A screen reader provides a user interface that is drastically different than the graphical user interface to which most of us are accustomed. Testing with a screen reader can be challenging for individuals who have sight. The following guidelines can help you get started:
Put Down your Mouse!
While testing with JAWS, NEVER use the mouse. Because users who are blind cannot use a mouse, using a mouse invalidates testing. To avoid the inevitable temptation, move the mouse out of reach. It's also cheating to look at the screen to see what's coming next. To avoid this temptation, at least when you're getting started with screen reader testing, turn off your screen.
Take Control of JAWS
Before beginning testing, it is important to be able to control JAWS. Using a screen reader should not be a passive experience; take control using the following keyboard commands:
- Ctrl will temporarily silence JAWS. (The Ctrl key will be your friend...)
- Insert + J will bring up the JAWS window. You can use it to adjust the speech rate, etc, before beginning. Don't change anything you don't understand.
Learn to Read
Open a web browser and go to a simple web page, preferably one that you know is accessible. Use the following commands to get started reading:
- Ctrl + Home: After JAWS begins reading the page, interrupt it and orient yourself by moving the "virtual" (reading) cursor to the top of the page. JAWS will automatically read the page title to help you confirm your reading what you meant to read.
- Down Arrow & Up Arrow: Read through the page a "line" at a time. Down Arrow will move to and read the next element, which may be a heading, paragraph, list item, link, form field, table cell, etc. (and may span multiple visible "lines" on the screen). Up Arrow will return to and read the previous line. Note that JAWS may say more than is literally visible on the screen, for example, indicating heading level or number of items in a list. You may also hear JAWS say "blank" sometimes; JAWS users get used to ignoring extraneous information.
- Insert + Up Arrow: At any point, if you are not sure what you heard, Insert + Up Arrow will re-read the current "line".
Skip to Headings
Get an overview of the web page by reading its section headings. Press H to read from heading to heading, a number key (e.g., 1, 2, 3) to read headings at that level, or Insert + F6 to bring up the headings list.
Find and Follow Links
Move to and use links with the following commands:
- Tab: Move to the next link (or form field)
- Shift + Tab: Move back to the previous link (or form field)
- Enter: Activate the current link
- Insert + F7: Bring up the "Links List" to quickly find, move to, and/or activate a specific link. Move between controls in this (or any) dialog box by using Tab and Shift + Tab. Use Space Bar or Enter to click the OK button.
Filling web forms requires the use of a special "Forms Mode" within JAWS. Before using forms, it is important to make sure that Forms Mode is active. Fortunately, JAWS makes this fairly easy:
- Use standard reading commands (Down Arrow or Tab) to move to a form field (edit or list/combo box). JAWS will make a "pop" sound to indicate that forms mode is on, and you can type or make a selection. Forms mode is not needed for buttons, check boxes, or radio buttons.
While in Forms Mode, navigation commands change. The main navigation commands available are:
- Tab: Move to the next form field (or link)
- Shift + Tab: Move back to the previous form field (or link)
- Up & Down Arrow: Move between items in a list box or radio button group
- Spacebar: Check or uncheck a checkbox or press a button (Enter may also work on buttons, but Spacebar is safer.)
- Esc: If you seem to be stuck in forms mode, Esc will usually turn it off.
JAWS has powerful, if somewhat complicated, tools for reading tables that contain data. When JAWS encounters a table that it believes may contain data, it will announce "table with x columns and y rows". After hearing that announcement, Down Arrow to enter the table and then use the following commands:
- Down Arrow: Move through a table in "reading order" (left to right and then down a row; repeat).
- Up Arrow: Read in reverse reading order.
- Alt + Ctrl + Numpad 5: Read the current cell with associated row and column headers
- Alt + Ctrl + Up/Down/Left/Right Arrows : Move around the table a cell at a time, moving in the selected direction. JAWS will read the associated header of the new column or row.
- Alt + Ctrl + Home: Move to the beginning of the table.
- Alt + Ctrl + End: Move to the end of the table.
A good way to read through a whole table is to use Alt + Ctrl + Right arrow to read across a row until JAWS says "end of row." Then press down arrow to read to the first cell of the next row, and repeat.
With a little practice, it is very possible for sighted users to learn to test with JAWS. The most important practice is to resist the temptation to cheat: Avoid looking at the screen during testing (better yet, turn it off). Don't even try to remember what the screen looks like to fill in information you can't get by listening. And never, ever use the mouse.
Remember that, behind the scenes, JAWS is performing a complex technical task. Typical software stability problems are exacerbated when using JAWS, and glitches, flukes, and even crashes are unfortunately common. Learning to use JAWS requires learning the patience and persistence to re-group from these errors and continue on.
Finally, you will discover that JAWS has many powerful, advanced features; but, remember, just like other computer users, most JAWS users are only familiar with the basics. If you are ever in doubt, confer with an experienced JAWS tester.