Probably the most useful skill for a competent screen reader user is how to access its help features. There is more than one way to get help from JAWS depending on what kind of help you need.

Before continuing, it is important to remember that, most people have their JAWS Key set as Insert, but some may have it set as the Caps Lock Key. In this document, the JAWS Key will be referred to as Insert, but if you know your JAWS Key is not the Insert, simply use that key instead.

Windows Key Help

This method of getting help is specific to Windows Key Commands, which are always available whether or not a screen reader is being used. To activate Windows Help, press Insert + W.

Examples of Windows Keys include opening the Start Menu, accessing the application menus, etc.

To open a Virtual Viewer containing Windows Help, press Insert + W. You may navigate that help window as needed (i.e. start/stop speech, use Arrow Keys, etc.). Press Escape to close the Virtual Viewer.

Hot Key Help

Hot Key Help is accessed by pressing Insert + H. This type of help is specific to JAWS users and the Virtual Viewer will contain specific Hot Keys that can be used in the application that is in focus.

For example, if Insert + H is pressed while in a Word document, JAWS Hot Keys specific to Word will appear. If Insert + H is pressed while in Google Chrome, JAWS Hot Keys specific to Chrome will appear.

As with Windows Help, the Virtual Viewer can be navigated using the reading keys. When finished, close the Virtual Viewer by pressing Escape.

Screen Sensitive Help (Also Known as Context Sensitive Help)

Screen Sensitive Help is often accessed when it is necessary to learn more about an application or contents of a file. It can be accessed with an Insert + F1. As with other forms of accessing help outlined here, a Virtual Viewer Window will open allowing the user to navigate the contents.

The type of information in the Virtual Viewer will vary depending on what type of program or file is open when the help command is launched. For example, when in a document, important information on the document’s margins, protection status, and other pertinent information is displayed. However, when this command is used from within a browser on the internet, information listed includes the presence and number of headings, links, lists, and other navigable elements. It is a great tool to learn about an unfamiliar website.

Regardless of the program that is open when this help item is launched, there is also a link within the Virtual Viewer that, when activated, can list all JAWS Hot Keys applicable in the current application.

JAWS Help for Applications

If a more robust tool is needed for more information about an application, the JAWS Application Help may be of use. Pressing Insert + F1 twice quickly (holding in the Insert and pressing F1 twice quickly) will launch a help dialogue for the opened application.

The user can move between the two main areas in the dialogue using F6. Those two areas are the Reading Pane and the Tree View. When in the Reading Pane, use standard reading commands to navigate and read the contents. Links are included in the dialogue that will open tables containing specific key commands that can be used within the application. To effectively navigate the tables, use the Alt + Control + Up/Down Arrows to move within a column and Alt + Control + Left/Right Arrows to move within a row. Tab may also be used to navigate the table sequentially.

When in the Tree View, use Up and Down arrows to navigate to different application topics as desired and use Right Arrow to expand a topic and the Left Arrow to collapse it again.

JAWS Command Search

The JAWS Command Search is especially helpful if you cannot remember a specific key command or function. To get to this area, Layered Commands or Layered Keystrokes must be used. Layered Commands require you to first press and release Insert + Spacebar, and then press a different key to perform a function in JAWS. Layered keystrokes are easy to use and remember, and they do not interfere with native keystrokes within applications.

Following are instructions on accessing and navigating JAWS Command Search:

  1. Press and release Insert + Space (you will hear a distinct sound some describe as a “bonk”. This tells JAWS you want to open a layer.)

  2. Press the letter J to open the JAWS Command Search.

  3. You will be taken to the Command Search area and placed in an edit box. Type the command you wish to search for but do NOT press Enter, instead press Tab to get out of the edit field. Below are some examples:

  • Type the word “help” to bring up commands specific to help

  • Type the word “table” to bring up commands specific to tables

  • Type the word “say” or “speak” to bring up commands related to words

  1. You can navigate the results of your search by heading (with the letter H) or by just pressing the Arrow Keys

  2. All the headings are links. If Enter is pressed while the link has focus, it will either execute the command or open in a virtual help window, where you may read and navigate information related to that topic.

  • If you have activated a link in the JAWS Command Search area, the search window will close

  • If you have activated a link in the JAWS Command Search area that opens a virtual help window, you will need to press Escape to close it.

Key Takeaways

  1. There is more than one way of getting help in JAWS

  2. Each of the four means of getting help in JAWS described here has its advantages and disadvantages.

  3. Learning and practicing using ways of getting help in JAWS will improve your knowledge and use of the screen reader.