Navigating Gmail with JAWS or NVDA

Man using laptop with email icons on screen.

Written By Cody Laplante

Cody M. Laplante is a certified Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments located in the capital region of the United States. With a Master’s Degree and Graduate Certificate in Assistive Technology, Cody founded eye.t to provide live and asynchronous training options to children, adults, professionals and parents to ensure that all people with visual impairments can have access to a computer.

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Published on

February 9, 2022

Alright, so, are you ready to dive into email? In today’s email, we will be reviewing some of the most basic skills that you can teach so your learner can begin READING their emails with screen readers such as JAWS, or NVDA.

Next week we will go over composing and replying to emails, and the following week we will talk about organizing your inbox.

Now, if you did not see last week’s email, take a look at that one before you continue reading, OR you can visit our Facebook Group AT for VI Professionals (link) and see last week’s Tech Tip Tuesday. There is some important information about Screen Reader modes that you need to know before reading on.

Let’s Review Modes

Here is a quick summary of modes:
In regards to Gmail and other web apps, there are two different types of key commands: HTML commands and app-specific commands.
In order to tell your screen reader which set you will be utilizing, you will need to switch the mode that it is running in.

All this month, each time we give you a key command we will write “HTML” or “Google” to let you know that you may have to switch modes.

Layered Key Commands

Ok last thing before the real stuff, I promise.

Many of you may be familiar with modified keyboard commands like Ctrl+C to Copy. In these key commands, you hold down the modifier key (control) while you press the other key (C). In a layered key command, like “g i” you press one key and let go, and then immediately press the other key. Notice, there is no plus sign (+) between the g and i. That’s how you know it is a layered and not a modified key command.

Google LOVES using layered key commands so keep on your toes.

Now, with all of that out of the way, let’s get started!

Going Home

It always helps when you are learning a new app to have a home base, a place where no matter what happens, you can swoop back there and start again. For gmail, the natural home is the inbox.

Thank Goodness! Google has made a key command to jump right to the inbox.

Go to Inbox: g i (Google)

This is easy to remember if you think about it as “g i” literally stands for “Go to Inbox”. You’ll see this pattern show up in many Google apps like Drive or Slides.

Finding an Email In the Inbox

Now that we are in your inbox, let’s read through the emails people have sent you. Luckily, Google has created key commands for you to scroll through your inbox pretty quickly.

Go to the next email: j (Google)
Go to the previous email: k (Google)

Reading an Email

Ok, so you found an email that you need to read, you have located it in your inbox and pressed enter to select, now how do you read it? Well, switch your mode, because we are switching over to html.

Read an email in a conversation: Reading Commands (html)

If you are not familiar with reading commands, here’s a quick reminder.

Reading Commands
Note: Left Arrow key go back, right arrow key goes forward
Character by Character: Right and Left Arrow
Word by Word: Ctrl + Left and Right Arrow
Line by Line: Up and Down Arrow – most useful
Paragraph by Paragraph: Ctrl + Left and Right Arrow

Reading Emails in a Thread

But what if you have an entire thread of emails that you need to read in which multiple people are replying and forwarding emails back and forth, how do you jump between emails in a conversation?

Next email in a thread: n (Google)
Previous email in a thread: p (Google)

Search for an Email

And finally, let’s talk about how to search for an email that you know you received. Remember, that this command can be done from anywhere in gmail so keep it in the back of your mind.

Search for an email: /

Some Extras for the Road

And finally, here are some useful extras that might serve you well. These are optional but may be really helpful once you begin getting used to navigating gmail.

Mark as Read: Shift + i (Google)
Go to “Sent”: g t (Google)
Go to “Drafts”: g d (Google)

Remember, that we do not come up with this stuff on our own, we get it straight from Google, so if you want to learn more, click the link to see all of Google’s documentation for Navigating Gmail using keyboard shortcuts.

Hopefully, these will serve to just get you started reading your emails using gmail. Stay tuned for next week as we talk about Composing and replying to emails that people have sent you.

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