Using the JAWS screen reader to create better digital content

Rachele DiTullio
@racheleditullio on Twitter


Download slides

Knowing how to use a screen reader makes you a better content creator and web developer. Learn the basics of using the JAWS screen reader to navigate webpages and documents. Find out the common issues that using a screen reader can detect, as well as ways to improve your content for people with vision and cognitive impairments.

Rachele DiTullio

Rachele DiTullio - headshot of a white woman with short brown hair looking up and to the side

Pronouns: (they/she)

I earned my Master's degree from the University of Texas at Austin School of Information.

I received my certifications through the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP). I earned the Web Accessibility Specialist credential in 2019 and the Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies credential in 2020.

What we'll cover

Screen Readers

A screen reader is a type of assistive technology that announces the contents of the screen to the user with a synthesized voice. They are primarily used by people who are blind or have low vision but lots of different people use screen readers to understand the UI better.

Who uses screen readers

Source: WebAIM Screen Reader User Survey #9 (May-June 2021)

a bar chart shows self-reported disabilities of screen reader users by percentage - data table follows

Which of the following disabilities do you have?
Response # of respondents % of respondents
Blindness 1246 79.5%
Low Vision/Visually-Impaired34421.9%
Cognitive or Learning503.2%

Common screen readers in use

a pie chart shows which screen readers people are using by percentage - data table follows

Which of the following is your primary desktop/laptop screen reader?
Response# of respondents% of respondents
System Access or System Access to Go120.8%
Most common screen reader and browser combinations
Screen Reader + Browser# of respondents% of respondents
JAWS + Chrome50032.5%
NVDA + Chrome24616.0%
JAWS + Edge19412.6%
NVDA + Firefox1499.7%
JAWS + Firefox744.8%
VoiceOver + Safari724.7%

Finding information

a pie chart shows ways screen reader users find information on the page by percentage - data table follows

When trying to find information on a lengthy web page, which of the following are you most likely to do first?
Response# of respondents% of respondents
Navigate through the headings on the page104767.7%
Read through the page1268.1%
Use the Find feature21513.9%
Navigate through the links of the page1107.1%
Navigate through the landmarks/regions of the page493.2%

Document accessibility

a pie chart shows document types and how accessible screen reader users think they are by percentage - data table follows

Which document format do you find most accessible?
Response# of respondents% of respondents

JAWS screen reader demonstration

A webpage with the heading Accessible Web followed by the text please disable CSS to view this webpage

VIDEO: JAWS screen reader demonstration

Using a Screen Reader

This section covers some basic settings in the JAWS screen reader as well as basic keyboard controls for navigating.

JAWS start options

the JAWS start menu with the 'automatically start jaws' button highlighted. The button's submenu highlights 'start JAWS after login for this user'. The control is set to 'never'.

JAWS voice settings

the JAWS voice adjustment menu with the 'Rate' control highlighted. The rate is set to 97.

JAWS basic navigation

Command Keystroke
Stop JAWS from speaking CTRL
Move to the next focusable item TAB
Move to the last focusable item SHIFT+TAB
Move the virtual cursor ARROW keys
Activate the link or button ENTER

Let's practice

JAWS content navigation

Command Keystroke
Read continuously from cursor INSERT+DOWN ARROW
Go to next heading H
Go to next graphic (image) G
Go to next form element F
Go to next table T
Go to next list L

Let's practice


Common issues with PDF documents

Reading PDFs with Adobe Acrobat

a dialog message for selecting PDF reading options for assistive technology in Adobe Acrobat

Let's practice

Word Documents

You can give content in Word documents semantic meaning with Word Styles. It's not the best name because it reinforces the idea that marking up content is about how it looks, not how it's structured.

Styling text with Word

The styles panel in Word with normal, heading 1 and heading 2 styles highlighted along with the control to expand the list of styles and control to create a new style.

Providing text equivalents

The Alt Text pane for a picture in Word with the description field highlighted.

Let's practice

Copy the text from into a Word document.

Use styles to markup the document.

Download fixed Word document

Download exported PDF document


You might be limited in what you can do on webpages by a learning management system or other software. As much as possible, use native HTML elements to provide meaning and structure to web content.

Use semantic markup

Let's practice

Try using a screen reader with content from your university or class material.

All US public universities are required to provide accessible websites under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.


Check your work or school email for a free home license.

Check your work or school email address to see if you qualify for a free home annual license of JAWS. All students, faculty and staff of an educational institution in the United States with up-to-date multi-user licenses of JAWS are entitled to receive free home annual licenses for their personally owned equipment.

Thank you!

Any questions? @racheleditullio on Twitter