Using JAWS to Evaluate Web Accessibility
JAWS is a popular screen reader for Windows computer. This article is designed to help users who are new to JAWS learn the basic controls for testing web content, and to serve as a reference for the occasional JAWS user. This article is designed to help new or novice JAWS users learn how to test web content. For a more detailed information on using JAWS, see our list of JAWS keyboard shortcuts or Freedom Scientific's extensive list of shortcuts (PDF).
If you are new to screen readers, plan on spending some time (perhaps a few hours) becoming comfortable using JAWS. Don't get discouraged if things still seem confusing after only a few minutes. Slow down the reading speed and take your time. Remember that many screen reader users do not use a mouse, so try using only the keyboard as you become more comfortable with JAWS
While working in JAWS, keep the following guidelines in mind:
- Open JAWS first, then the browser.
- Chrome is the most common browser among JAWS users, followed by Firefox, but a notable number still use Internet Explorer.
- Most browser shortcut keys will work when using JAWS.
- The page may not scroll while you read, so you may hear content being read by JAWS that isn't visible on the screen.
- JAWS has an option to change the keyboard layout from from the (default) . We recommend keeping this at the default even if you are using a laptop. Many commands are easier to to perform in this default layout, and the commands that use the numeric keypad (which may not be present on a laptop) go beyond the basic commands required for screen reader testing. Some of the commands in this guide will not work in the laptop keyboard layout.
- By default, Insert is the JAWS modifier key (a key used in many commands—we will call it the JAWS key). We recommend Caps Lock as a modifier key instead. It puts the JAWS key closer to the Ctrl, Alt, and Shift keys, which are also used for many commands. Press JAWS + F2 , then select
and press . With the Settings center open, navigate to . Under , select
- To toggle Caps Lock functionality while JAWS is running, press Caps Lock twice.
There are dozens of keyboard shortcuts that allow you to read web content. The following is a list of essential reading shortcuts. With these shortcuts, you should be able to read through most content.
- JAWS + ↓: Say All
- Page Up/Page Down: Increase/Decrease voice rate while using Say All
- Ctrl: Stop reading
- JAWS + ↑: Current line
- JAWS + ←/→:Previous/next word
- ↑: Previous line
- ↓: Next line
- Previous/Next character
- Rewind/Fast Forward during Say All
- F5 / Shift + F5 - Page refresh / Hard page refresh. If you get lost, this is how you can start over.
You may want to practice reading through this page with JAWS right now to try these commands out.
An image's alternative text will be read by JAWS. If alternative text is not defined, a screen reader JAWS will typically ignore it, except in some cases where the image has a function.
Image examples and practice
To navigate to the next table in a page, press the T key. To navigate within a data table, hold down Ctrl + Alt and use ↑/↓/←/→ to move from cell to cell. If a table has proper row and column headers, they will be read automatically while navigating.
Table examples and practice
When a form control gets keyboard focus, its label is read by JAWS, and then the type of form control. If a group of form controls—typically groups of checkboxes or radio buttons—is contained in a fieldset with a legend, JAWS presents items in a fieldset as a group and reads the legend when you first navigate to anything within the group.
Use the following browser keyboard controls to interact with form controls:
- Tab and Shift + Tab: Navigate through form controls.
- Space to select and deselect checkboxes.
- ↑/↓:Select from a group of radio buttons.
- ↑/↓ or the first letter of an option: Select an option in a combo box
- Enter:Submit a form
Form examples and practice
Since screen readers use many of the keys on the keyboard for quick navigation, filling in a form or interacting with a widget presents a dilemma. For example, when pressing the "H" key, how does a screen reader know if you want to navigate to the next heading or enter the letter into a textbox?
JAWS takes care of this by switching between two "modes." "Virtual Cursor" is the default mode for reading and navigating the page—the mode where the "H" key takes you to the next heading. "Forms Mode" passes almost all keystrokes on to the browser—the mode where the "H" key puts the letter H in a text box.
JAWS will toggle between these modes automatically (assuming you are using the Tab key to navigate) based on the type of thing that has keyboard focus. A high-pitched beep announces the change to Forms Mode. This occurs when you navigate to text boxes or other inputs or widgets that require keyboard interactions. A lower-pitched beep indicates a change back to Virtual Cursor.
Press JAWS + Z to toggle between Forms Mode and Virtual Cursor manually, though this should not be necessary for widgets that are properly coded.
- Review this page, section by section. At the end of each section, return to the top and navigate to new sections in different ways. For example:
- Use the Table of Contents
- Use Ctrl + F to open the Find dialog
- Navigate by headings (either H or 1-3)
- There are a couple of elements in this page that are visually hidden, but which are provided to better orient screen reader users. See if you can identify them (hint: one is right before the breadcrumbs).
- Locate and visit our WCAG 2 checklist.
- Subscribe to the WebAIM Newsletter without using your mouse.
- Turn off the monitor and repeat some of these tasks.