June 2018: Internet basics

Ian opened the meeting. He announced that this will be the last GTT meeting of the 2017-2018 year. We’ll pick up again in September. If anyone is interested in being part of the organizing committee, please let us know. This involves coming up with topics, making snacks happen, and making connections in the community both to attract new members, and draw guest speakers. We will be meeting over the summer, so if interested, send an email. Organizing meetings usually happen on week nights.

Jason took over. The topic for the evening is an introduction to using the internet as a blind or visually impaired user. The emphasis will be on screen readers, as that’s what Jason knows best. Teaching “the internet” is impossible. Every web page is different, and the same page might be different on different days. This isn’t to say that you can’t use it, you can, but it requires a certain amount of flexibility. Tonight we’ll start with the basics of navigating web pages, then we’ll talk about how to help yourself and be resourceful.

The most familiar internet browser is Internet Explorer. It’s becoming outdated. An increasing number of web pages won’t function properly with it. If you have the most recent version of Jaws, you can use Firefox or Chrome. Jaws is still a work in progress with respect to Microsoft Edge. Older versions of Jaws should still be good with Chrome. Jaws had a version 18, then came out with Jaws 2018. If you have a very old version of Jaws, it’s worth considering using NVDA, the free, open-source screen reader. It’s current with all major browsers.

The good news is that most browsers work in a similar way, so there’s not much difference from a user perspective.

Control alt windows, page down is a quick key stroke to slow down Jaws speech.

The Jaws virtual curser gives you a way of moving through a web page similar to the way you’d move through a document. Control home takes you to the top of the page. If you want to know what page you’re currently on, hit insert T. Jason demonstrated using the down arrow key to go line by line down the Google homepage. Text is read, and it might say, “link” before the text. This means that you can activate it by pressing enter. There’s a link for “search by voice” which works in Chrome.

Jaws saying the words, “edit combo,” means that you can hit enter to get into forms mode. Forms mode means you can type into a window. This exists because Jaws has many hot keys, which are used for quick navigation on every web page. In order for these to work, Jaws needs a mode to enter, for typing in actual text in appropriate spots.

Jason typed, “Get together with technology,” into the search field by pressing enter, typing, then pressing enter again. When the page refreshes, Jaws will read the entire page top to bottom, if you don’t stop it by hitting the control key. Reading the entire page from top to bottom is a very inefficient way to explore a page. Arrowing line by line is one way, but it’s also slow.

One important way to explore a page is using H for headings. Most web pages are divided by headings. There are 3 levels of headings, level 1 are major sections, and 3 is a smaller subdivision. Pressing H will move you down the page to each heading in sequence. Google results pages give each result as a heading. You can go through each result by hitting H repeatedly, or once you’re on a heading you can down arrow to hear more information about that result. All of the quick navigation keys work in reverse by pressing shift before the key. H brings you to the next heading, and shift H brings you to the previous heading. Using your number keys can help navigate headings. The number 1 will take you through heading level 1s on the page, 2 through level 2s, etc.

Many pages can be reached directly without putting www at the beginning. You can set up a particular page as your home page. This means that each time you open your browser, that page is where you’ll land first. Pressing alt-left arrow will take you back to the page you were previously on, and you will be left on the link you pressed enter on. Backspace did the same thing, but only in Internet Explorer.

In Chrome or Firefox, there’s an address or search bar on every page you visit. It’s an element of the browser, not the page you’re on. If you want to do another search, you can press control E. This puts you in a new search field, that you don’t need to press enter to activate. Pressing enter after typing in your search terms will bring up a new results page. Control E and alt left arrow are browser commands. H and other navigation keys are Jaws commands.

Individual websites may also have their own search fields, specific to that site. Pressing control E is a web search. You can get to search fields specific to the page you’re on by going to the top of the page then pressing E, for edit field. You can then search that site specifically.

Occasionally, Jaws will open a page and place you right on an edit field, with forms mode on. If you think this may have happened, press escape. If you’ve entered forms mode without meaning to, it will get you out of forms mode. Every screen reader can be configured, and how you interact with forms mode is configurable.

If you have Jaws, you can bring up the Jaws window by pressing insert J, then bring up the help menu. Arrowing down through there, you’ll get to Web Resources. When you open that, arrow down to Surfing the internet. You can also do a Google search for surfing the internet with Jaws. You may see it paired with Magic, which is the large print companion to Jaws. The tutorials here are a good introduction. There are several sections including navigating web pages, navigating tables, configuring your Jaws settings, forms mode, and navigating difficult web pages. Even if the only section you read is, navigating web pages, you’ll learn a lot.

A member asked for quick advice about accessing tables in emails. Jason said there’s an option on the ribbon called, open in browser. Sometimes tables will read better in a browser than in an email. Another option is to open the program called Notepad. This is a very basic text editor. Cutting and pasting things in there strips out a lot of formatting, and can make the text easier to find. Select all, hit control C to copy, go into Notepad, then paste.

On web pages, you can use your tab key. It will move you from link to link, ignoring other elements. In Jaws, insert F7 gives you a links list which you can arrow down through. From within this list, you can use first letter navigation to find the one you want. If you want the login link, press L within the links list.

Insert F6 gives a headings list.

Insert F5 gives a list of form fields.

Control F for find is good for searching for specific text. It’s a basic search field.

There are a few NVDA manuals you can get, many of which are for purchase. Because the program is free, the documentation isn’t extensive. There’s a very active NVDA mailing list, and there are NVDA certified experts who will train you for a fee. You can find some of this on the NVDA website.

A new copy of Jaws is about $1400. ADP will cover 75% of that, and if you’re on ODSP the last 25% will be covered also.

Another screen reader that is steadily getting better is Microsoft Narrator. The newest version will add a new keyboard layout to make it more like Jaws and NVDA. Microsoft’s goal is to make Narrator good enough for the average user.

Where you can run into snags not using Jaws, is in corporate environments with specific applications. People typically hate the built-in voice for NVDA, but there are options. You can purchase Vocalizer voices, the ones on your iPhone. You can also use the built-in Windows voices, or Eloquence.

Here are the steps for changing the voice in NVDA. In NVDA and Windows10, Insert n brings up the NVDA menu. Arrow down to preferences and press Enter. In the preferences window, arrow down to Synthesizer and press tab to explore the various settings.

Because ZoomText and Jaws are no longer competitors, we have Zoomtext Fusion. It’s designed for people who are transitioning between large print and speech. It’s possible to have multiple screen readers on your system, but don’t try to run them at the same time. Any modern computer will have enough space and capacity to run any screen reader.