GWKB1005 : Smart Web Browsing with Window-Eyes

Product: Window-Eyes
Author: Aaron Smith
Date Added: 09/20/2005
Last Modified: 01/14/2015

What is Browse Mode?

Web browsers are designed with sighted users in mind. That is, the designers assume users can review the content of web pages with their eyes and can manipulate the mouse to interact with the page. Consequently, there is no inherent means of accessing the web page's information from the keyboard. Additionally, information is often formatted to be visually pleasing in ways which, if it were read from left to right, top to bottom, would make little sense to speech access users. To remedy this problem, we have created a feature called Browse Mode. Whenever you are in Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Adobe Reader, Eudora, Lotus Notes, iTunes, Windows Help, or any other application that presents web-style views, Window-Eyes will automatically enable Browse Mode.

While you are in Browse Mode, Window-Eyes works with an invisible pointer that allows you to cursor through a speech friendly and accurate representation of the current web page content. You can use the cursor keys to move around the web page much like you would a word processor (character by character, word by word, line by line, etc.) or you can use any of the many Browse Mode navigation keys that Window-Eyes offers for quicker navigation. Note that only some of the more frequently used navigation keys are described in this article. Refer to the hot key reference in the Window-Eyes manual for a complete listing of the keys you can press while Browse Mode is active.

It is important to remember that, in order for Window-Eyes to retrieve information from a web page, it must wait on the browser to finish downloading it. Therefore, it may take several seconds before you hear anything.

Basic Navigation

The basic movement commands for navigating a web page are much like the basic movement commands of a word processor:

  • Left and Right arrow keys to move character by character.
  • Control-Left and Control-Right arrow keys to move word by word.
  • Up and Down arrow keys to move line by line.
  • Home - Moves to the beginning of the line and reads the character under the virtual cursor.
  • End - Moves to the end of the line and reads the character under the virtual cursor.
  • Control-Home - Moves to the beginning of the document and reads the line under the virtual cursor.
  • Control-End - Moves to the end of the document and reads the line under the pointer.
  • Page Up - Reads the previous twenty four lines in the document and moves the virtual cursor back twenty four lines.
  • Page Down - Reads the next twenty four lines in the document and moves the virtual cursor down twenty four lines.
  • Tab - Moves to the next link or control on the web page and reads it.
  • Shift-Tab - Moves to the previous link or control on the web page and reads it.

Reading web page information is as easy as using any of the navigation keys mentioned above. Simply pressing arrow keys will cause Window-Eyes to speak. A common practice is to read the entire web page using the Read To End command (Control-Shift-R by default). This command will cause Window-Eyes to begin reading at your current position, and continue to the end of the web page.

Interacting with a web page can be just as easy. Most of the time, you will interact with a web page by activating links in order to navigate to new information. Once you have focused a link that you want to navigate to, simply press the Enter key. The web browser will load the new information associated with that link (usually a new web page). You can also interact with a web page by filling out forms­. See the "Working with Forms" section later in this article for more information.

Moving Among Web Page Elements

While Browse Mode is on, you can use your arrow keys to read the contents of the web page. In addition, you can use a series of letters and numbers to jump between many types of web page elements. Some of the more commonly used elements are described below.


A link is an interactive element that connects one web resource to another. Links usually change the location of a given web page to the page specified in the link source. The actual behavior of a link, however, is determined by the web page developer. Links also have the ability to be designated by the web browser as visited. A visited link is simply a link that you have navigated to before. Use the following hot keys to navigate through links:

  • L = Next Link
  • Shift-L = Previous Link
  • V = Next Visited Link
  • Shift-V = Previous Visited Link

Note that Tab and Shift-Tab can also be used to navigate through links, the only difference being that Tab and Shift-Tab will also place focus on form controls when encountered, whereas L and Shift-L will only focus links.


A list element contains a series of items formatted in a specific way, either numbered, unnumbered, or as definitions. Window-Eyes will correctly identify all types of numbering styles for lists: Numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.), upper/lower alpha characters (a, b, c, etc.), and upper/lower Roman numbers (i, ii, iii, etc.). Window-Eyes will also automatically tell you when a list has lists nested inside it, how many are present, and it will correctly identify the starting value of a numbered list (even if it does not start with the number 1). Use the following commands to navigate among lists:

  • S = Next List
  • Shift-S = Previous List
  • I = Next List Item
  • Shift-I = Previous List Item
  • Left Bracket-S = Move to the first list item
  • Right Bracket-S = Move to the last list item


A heading element is much like the headline of a newspaper article, usually offering a brief description of the section that follows it. Headings range from level 1 to level 6, with each level implying a degree of importance. For example, level 1 is usually the most important, level 2 is less important than level 1, level 3 is less important than level 2, etc. Use the following commands to move through headings:

  • H = Next Heading
  • Shift-H = Previous Heading
  • Number followed by H = Next Heading with a level of number (where number is a value between 1 and 6)
  • Number followed by Shift-H = Previous Heading with a level of number (where number is a value between 1 and 6)

If you know the heading level to which you want to move, press the number 1 through 6 followed by the letter H. For example, to reach the first level 2 heading on a web page, you would press 2 followed by the letter H. Consecutive presses of the letter H at this point would continue to move through all headings regardless of their designated level. To move to a specific level again, you would press the number of the heading level, followed by pressing the letter H.

Working with Forms

A form is a section of a web page that contains elements called controls. Controls are items such as check boxes, radio buttons, edit boxes, combo boxes, buttons, etc. Forms may also contain field sets and legends. Field sets allow web page authors to group together controls that share a particular function (much like group boxes in standard Windows programs). Legends are simply name tags for field sets. We strongly suggest that you review the entire page to get a feel for how the form is laid out before you begin filling out any information. Use the following commands to navigate through forms:

  • F = Next Control
  • Shift-F = Previous Control
  • C = Next Combo Box
  • Shift-C = Previous Combo Box
  • E = Next Edit Box
  • Shift-E = Previous Edit Box
  • B = Next Button
  • Shift-B = Previous Button
  • E = Next Edit Box
  • Shift-E = Previous Edit Box
  • R = Next Radio Button
  • Shift-E = Previous Radio Button
  • X = Next Check Box
  • Shift-X = Previous Check Box

Radio buttons, check boxes, and buttons can all be manipulated while either in or out of Browse Mode by using the Space Bar. Note that when using the Space Bar while in Browse Mode, you will remain in Browse Mode, even after the control has been toggled. The space bar cannot be used on other controls like edit boxes, combo boxes, and list boxes as they require Browse Mode to be off. This will be discussed below.

Because Browse Mode is a special mode specifically designed for reviewing web pages, it needs to be turned off so that you can interact with some form controls. If you attempt to enter text into a form while Browse Mode is on, the keys will attempt to perform the associated Browse Mode functions. Turning off Browse Mode provides you with a dedicated environment for safely interacting with various form elements. You can toggle Browse Mode three different ways:

  1. Using Browse Mode hot key (Control-Shift-A by default)
  2. Pressing Enter on any control
  3. Selecting the Browse Mode option in the Verbosity/Browse Mode/Autoload settings group in the Window-Eyes control panel.

You can use the Browse Mode hot key to toggle Browse Mode on or off at any point on the web page. When you press Enter on any control, Window-Eyes will automatically turn off Browse Mode and give the control focus. Pressing Enter on an edit box will provide you with a blinking cursor, which indicates you can begin typing in it. Pressing Enter on a check box will toggle its state between checked or unchecked. Pressing Enter on a button will cause that button to be activated. Note that when Browse Mode is off, you can still press the Tab and Shift-Tab keys to navigate through the web page, but the C and Shift-C commands will not work until Browse Mode is turned back on. Turning Browse Mode off directly from the Window-Eyes control panel, while possible, tends to interrupt the flow of working with forms. We recommend using either of the previous two options for the best possible form experience.

Out of Browse Mode, Window-Eyes will attempt to find and speak the field names for controls as you move among them. Window-Eyes does this by looking for either "title" or "alt" tags in the form. If neither is found, Window-Eyes may not read the field name correctly or at all. If you are not sure where you are on the form, turn on Browse Mode by pressing Control-Shift-A. After the page has been loaded you can use your up and down arrows to get some context. Then simply press Enter on the necessary control to continue filling out the form.

Enhanced Control Search

Window-Eyes allows you to search for specific controls in a form. For example, you can move between only edit boxes or buttons, move by more than one control at a time, focus checked or unchecked items, etc. To do this requires two steps:

  1. Press N or Shift-N to enter the next or previous control search mode.
  2. Press the key(s) that represent the item for which you want to search.

The following list describes each possible modifier along with its purpose:

  • C - search for a checked control, which is specified after this key is pressed. This option is only relevant for check boxes and radio buttons.
  • U - search for an unchecked control, which is specified after this key is pressed. This option is only relevant for check boxes and radio buttons.
  • D - Search for a disabled control, which is specified after this key is pressed.
  • Enter - Repeats the last control search. If none was previously performed, this will move to either the next or previous control depending on which direction you specified.

After pressing the Next/Prior Control hot key and an optional modifier, use one of the following keys to specify the type of control to which to navigate:

  • B - Button
  • E - Edit box
  • O - Combo box
  • X - Check box
  • R - Radio button
  • L - List box
  • A - any control

For example, pressing N,X will find the next checkbox. Pressing N,U,X will find the next unchecked checkbox. Pressing N,C,X will find the next checked checkbox. And so on.

You can also use the number keys (1-9) prior to pressing the Specified Control Next/Prior hot keys to jump from your current location to the number specified for the particular control. For example, pressing 5,N,U,X would move you to the fifth unchecked check box from your current position.

Please note that Enhanced Control Search mode is not currently available in Window-Eyes 9 and higher.

More Navigation Options

The following commands may also prove useful when navigating web pages while Browse Mode is on.

  • N = Next Text
  • Shift-N = Previous Text
  • F = Next Frame
  • Shift-F = Previous Frame
  • L = Next Link
  • Shift-L = Previous Link
  • G = Next Graphic
  • Shift-G = Previous Graphic

The Page Navigation Dialog

The page navigation dialog, reached with Insert-Tab by default, causes Window-Eyes to display a dialog that lists the Available links, frames, tables, headings, lists, anchors, forms, controls, and place markers that happen to be on the current web page. The element you select is displayed inside a standard list box. You can move through the list box by arrowing up and down, press the first letter of the option you want until you get there, or start spelling out the specific name you want until you find it. By default, Window-Eyes displays the links in the order they appear. If you wish you can use the radio button in the dialog to sort the links alphabetically instead. You can view different element types by selecting the appropriate radio button.

All items aside from Headings and Links can only be listed in the order they appear on the page. If you are viewing links, you can either activate the link or simply move your Browse Mode cursor to it by selecting the appropriate button. The default button causes the link to be activated. If you push the Focus Link button instead, the cursor will simply move to the link without activating it. This is a great way to get some context around the link. All other items, however, can only be focused; they cannot be activated. Use the following hot keys to quickly set which type of element you want to view:

  • Alt-L displays links.
  • Alt-R displays frames.
  • Alt-T displays tables.
  • Alt-H displays headings.
  • Alt-I displays lists.
  • Alt-N displays anchors.
  • Alt-O displays forms.
  • Alt-C displays controls.
  • Alt-M displays place markers.
  • Alt-S activates the list of items.
  • Alt-P sorts the list in alphabetic order.
  • Alt-W sorts the list in web page order.
  • Alt-A will activate the link currently highlighted and close the dialog.
  • Alt-F will move the Browse Mode cursor to the link, frame, table, heading, list, anchor, or form in the web page and close the dialog.

Searching for Text

Press the Mouse Find hot key, which is Control-Shift-F, if you want to search for items on the current web page. Note that while Browse Mode is on, Window-Eyes will look for the text you specify inside the Browse Mode buffer. If it is off, Window-Eyes will instead look for the text inside the active mouse boundary. Press the Continue Mouse Search hot key, which is Insert-F by default, to continue the search in the same direction you specified earlier. The search will continue from your current position.

Adjusting Browse Mode Verbosity

Not only does Window-Eyes allow you to navigate between Browse Mode elements, but you can also adjust how they are announced, or indeed if Window-Eyes should alert you to the presence of the elements at all. You can additionally tell Window-Eyes what information to read when pages load, whether or not it should alert you to popup windows, and much more. To set these values, press Insert-V while in a web page to open the Browse Mode verbosity area of the Window-Eyes control panel. If you press this key while you are focused on a specific element, such as a button or link, then the verbosity option related to that element will automatically gain focus. Note that "Show Advanced Options" must be enabled under the Window-Eyes Help menu before you can adjust any verbosity options.