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When your goal is to create e-learning that’s accessible to all learners, testing your course with a screen reader is an important part of the QA process. But if you’ve never used a screen reader before, it can be intimidating to look at the long list of keyboard commands. Don’t panic! We’ve created a short list of the commands you’ll use most often. In this article, I’ll walk you through each command, explain why they’re useful, and show you how to execute them in the five most commonly used screen readers.

Once we’ve gone through all the commands, you can download and print a quick reference guide to refer to as you test. Alright, here we go!

1. Pause Reading

When you turn on your screen reader, you’ll notice it automatically starts reading everything on your screen. This can feel overwhelming at first, so it’s good to know how to pause the screen reader.

Here’s how to pause reading in the most popular screen readers:

NVDA

JAWS

VoiceOver (macOS)

VoiceOver (iOS)

TalkBack

Ctrl

Ctrl

Control

Two-finger tap

Single tap

 

2. Start Reading (after Pausing)

When you’re ready for the screen reader to start reading again, you’ll want to know what command to use.

Here’s how it’s done:

NVDA

JAWS

VoiceOver (macOS)

VoiceOver (iOS)

TalkBack

Insert + down arrow

Insert + down arrow

VO + A

Two-finger swipe down

Swipe down, then right; scroll to “Read from Next Item”

 

3. Read Next Item

Screen readers automatically stop reading after a certain number of characters (for example, 100 or 150). If you’d like it to continue, you need to use the Read Next Item command.

You can also customize your screen reader settings so that it reads more (or fewer) characters by default.

Here’s how to do it:

NVDA

JAWS

VoiceOver (macOS)

VoiceOver (iOS)

TalkBack

Down arrow or Numpad 9

Down arrow

VO + right arrow 

Rotor, swipe down

Swipe right

 

4. Read Previous Item

And of course, it’s important to know the command to go back and read the previous item again, in case you missed it.

Here’s how that works:

NVDA

JAWS

VoiceOver (macOS)

VoiceOver (iOS)

TalkBack

Up arrow or Numpad 7

Up arrow

VO + left arrow 

Rotor, swipe up

Local context menu (swipe up, then right), swipe right

 

5. Read Next Focusable Item (i.e., Link or Button)

It’s also nice to skip from one focusable item (link or button) to another. That way you can quickly go through all the links or buttons on a page to find the one you want to select.

Check out the commands:

NVDA

JAWS

VoiceOver (macOS)

VoiceOver (iOS)

TalkBack

Tab

Tab

Tab

Swipe right

Swipe right

 

6. Read Previous Focusable Item (i.e., Link or Button)

Just in case you went through the links or buttons too quickly, it’s good to know how to go backwards.

See the table below to learn how to do it:

NVDA

JAWS

VoiceOver (macOS)

VoiceOver (iOS)

TalkBack

Shift + Tab

Shift + Tab

Shift + Tab

Swipe up

Local context menu (swipe up, then right), swipe up

 

7. Activate Link or Button

Once you find a link or button you want to select, you’ll need to know how to activate it.

Here’s how to activate a link or button in different screen readers:

NVDA

JAWS

VoiceOver (macOS)

VoiceOver (iOS)

TalkBack

Enter

Enter

Enter

Double tap

Double tap

 

8. Go to Next Heading

It’s also useful to know how to skip to the next heading. This lets you move quickly through content without reading it straight through. It’s the screen reader equivalent of skimming.

Learn how below:

NVDA

JAWS

VoiceOver (macOS)

VoiceOver (iOS)

TalkBack

H

H

VO + Command + H

Rotor, swipe down

Local context menu (swipe up, then right), swipe down

 

9. Search

Another great way to find the content you’re looking for is by searching for a keyword.

Find out how here:

NVDA

JAWS

VoiceOver (macOS)

VoiceOver (iOS)

TalkBack

Ctrl + F

Ctrl + F

Control + Option + F

Not available

Use the browser’s “Find in Page” function

More Resources

When you realize you only need a few keyboard commands to navigate through your e-learning course with a screen reader, it feels a whole lot less intimidating, doesn’t it? And it’ll be even easier once you download this quick reference guide that outlines how to execute these commands with NVDA, JAWs, VoiceOver (macOS), VoiceOver (iOS), and TalkBack.

Once you’re comfortable with these basic commands, you can grow your screen reader skills by heading over to this Deque University page and checking out the full list of keyboard commands for these screen readers (and others!).

Looking for more help creating accessible e-learning content? Check out these helpful resources:

And remember to follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments.

4 Comments
Colleen McKay Wharton
stevenv aughan