Using Narrator to Evaluate Web Accessibility
Narrator is a screen reader that comes built into Windows computers. While it is currently not as popular as JAWS or NVDA, it is a solid screen reader that has become much more popular in the past few years. This article is designed to help users who are new to Narrator learn the basic controls for testing web content, and to serve as a reference for the occasional screen reader user.
If you are new to screen readers, plan on spending some time (perhaps a few hours) becoming comfortable using Narrator. 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 Narrator.
If you are familiar with the JAWS or NVDA screen readers, Narrator has many similar commands.
To Start or Stop Narrator, press the Windows key + Ctrl + Enter. A window will open with options to learn more about Narrator and configure your settings. Selectfor a useful tutorial.
at any time to adjust settings like the voice, relative volume, and speed. Do not change any settings that will impact what information will be read. Leave at
Both the Caps Lock and Insert keys can be used as the Narrator "modifier" key used in many commands—we will call it the Narrator key. We recommend using Caps Lock because it is close to the Ctrl, Alt, and Shift keys, which are used in many commands. To toggle Caps Lock functionality while Narrator is running, press Caps Lock twice.
Narrator currently works best with the Edge browser, but it also has support for Chrome and Firefox.
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 with Narrator.
- Ctrl: Stop reading
- ↑/↓: Previous/Next paragraph or item
- ←/→: Previous/Next character
- Ctrl + ↑/↓: Previous/next line
- Ctrl + ←/→: Previous/next word
- Narrator + Tab: Reread current item
- Narrator + +/-: Increase/decrease speech rate
You may want to practice reading through this page with Narrator right now to try these commands out.
An image's alternative text will be read by Narrator. If alternative text is not defined, Narrator will typically say "image" or "unlabeled graphic" (most other screen readers ignore these).
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, Narrator read the label (if there is one), 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, Narrator 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
- Space, then ↑/↓ or the first letter of an option: Expand and then 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?
By default, Narrator operates in what it calls "Scan mode" while in a browser—the mode where the "H" key takes you to the next heading. It turns off this mode automatically when you use the Tab key to navigate to text boxes or other elements that require keyboard interaction. When you navigate back into the main page--for example, to a link, it will switch back to Scan mode. Brief sounds will announce these changes.
Press Narrator + Space to turn Scan mode off and on, though this is usually unnecessary unless there is a problem with a custom-built widget.
- Review this page, section by section. At the end of each section, return to the top and navigate new sections in different ways. For example:
- Use the Table of Contents
- Use Narrator + Ctrl + F and Narrator + F3 to open the Find dialog
- Navigate by headings (either H or 1 - 3)
- There are two 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 toward the start of the webpage and the other 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.