GWKB1036 : Learning New Applications with Window-Eyes

Product: Window-Eyes
Author: Aaron Smith
Date Added: 01/26/2006
Last Modified: 01/26/2006

Window-Eyes makes accessing new applications quick and easy. Whether you've purchased a new program from a local computer store, or downloaded a popular application from the Internet, Window-Eyes offers the most powerful way to check out new software applications with a few common commands. This kind of out of the box support (meaning no configuration required) means you have access to programs immediately, without having to wait on someone else to configure them for you.

The following information presents several methods to use when you are confronted with new software.

Know your Program's Programmers

One of the best ways to learn how a program is laid out is to learn as much as you can about the program's purpose and features from the manufacturer's website. Most software web sites contain product information pages, and support areas, both filled with information describing program features and technical articles describing the steps to complete a specific task. Reading the software manufacturer's web page also gives you the opportunity to learn about the company itself. Knowing how a company approaches their software can tell you a lot about how easy or difficult it may be to learn.

RTM (Read the Manual)

Most software developers put a lot of time into creating documentation for their products. After all, if no one knows how to use a piece of software, then it has little chance of being successful. It's true that software documentation tends to be a little on the dry side. There's not much action or drama in your average readme file, either. But software documentation is an ideal place to learn about an application. Chances are the people who wrote the software have a good idea about how that software works. And they put this information into product documentation. Learning the ins and outs of your application before running it greatly reduces the learning curve.

We're Off to See the Wizard

When you open an application for the first time, there's a good chance that you will be presented with an application window called a wizard. A wizard is a program that takes you through the software setup one step at a time. Wizards are very useful when first learning how to use and setup an application. They may even provide information dealing specifically with accessibility (the Adobe Acrobat Reader is a good example of an application that addresses accessibility during the initial setup wizard). If you are presented with a wizard, take time to read through each prompt, providing any information requested.

Start Mousing Around

There are two specific Window-Eyes features that make accessing an application window easier than any other screen reader: auto-label graphics, and mouse pointer navigation.

The auto-label graphics feature (INS-G) is used to automatically label (for speech only) any graphics on the screen with their corresponding tooltips. Once the graphics are labeled, graphics can be searched for using the Window-Eyes Find command (CTRL-SHIFT-F). Auto labeling graphics also cuts down on extra verbiage, by excluding the word "graphic" when using the mouse keys.

And speaking of mouse keys, the Window-Eyes mouse navigation feature offers a robust way to review everything on the screen. Using the numpad keys, Window-Eyes controls the movement of the mouse pointer in specific increments, like character, word, line, and paragraph. One of the more useful increments is called clip. But what exactly is a clip? The following information is taken from the Window-Eyes manual (remember, documentation is an excellent place to find answers):

Graphics are simple because each graphic image is one clip. Text characters get a bit more involved. Consecutive text with the same attribute values is a clip. For example, in your word processor, every line in your document is a clip. Assuming you used the same attributes for the entire document. If you get to a line where the middle word is bold, then that line contains three clips. The first half of the line, the bold word, and finally the right half of the line. If you are in a menu bar like "File," "Edit," etc., each menu item is a clip. Even though they are using the same attributes for the text, they are not consecutive. There is a gap between each word.

The power of moving by clip means that you will be able to navigate between more stuff on the screen than navigating by character, word, line, etc. The easiest way to start navigating a window by clip is to first make sure that the mouse pointer's movement is restricted to the active window so that you're only exploring the new application. You can modify the mouse boundary by pressing Mouse Boundary hot key (CTRL-SHIFT-B) until you hear, "Active Window." Once the mouse boundary has been set, you will want to place the mouse pointer at a starting point. A good place to start is the upper left hand corner, and you can tell Window-Eyes to move the mouse to the upper left hand corner by pressing NUMPAD-Home (or NUMPAD-7). Once the mouse is sitting in the top left corner of the window, you can begin navigating through the various clips in the window by pressing the Mouse Next Clip hot key (INS-NUMPAD-PgUp or INS-NUMPAD-9). You can move to previous clips by pressing the Mouse Previous Clip hot key (INS-NUMPAD-Home, or INS-NUMPAD-7). Moving by clip means that you'll most likely hear title bar information, menu bar items, toolbar graphics, application controls, application text, and more. Listen closely as you navigate, and compare what Window-Eyes tells you with the information you read in the documentation.

Menus and More

After you've spent some time reviewing the screen with the mouse navigation keys, it's time to investigate the applications menu system. How do you know whether the application has a menu system? If it does, you probably heard the top level menu names when using the mouse navigation keys. Menu bars are commonly placed directly below the application's title bar. So if you heard names like File, Edit, or View, those are probably top level menu items. You can navigate to them with the mouse and single left click (NUMPAD-SLASH) to see if they expand into a full menu. If they do, you can move through the menu items by using the mouse up and down hot keys (NUMPAD-Up Arrow, and NUMPAD-Down Arrow).

Another way to determine whether or not an application uses a menu bar is to press the ALT key. The ALT key is used in Windows to activate the first, top level menu item. For example, in Notepad, when you press ALT, Window-Eyes announces, "File, F, Pulldown." That is an indication of a menu. Pressing the down arrow from there should expand the menu, and focus the first item. It's possible that the application uses a non-standard menu system that does not read with the standard arrow keys. If that appears to be the case, try using the mouse navigation method mentioned above.

Common Keyboard Commands

Applications that conform to standard programming practices often include common keyboard commands that make moving focus around an application an easy task. If you find yourself in a portion of the application requesting your input, try pressing the TAB key to move around the controls of the dialog. The four dedicated arrow keys can also move focus around a dialog, and can also help in moving the selection inside of a list (such as a list box, or list view). CTRL-TAB and F6 (sometimes CTRL-F6) are also common keys used to move between major portions of the window. For example, in most email programs, CTRL-TAB will move focus between a list of folders, and list of messages. CTRL-SHIFT-TAB will usually rotor the opposite way. Some other common keyboard commands are:
  • F1 - Application Help: This key usually launches help for the current application.
  • SHIFT-F1 - Application Context Sensitive Help: This key usually pops up a tooltip of information about the currently focused control.
  • CTRL-N - New: This key often opens a new instance of a file or project.
  • CTRL-O - Open: This key often opens an Open dialog box, allowing you to open files.
  • CTRL-P - Print: This key often opens a Print dialog box, allowing you to print from the application.
  • CTRL-S - Save: This key often opens a Save dialog box, allow you to save files.
  • CTRL-F4 - Close Child Window: This key should close down the active child window.
  • ALT-F4 - Close Main Window: This key should close down the main application window.