HTML Guide

A guide for Jaws users, written by Chorlton Workshop for hsbp. More guides are available on the Jaws Guides page of the VIP Software Guides website.


This is a guide to HTML, and assumes that you are using Jaws 15 or later. HTML stands for hypertext markup language, and hypertext means that there are links between different parts of the text. This is achieved by means of hyperlinks, normally referred to just as links.

Examples of documents written in HTML are web pages, some emails, help pages, and stand-alone documents such as this one.

The basic building blocks of HTML are called elements. The most important elements are given in the following list, and are described in detail in the subsequent sections:


Every HTML page has a title. It isn't part of the contents of the page, but is shown in the title bar of the web browser which is being used to read the page. The full text of the title bar is in fact: “page title” - “browser name”. For example, the title of this page is “HTML Guide”, so the title bar text will be something like “HTML Guide - Internet Explorer”.

If the page written in HTML is part of a website, then its title should follow the following conventions:

As usual, you can read the title bar using Insert + T, but when reading an HTML page, Jaws also tells you the current heading. In addition, Jaws also reads the title when you use Ctrl + Home to move to the top of the page.


Headings divide the page up into sections, and provide the overall structure of the page. Each heading has a level number, and level 1 is the highest level.

Normally, the first heading on a page is a level 1 heading, and this describes the overall content of the page. The main subsections of the page are introduced by level 2 headings. If any of these main subsections have subsections, then they are introduced by level 3 headings, etc. For example, the level 1 heading on this page is HTML Guide. The level 2 headings are Introduction, HTML elements, Title, Headings, etc. The section with the level 2 heading Form controls has a subsection introduced with the level 3 heading Forms mode.

As noted earlier, if you press Insert + T to read the title bar, Jaws also tells you the current heading.


There are three types of list:

At the start of a list, Jaws says the number of items in the list, and at the end, Jaws says list end.

Navigation within lists

Nested lists

An item in a list can contain a list, and this list within a list is called a nested list. And a nested list can also contain a nested list etc. The degree of nesting is specified by the nesting level. If a top level list contains a list, then the nested list's nesting level is 1. If a list with nesting level 1 contains a list, then the latter list's nesting level is 2. Etc.

On websites, nested lists of links are often used for navigation. The top level list of links are for the main sections of the website. If you are in one of these main sections, then the item for this section contains a list of links for the sub-sections of this section. For example, on the BBC History website, the navigation to various topics uses a nested list. If you're in the Science & Discovery topic, then the navigation list looks like this:

If a list contains a nested list, then Jaws tells you this at the beginning of the list. At the beginning and end of a nested list, Jaws tells you the nesting level.

Note that when using I and Shift + I to move between the items of a list, nested lists are ignored.

A link consists of a group of words, or an image, and a web address which is stored behind the scenes. When you open the link by pressing Enter, you are taken to a location specified by the web address. The types of web address stored in the link include the following:

If you are reading a line at a time, then each link appears on its own line.

Your browser keeps track of the pages you have visited. When you read a link which has the address of a page which you've already visited, Jaws says “visited link”.

Form controls

On a web page, a form is a section of the page which contains controls for user input. These controls are the same as the controls which appear on dialog boxes, and examples are edit boxes, buttons, and combo boxes. These controls on a web page are often called form controls.

Jaws has two modes of interaction with a web page. The one used most of the time is called virtual pc cursor mode, and in this mode you can use all the usual keystrokes for reading text. There is, in fact, no text cursor on a web page, but Jaws behaves as if there is one. Whilst in virtual cursor mode, you can also use navigation quick keys. For example, pressing the key H moves you to the next heading. (Full details of the navigation quick keys are given in the separate HTML Page Navigation guide.)

For buttons and check boxes, there is no conflict between the keystrokes used for interacting with them, and the keystrokes used in the virtual pc cursor mode for reading and navigation. In the case of radio buttons there is a conflict, but there is a way of getting round it. So you can interact with these form controls whilst still in virtual pc cursor mode, as described in the Buttons, check boxes, and radio buttons section below.

However, for edit boxes and combo boxes, many of the keystrokes for interacting with them are also used in the virtual pc cursor mode for reading text and navigation. For example, if the focus is an edit box and you press the key H, the Jaws will move to the next heading, rather than enter the letter h into the edit box. The solution is that Jaws can be switched into a different mode whilst you are interacting with form controls. In this mode, called Forms mode, all keystrokes are interpreted as interacting with form controls. You can't use any of the Navigation quick keys, but you can still press Tab to move to the next control or link.

Entering and leaving forms mode

When you are positioned on a Form control, you can manually go into Forms mode by pressing Enter. You can leave Forms mode at any time by pressing Numpad Plus or Esc.

In addition, you can be taken out of forms mode automatically in some circumstances. Whether this is the case depends upon the auto forms mode setting, which has two of three options, depending on the version of Jaws:

The following three sections describe the automatic and semi-automatic options, and how to change the auto forms mode setting.


With this option, if you navigate to edit boxes or combo boxes in certain ways, which are described in detail below, then Forms mode is automatically turned on. Similarly, when you navigate away from one of these controls, Forms mode can be automatically turned off. By default, the turning on or off of Forms mode is indicated by two different sounds, rather than the words Forms mode on, and Forms mode off. Auto Forms mode is enabled by default, but you can switch it on and off, and set other related options as described in the next section.

The full details of when Forms mode is automatically turned on or off when moving to or leaving edit boxes and combo boxes is as follows:


This option is the same as the Automatic option, with the one exception that forms mode is not automatically turned on or off when moving to or leaving an edit box using the arrow keys.

Forms options

You can change to auto forms mode setting, and other settings related to Forms mode using the QuickSettings dialog:

  1. With the focus in a web page, press Insert + V. The QuickSettings dialog for the browser opens, and the initial focus is a search box.
  2. Press Tab to move to the tree view.
  3. Press F until you get to Forms Options. The next few items in the tree view, are options related to Forms mode, and you can change any of them using Spacebar:
    • Auto forms mode. If you are using Jaws 16 or later, then the options are Manual, Auto, and Semi-Auto. If you're using Jaws 15, then Auto forms mode is simply on or off – there is no Semi-auto option.
    • Use Sound (to indicate turning Forms mode on and off) which can be On or Off, and is On by default.
    • Navigation Quick Key Delay. This is the time before automatically turning on Forms mode after moving to an edit box or a combo box using the navigation quick keys E or C respectively. It can be set to Never, 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2, 3, 4, or 5 seconds, and the default is Never.
  4. Press Enter to press the default OK button.

Buttons, check boxes, and radio buttons

You can interact with buttons, check boxes, and groups of radio buttons whilst in virtual pc cursor mode, without needing to switch to Forms mode:


A table can have two optional features:

If you are reading a page line by line, then this is the information Jaws will read to you for a table:

  1. If there's a caption, “Table caption:” and then the caption.
  2. If there's a summary, “Summary:”, and then the summary.
  3. Table with x columns and y rows.
  4. The first cell in the table.

You can read the cells in the table using the standard reading keystrokes. In this case, the table reads as if each cell begins a new line, and the cells are read in order, row by row.

There are also specific keystrokes for reading and moving around tables, which are given in the following sections.

Reading cells

Description Keystroke
Read current cell Alt + Ctrl + Numpad 5
Read cell to right Alt + Ctrl + RIGHT Arrow
Read cell to left Alt + Ctrl + LEFT Arrow
Read cell below Alt + Ctrl + Down Arrow
Read cell above Alt + Ctrl + Up Arrow
Read first cell Alt + Ctrl + Home
Read last cell Alt + Ctrl + END

Reading rows

The keystrokes for reading rows depend on the version of Jaws being used.

Keystrokes for reading rows using Jaws 10 or earlier
Description Keystroke
Read current row Windows Key + Numpad 5
Read next row Windows Key + Down Arrow
Read prior row Windows Key + Up Arrow
Keystrokes for reading rows using Jaws 11 or later
Description Keystroke
Read current row Windows Key + Numpad 5, or Windows Key + Comma
Read next row Windows Key + Alt + Down Arrow
Read prior row Windows Key + Alt + Up Arrow

Reading columns

The keystrokes for reading columns also depend on the version of Jaws being used.

Keystrokes for reading columns using Jaws 10
Description Keystroke
Read current column Windows Key + Period
Read next column Windows Key + Right Arrow
Read prior column Windows Key + Left Arrow
Keystrokes for reading columns using Jaws 11 and later
Description Keystroke
Read current column Windows Key + Period
Read next column Windows Key + Alt + Right Arrow
Read prior column Windows Key + Alt + Left Arrow

Moving to the start or end of the table

When you're in a table, to move to the end of a table press > (Shift + Period), and to move to just before the start of a table press < (Shift + Comma).