Keyboard Shortcuts Part 2: Students with Low Vision

Learning mainstream keyboard shortcuts flows into learning screen reader keyboard shortcuts for students with low vision.

Most students – and teachers – use mainstream keyboard shortcut commands to quickly navigate and interact with a computer.  Keyboard shortcut commands, such as Select All, Cut, Copy, Paste and Undo are some of the most popular keyboard shortcuts.  Sure, you can navigate the cursor to the Ribbon (sometimes called Toolbar) at the top of the screen and select a desired option (such as Edit); then, scroll down through the popup options to select your desired action (Copy).  Most people prefer to simply use Control + C (Windows) or Command + C (Mac).  Teachers, are you personally using all the keyboard shortcut commands available?  Have you specifically taught and encouraged your students these important shortcut keyboard commands?

Low Vision Students and Mainstream Keyboard Shortcut CommandsThree elementary-age boys keyboarding in a computer classroom.

Low vision students, especially those who magnify their screens, have a harder time navigating out of the document body/application to the Ribbon at the top of the page in order to access the dropdown options.  Being able to stay in the document – with the cursor remaining in place – and simply using a keyboard shortcut avoids multiple steps.  Keyboard shortcut commands can eliminate a lot of frustration as the student avoids losing his/her place within the document/application and can help reduce one cause of of eye fatigue.

Future Screen Reader Students and Mainstream Keyboard Shortcut Commands

Some low vision students are able to rely on their functional vision in early grades; however, as the print size decreases and the amount of reading increases, often these low vision students can benefit from using a screen reader.  Many low vision students struggle with eye fatigue which severely impacts the student’s ability to complete high school and college level assignments.  A number of students with low vision have progressive eye conditions, which may impact the student’s long term ability to rely solely on his/her residual vision.  

Introducing students to keyboard shortcut commands will help students to be efficient keyboarders.  These mainstream keyboard shortcuts, such as select all, copy, cut, paste and undo are used by all efficient computer users.  These same keyboard shortcuts often work with screen readers.  Low vision students that embrace these shortcuts are learning not only specific commands that will transfer to a screen reader, but are also learning the concept that he/she can use keyboard commands to navigate and interact with the computer screen – with or without using vision!  Learning to use mainstream keyboard shortcuts will lay the foundation for learning screen reader commands.  For low vision students, mainstream keyboard shortcuts is the logical step before learning screen reader commands.  Having a solid mainstream keyboard shortcut foundation will help even the most resistant student embrace screen reader commands!

iPad Mainstream Keyboard Shortcut Commands screenshot of opened iPad Mail app displaying the keyboard hints popup menu.

Many of our students are introduced to technology as preschoolers.  These students, especially students with visual impairements, often begin on iPads and later move to computers. iPads can be paired with a Bluetooth keyboard and keyboard skills can be introduced at a very early age.  Be sure that all students – both low vision students who may or may not use a screen reader and students who must use a VoiceOver are introduced to Bluetooth keyboard shortcut commands.  To access common Bluetooth keyboard shortcut command tips, when in an app, hold the Command key for a few seconds.  A popup menu appears with a list of the mainstream keyboard shortcut commands available for that app.  These mainstream shortcut commands will work with or without VoiceOver. NOTE: Different shortcut commands will appear depending on what commands are available in the app you are currently using.

Mainstream Keyboard Shortcuts for TVIs

Teachers, the more YOU use keyboard shortcut commands, the more comfortable you will be teaching students to use these shortcut commands.  Do you personally know and use ALL the available shortcut commands?  Have you specifically identified the available shortcut commands and made a goal to learn them?  Initially, I personally stumbled across a few beneficial shortcut commands that made my report writing and digital communications more efficient.  This made me think about whether there are additional shortcut commands; so, I began doing Internet searches to see if there were shortcuts for repetitive tasks, such as embedding a URL link into an email or document.  Slowly, I added a few more shortcut commands to my keyboarding arsenal.  Recently, I found and printed out a keyboard shortcut command list, which now sits proudly on my desk.  Before going to the Ribbon to perform a task, I check my handy Mac Shortcuts Cheat Sheet to learn/remember the shortcut command.  Practice does make perfect – now most of these shortcut commands are ingrained and I use each command without consciously thinking about it!  

Now, I truly understand the beauty behind navigating and interacting with a computer or tablet using keyboard and not relying so heavily on my mouse.  After evaluating a low vision student who used a highly magnified computer screen, I REALLY realized the benefits of using keyboard shortcut commands.  When the screen is magnified, this student had to scroll to find the Ribbon, which meant losing his place within the document or app.  Watching the student as he moved around the magnified screen made me dizzy and fatigued – and I do not have any eye condition.  I cannot begin to imagine how challenging this is for a student with nystagmus!  

After personally embracing mainstream keyboard shortcuts, I now feel more comfortable when working with students or educators who are learning to use screen readers. I now understand the concept of navigating and interacting with my device using keyboard commands instead of a mouse. Using a screen reader is – on a basic level – a chatty version of using keyboard shortcut commands – with the added benefit of auditory hints that can tell me what to do!

Teaching Tips

On my first attempt to learn to use a computer screen reader, I remember feeling overwhelmed when presented with a huge list of screen reader keyboard commands. (Yes, this was before YouTube videos!) My first screen reader attempt was a disaster!  The only way I was going to learn this seemingly huge screen reader beast, was to break it down into bite size chunks. I began by choosing a  small task such as navigating the desktop and learning only the commands required to accomplish that task.  When working with students – especially that resistant low vision student – introduce mainstream keyboard shortcut commands first.  As the student becomes comfortable with the device and the foundational mainstream keyboard commands, introduce zooming in/out to view details in an image or to read small print.  Eventually, this resistant student may build on these familiar foundation commands and begin to apply them to using a screen reader.  Try emailing a “tip of the week” to your student  let your student take ownership of learning that mainstream keyboard shortcut!   When your student is on a roll, have him/her email you with a “tip of the week”.  He/she may scour the Internet to surprise you with a little-known shortcut command!  Did you know that there are shortcut commands for gmail and for PowerPoint Presentations?

One of my favorite Mac keyboard shortcut commands is Command + K, then Command + V to embed a URL link.  What is your favorite shortcut?

Best Practice: Low Vision and Screen Readers

Best practice dictates that the low vision student should learn to use a screen reader if he/she has:

Cheat Sheets and Resources

Collage of a row of boys sit facing desktop computers


Attached File(s)
By Diane Brauner

Ipad displaying Chapter 3 of A Very Wimpy Kid with two-fingers making the Read All VoiceOver gesture.

Screen reader for low vision students?

Cartoon girl with clasped praying hands showing distress in front of a computer with text

National Homework Hotline for Blind or Visually Impaired Students: Part 2

TumbleBooks logo: Character with blue pages, white hands and white feet. Hands are waving in the air as the character is about to cartwheel.

TumbleBooks: Audio narrated picture books for low vision