results. Most screen-readers will allow you to press the letter h when in html content to jump from heading to heading, and shift-shift to move in the reverse direction. If you’re using Voiceover on a Mac, remember to turn on Quick Nav before using the letter h to jump by heading. Refer to your screen-reader’s documentation for other ways of accessing headings.
Use the Find command
Sometimes, you may be on a large webpage, and you may already know the word or phrase you’re looking for. For example, perhaps you’re on Amazon’s site and you want to find the add to cart button quickly. Instead of pulling up a list of links or form controls, or tabbing through the website, you can search for the word card. When using Voiceover on the Mac, press V-f to activate the find command. When using JAWS, press control-f and when using NVDA press NVDA-control-f. You may search for the word or phrase you are looking for, and the screen-reader will take you to it.
Learn your screen-readers quick keys
To save yourself time when exploring a webpage, familiarize yourself with your screen-reader’s commands for quickly accessing form controls such as buttons, checkboxes and form fields. If you want to quickly find a search field on a webpage, pressing e with JAWS or NVDA or f with Voiceover will quickly jump you through search fields. To jump to a button on a page, press the letter b. Most screen-readers feature these single-letter navigational keys, and they can save you a lot of time. While the h key for jumping to headings discussed above is the one you may be most familiar with, explore the other keys as well. They can save you time. For example, when working with Gmail, you can use the jump to checkbox command (X if using JAWS or NVDA, and c with Voiceover on the Mac,), to quickly move from message to message in your in-box.
Sometimes, you may just want to quickly jump to a chunk of text on a webpage, ignoring large menus of navigational links. When webpage author’s use a “skip to main content” link this can help to jump past large lists of links, but this helpful link is not always present. To jump to the next bit of text which is not a link using JAWS or NVDA press the letter n. If using Voiceover, you may add the static text setting to your web rotor in Voiceover settings.
Treat each webpage as its own world
Every webpage is different. Each time you visit a new page, you’re exploring a new world. If you first check for headings, and don’t see any, don’t panic. Try exploring the webpage with the arrow keys; try finding a word that you think you’re looking for on the page. Try pulling up a list of links or webpage elements to become familiar with the options you have. If you’re using JAWS or NVDA press JAWS key-F7 or NVDA-f7. If you’re using a Mac, try using the Rotor to explore.
Some webpages will be easier to work with than others. Just as you need to draw a mental map of a new place you visit for the first time, so do you need to orient yourself to a webpage.
If you’re really having trouble accessing a webpage, first check out your screen-reader’s documentation on web-browsing to see if it offers you any help or guidance. You may also wish to return to Google, and see if you can find the information on a more accessible site. Finally, you can email the website owner and advocate for accessibility.
As you explore the Internet more and more, you will start to develop your own strategies and preferences for browsing the web. Web content and standards are always evolving, so it is important to keep abreast of your screen-reader’s documentation.