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Browsing the web using Narrator

Surfing the web using Narrator is a delightful experience!

Having worked with multiple screen readers over the years has always excited me as it gives me one more option to explore. Especially screen readers that are bundled with the operating system as we do not have to install additional software in order to use our computer.

In the past, have already tried my hands with VoiceOver on Mac, ChromeVox on Chrome Book, TalkBack on Android and VoiceOver on an iPhone, so decided to try my hands on Narrator for Windows.

Let’s start with the basics of Narrator.

Narrator Basics

Press Windows Logo key + Control + Enter to turn Narrator on and off!

As soon as we launch Narrator, the QuickStart guide begins. The purpose of QuickStart is to help users learn basics of Narrator quickly. This is certainly a good-to-have feature when you are learning Narrator but later on it is something that users will get annoyed with. Microsoft has done the right thing by providing users with an option to prevent it from starting automatically each time Narrator is launched.

Simply select the checkbox “Don’t show this guide again” to prevent the QuickStart guide from starting automatically. One can turn it back on by selecting the “Learn Narrator basics with QuickStart” link available in Narrator Settings.

Just like any other screen reader, Narrator also has a key assigned to it which is referred to as Narrator key”. In fact, Narrator has two keys!

By default, both Caps lock and Insert keys function as Narrator keys. We can change the Narrator key any time from the Narrator Settings.

We can also lock the Narrator key so we do not have to press it for every keyboard shortcut!

Press Caps lock + Z to lock the Narrator key.

Tip: Press Ctrl key to silence Narrator temporarily.

The following table lists few of the basic Narrator commands for accessing information:

CommandFunction
Caps lock + TRead the title of the window
Caps lock + WRead the window
Up/Down ArrowRead previous and next line
Caps lock + XIgnore next key press
Insert + 1Input help On
Insert + 1(twice in quick succession)Input help Off
Caps lock + RRead continuously
Caps lock + ~ (Tilde)Set focus to an item
Caps lock + F1List of Narrator commands

Tip: Press Caps lock + F2 to show the commands for interacting with the current item!

Having learnt the basic commands of Narrator, let’s now move ahead and find out how to browse the web using Narrator.

Narrator works pretty well with Microsoft’s Edge browser. So let’s get started!

Reading web pages

By default, Narrator switches to Scan mode while reading web pages using Edge. One can toggle Scan mode On/Off by pressing Caps lock + Spacebar in any application.

Narrator remembers the previously used Scan mode setting for an application and switches to it when you launch the application again. For edit boxes on the web, Scan mode is turned off automatically to help users type the text with ease.

Another important option that Narrator offers to its users is to work with different views. There are 11 views that users can chose from:

  • Items
  • Characters
  • Words
  • Lines
  • Paragraphs
  • Headings
  • Links
  • Form fields
  • Tables
  • Landmarks
  • Suggestions

To cycle through different Narrator views press Caps lock + Up Arrow or Caps lock + Down Arrow

Switching between different views is especially helpful if you are using Narrator on a touch screen device. Yes that’s right, Narrator also supports touch screen gestures!

Along with reading text, Narrator identifies different web page elements, such as headings, lists, links, images, tables, form fields, etc. to help users access and interpret the information with ease. The following table lists down the commands to access different web page elements.

CommandFunction
Enter or SpacebarPerform primary action
Shift + Enter or Shift + SpacebarPerform secondary action
Down ArrowMove to next piece of text or item
Up ArrowMove to previous piece of text or item
BMove to next button
Shift + BMove to previous button
CMove to next combo box
Shift + CMove to previous combo box
DMove to the next landmark
Shift + DMove to the previous landmark
Caps lock + NMove to the main landmark on the page
EMove to the next edit box
Shift + EMove to the previous edit box
FMove to the next form field
Shift + FMove to the previous form field
HMove to the next heading
Shift + HMove to the previous heading
IMove to the next Item
Shift + IMove to the previous item
KMove to the next link
Shift + KMove to the previous link
RMove to the next radio button
Shift + RMove to the previous radio button
TMove to the next table
Shift + TMove to the previous table
XMove to the next check box
Shift + XMove to the previous check box

Apart from the above one can press number keys 1 to 9 on the Numeric row to jump to the headings at different levels on a web page. Yes, that’s correct 1 to 9 headings! Narrator gives options to jump to headings at level 7, 8 and 9 which are not commonly used on the web.

Just like any other screen reader, Narrator also provides users with several commands for accessing tabular information. So let’s find out the commands for accessing tables using Narrator.

Reading tables with Narrator

CommandFunction
Caps lock + F9Read current column header
Caps lock + F10Read current row header
Caps lock + F7Read current column
Caps lock + F8Read current row
Caps lock + F5Read current column and row location
Caps lock + F6Move to a cell
Caps lock + Shift + f6Move to cell’s contents

Tip: Press Caps lock + Ctrl + F to find text on a web page!

All in all Narrator has matured in to a useful screen reader option for users with visual impairments and is certainly a useful option not only to browse the web but also test web pages for accessibility!

5 thoughts on “Browsing the web using Narrator”

  1. Good work and knowledge sharing post. can we also use narrator in windows mobile phones? If it is, creat one post for it.

  2. This info is very useful. Are there any shortcut keys to change the TTS language on the fly? Further the TTS voice for Hindi could have been much better. Are there any commands to know the formatting information like bold underline etc while creating a document?

    1. Press Caps Lock + F to listen to the formatting information in a document. Narrator provides formatting information in different groups, such as font, alignment, paragraph spacing etc. Keep pressing the keystroke in order to listen to the different pieces of information. Press Caps Lock + Shift +F to listen to the previous group of formatting information. As far as changing the TTS on the fly is concerned, as of now this action can’t be carried out on the press of a keystroke.

  3. The point I want to explain here a screen reader will narrate word by word if you enter something or in the text box. Similarly, if there is link it will pronounce it as a link, for Button it will pronounce it as a button. So that a Blind person can easily Identify things.

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