The NVDA Key

Man using keyboard.

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

January 11, 2022

Here’s a little riddle for you. Deshawn just installed NVDA on his computer. His friend Marisol told him that the key command to get to the NVDA Menu is CapsLock + N. He tries it, and it doesn’t work. Later that day, he sees his TVI tells him to try Insert + N and voila! It works!

What happened here? Did Marisol just get the wrong key command?

No! They have fallen into the ever-too-common confusion that is the NVDA Key!

So, what in the world is the NVDA key?

Ok, so each screen reader has a special key on the keyboard that is all its own. JAWS has the JAWS key, Chromevox has the Chromevox Key, and NVDA has the NVDA key. The reason why these keys are special is because they can move around on the computer. Based on your settings, you can make the NVDA key either Insert OR CapsLock. Since lots of keyboards do not have an insert key anymore, this is to make sure that different keyboard layouts work with each screen reader.

So which is it? CapsLock or Insert?

Well, depending on how NVDA is set up on your computer, it could be either, or it could be both. That is why when we, at eye.t tell talk about key commands that use the NVDA key, we do not say CapsLock + Q or Insert + Q we say NVDA + Q. That way, we remember, hey, if CapsLock does not work ,then try Insert.

Oh, and by the way, if someone ever tells you a key command that includes either the Insert or the CapsLock keys, and it doesn’t work… it’s because your NVDA key is set differently, so try the other key. If CapsLock doesn’t work, try Insert and Viceversa.

How Do I Know Which Key is my NVDA Key?

Well, that’s simple, try a key command and see if it works. Let’s do it together. First, let’s try to get to the NVDA Menu with CapsLock. So, on your computer with NVDA on, try CapsLock + N. A menu should appear right next to your mouse pointer and say “ NVDA Menu”

If it worked, great! CapsLock is your NVDA key. If it didn’t, then Insert is your NVDA key.

How do I change my NVDA key?

In my opinion, it is always best to have both Insert and CapsLock to be set as the NVDA key. That way you can choose which one you want to use and you do not have to remember which one is set on which computer. Let’s learn how we can change our NVDA key to be both Insert and CapsLock.

Make sure NVDA is on. You can turn it on with Ctrl + Alt + N.
Open the NVDA menu: NVDA + N (remember that is either Insert of CapsLock depending on how your NVDA key is currently set)
Go to “Preferences”, then “Settings”

Your settings menu will open up. Now go to Keyboard.
Now inside the keyboard section at the very top you will see a box that says “Select NVDA Modifier Keys”. Here you can select a different key or all three. Your choice. Now Select Apply at the bottom of the dialog box, and your NVDA key is changed! Congrats!

Ok let’s summarize!

The NVDA key is a special key that may be different from computer to computer.
The NVDA key can either be CapsLock or Insert or both
If a key command with CapsLock or Insert does not work for you, the NVDA key may be set to the other key.
We recommend setting the NVDA key to be both to allow you to choose in the moment.
To change the NVDA key, use the steps above to access the “keyboard” section of your settings menu.

That’s all we have for now, but remember to keep at it! Your students will thank you!

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