Technology overall is becoming more and more accessible and inclusive to people with different needs. Windows includes numerous assistive tools and features to help people with vision, hearing, mobility, and other difficulties be fully productive, without restrictions. This includes a built-in screen reader called Narrator, which helps Windows users who are blind or have low vision interact with their computer.
Narrator reads aloud the text and elements on your screen, including punctuation and tables; helps you interact with links and buttons; and provides descriptions of images on your screen, even if the image does not come with alternate text. And it supports 35 different languages.
Many people find a screen reader helpful for working on the computer. If that includes you, Narrator offers many essential and useful features and capabilities, already built in to Windows and ready to use immediately. Let’s look at a few ways to set up and customize Narrator to your preferences, so you can get the most from your device for productivity or for fun.
Set Narrator up to work for you
Windows has a few ways to get to Narrator settings – the easiest is to press Windows logo key + Ctrl + N.
You can also find them by entering “ease of access settings” in the search box on your taskbar, then selecting them from the list.
Under Use Narrator, turn on the toggle to start Narrator. If the box at Allow the shortcut key to start Narrator is checked, you can to turn Narrator on or off at any time, using the keyboard shortcut (Windows logo key + Ctrl + Enter).
You can also personalize the Narrator voice to be David, Zira, or Mark. Choose whichever voice feels most comfortable to you. You can also customize the voice by adjusting its speed, pitch, and volume.
Scroll down in the Narrator settings screen to choose and change how much content you want to hear when navigating a page, or when entering text (typing).
Use the settings under Change how much content you hear to set the amount of detail Narrator provides on a page, such as headers, formatting and annotations, or context around buttons and controls. It can provide hints on how to interact with items such as buttons or controls.
Set it to play audio cues to have Narrator play a sound when suggestions are available, or announce Narrator errors (such as “no next item” or “unable to copy selection to clipboard”).
With the Use Narrator cursor settings, you can set how and when the Narrator “cursor” appears on the screen. The cursor is a colored shape highlighting the word, letter, image, or selection Narrator is reading (as in the illustration below).
Using your braille display with Narrator
If you use a braille display, you can download braille to use your display with Narrator. Under Use braille, click Download and install braille to choose and install the software.
When it’s done installing, select Enable braille, and make sure to Add a braille display to connect your device to Narrator.
Keep in mind you can change these settings anytime. You can always press Windows logo key + Ctrl + N to open the main Narrator settings screen. When Narrator is on, there also is an icon added to the taskbar. Click that to open a Narrator Settings box.
Using Windows Narrator: keyboard is key
To use Narrator, you’ll find keyboard shortcut combinations are extremely useful, if not essential. Many Narrator keyboard shortcuts use the Caps lock, Ctrl, and arrow keys. Caps lock is known as the Narrator keys because it’s used so often – so often, in fact, that Narrator gives you the option to lock it in Settings so you don’t have to press it for each command. To do this while you’re working, press Caps lock + Z.
To start exploring, press Tab + Alt to have Narrator tell you your open apps – hold down Alt and press Tab until you find the app you want. To turn on Narrator’s Scan Mode to browse the page, press Caps lock + spacebar. Then press H to move to the next heading, D to move to the next landmark, or K to move to the next link.
Find a full list of keyboard shortcuts and other helpful steps for exploring Narrator in an excellent Get started with Narrator guide.
I hope Narrator helps you get more productivity and fun out of your computer. If you have ideas on how to make Narrator or other assistive technologies better, please tell us about it in the Windows Feedback Hub. When running Narrator, press Caps lock + E to open the Hub and send your suggestions directly to Windows engineers. We want to hear from you!