You can control most day-to-day software and access the most popular websites without ever using a mouse. Sometimes it is less efficient to use the keyboard and sometimes it’s much more efficient!
Most people have heard of, and use, keyboard shortcuts. These are the quick access key combinations that allow you to open a document (CTRL + O), print it out (CTRL + P) and save your changes (CTRL + S) more quickly than using the mouse. These key combinations tend to be consistent across many different software packages regardless of whether you are using Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Word. They usually make use of the CTRL key.
Find out more about keyboard shortcuts.
Keyboard shortcuts only go so far! Only the most common commands such as those listed above are supported. In order to use software entirely using the keyboard you need to learn to use keyboard control. Keyboard control starts with the use of the ALT key to access menus and icons. It then continues to use the ALT key while bringing in TAB, SHIFT, ENTER, ESC and SPACE!
Blind users who cannot see the mouse pointer use keyboard control to access all software applications and websites – as long as they have been built in an accessible way.
Older Windows applications use menus. With a suitable application open press the ALT key and you’ll see that your File menu is highlighted. You can then use your keyboard’s arrow keys to navigate around the menus.
Have you ever noticed that some letters in the menu titles are underlined? You might need to tap the ALT key again to show these. In the image above we can see that Format is accessible with O, Font with F, Paragraph with P, and Bullets and Numbering with N.
In older versions of Word (2003 and earlier) try pressing ALT then O to bring up the Format menu. Press the letter C to open the Columns dialog box.
Newer versions of Microsoft Word (2007 and newer), and other software, use ribbons instead of menus. Although the old key combinations still work (mostly) in the newer versions of Microsoft Word there is no menu to help guide you. Instead you need to use the ribbon interface as a visual guide. So in the newer versions press ALT + P to access the Page Layout ribbon and the press J for columns.
“Dialog box” is the proper name for the little windows that pop up within applications like Microsoft Word. They allow you to change more settings and make more advances tweaks to your document compared to the toolbars and ribbons.
Follow the instructions above and the Columns dialog box will appear on the screen. If you look carefully you will notice that every element on the dialog has a letter assigned to it. It’s easy. Want two columns? Press ALT + W. Press ENTER for the OK button or ESC for the Cancel button.
You can also use the arrow keys to adjust values within parts of the dialog. For example, there is a list which allows me to apply my changes to the whole document or just a part of it. If I want to change the value in this I can press ALT + A to select the list and then use the arrow keys to choose an option from it. Use the SPACE to press a button that is not an OK or Cancel button. Again press ENTER to confirm or ESC to cancel.
You will find that some dialog boxes are missing the underlined letter shortcuts. This is only because the programmer forgot or is not aware of the importance of accessibility. With these dialog boxes you can usually use the TAB key to move from one element to another. Use the SHIFT and TAB keys together to move in the opposite direction.
Some software is, sadly, completely inaccessible to keyboard users for the reasons given above. This can make it very difficult to blind users who really entirely on the keyboard.
People with vision who need to use the keyboard only to access the computer could use the free Mouse Keys Windows accessibility feature that allows you to move the mouse around the screen using the numeric keypad.
In the past software such as Commodio Qpointer and MouseGrid have been available to help keyboard users access Windows and the internet more efficiently but these apps are no sadly longer available.
The free Windows Speech Recognition has a Mouse Grid feature built into it which you can launch by saying “Mouse Grid.” You can then use the numbers on the keyboard (or your voice) to select a target and press the mouse button.