Keyboard Navigation in Internet Explorer and Netscape

Using keyboard commands (or DragonDictate commands, or other alternative input methods) to navigate in the two most popular Web browsers has always been a challenge for those of us who don’t use a mouse. The more recent releases of Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer have added some features to make this process easier. The latest release of the JAWS For Windows (JFW) screen reading software has added many additional tools to simplify the reading and navigation of complex Web pages for blind or visually impaired users. Unless otherwise specified, references below are to Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.01 (Service Pack 1), Netscape 4.05 and JAWS For Windows Version 3.2, all running under Windows 95. These are the packages that we have worked with most extensively and recommend to our clients.

General Commands

In both Internet Explorer and Netscape the TAB and SHIFT+TAB commands now step sequentially through the available hyperlinks on a page, moving forward and backward respectively. PAGEUP and PAGEDOWN can be used to scroll through longer pages a screenful at a time. A variety of other keyboard shortcut commands can be found by exploring the pull-down menus. In Internet Explorer (3.02 and above) SHIFT+ENTER will open a target URL in a new window. For an explanation of why this is important and for some tricky issues with these simple commands, read the Note at the end of this article.

Netscape With JFW 3.2

In addition to the basic commands just mentioned, JAWS For Windows 3.2 has included several powerful features in its configuration for Netscape. JFW users can get the complete list while in the Netscape window by holding down the INSERT key and pressing F1 twice quickly. The JFW keystrokes include:

Move back and forth among graphical links.
Toggles whether JFW searches for the active link using underlined text or focus rectangle. Neither method tracks the active link perfectly on all pages, so both are provided. Following the focus rectangle is the default.
Move among any available input fields (allowing rapid navigation of on-line forms).
Reformats the Toolbar as a list box. Press ENTER to select the appropriate button.
Rereads the current active link.
Reads the target URL of a graphical link (or reads the graphic’s filename if it is not a link).

MS Internet Explorer

In addition to the basic navigation commands, JFW 3.2 has included several powerful features in its configuration for Internet Explorer 4.01. JFW users can get the complete list while in the Internet Explorer window by holding down the INSERT key and pressing F1 twice quickly. This JFW Help screen also describes the Internet Explorer options that are required for the two programs to work together properly. The JFW keystrokes include:

Reformats the page to a single column. This solves many of the problems that screen reader users have encountered on Web pages that use multiple columns or tables for layout effects.
Generates a list of all available links on the page (use the arrow keys or the first letter of the link name navigate the link list. Press ENTER to launch the desired link.).
Moves to the first available input field (allowing rapid navigation of on-line forms).
Rereads the current active link.
Moves focus to the Address Bar.
Moves focus to the Toolbar.
Opens History.
Closes History.

Internet Explorer Powertoys

These Powertoy utilities (not to be confused with the Windows 95 Powertoys) provide extra features including:

  • Zoom image
  • Toggle image-loading on/off
  • List of available links
  • Open frame in new window
  • Quick Search capability

The Powertoys are accessed by clicking the Right Mouse Button or through added pull-down menu choices. One advantage of these tools is that they are independent of any adaptive software, and are thus available to all users.

Go to Microsoft’s site for more information or to download the MSIE Powertoys.

Notes and References

JFW users will note that they may need to use CONTROL+PAGEUP and CONTROL+PAGEDOWN to scroll text a screen at a time. Since the JAWS Cursor (keyboard mouse pointer emulation) is often active while reading Web pages, a simple PAGEUP or PAGEDOWN may not be sent to the browser.
A problem with the TAB and SHIFT+TAB commands is that focus on the active link is lost when launching a linked page and then returning to the original. If, for example, the 26th link on a page is launched, pressing ALT+LEFT ARROW (go back to original page) and then pressing TAB highlights either the first link of the document (MSIE) or the first link on the current screen (Netscape), rather than continuing on from the 26th link. A solution for this is to use the Open in New Window command, which is available in both Netscape and MSIE by clicking the Right Mouse Button (or equivalent command in the adaptive program) and choosing it from the menu. This can also be done with SHIFT+ENTER in MSIE. This feature opens a new window for the new page, leaving the previous page undisturbed. Closing the window (after you finish reading) or pressing ALT+TAB moves you back to the previous navigation position on the previous page. Open in New Window can also be a handy feature for navigating pages that use frames.

For more information on accessibility features in Internet Explorer, go to the Microsoft IE4 Accessibility page.

For information on Netscape, go to Netscape’s homepage (no specific accessibility information is available).

For information on the JAWS For Windows screen reader, go to the homepage of Henter-Joyce, Inc. (now Freedom Scientific)