Screenshot of Headings setting in the rotor.
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Reading Efficiently with a Screen Reader: Headings

Using Headings to skim a website or document.

Educational content is strategicially organized and formatted into sections. This helps readers to quickly find specific things and to mentally organize the information. The chapter or title name will be in big, bold letters; section headers will be smaller font than the chapter title but larger than sub-headings. Sub-headings have larger font than normal content text. Besides different font sizes, sometimes color, italic or underline will be used to indicate importance or to break up the text into more bite-sized chunks. If marked correctly, the Headings and sub-headings in a bulleted format is the outline of the article. Heading 1 is typically the title of the article or chapter. Heading 2 is the main content. The sub-heading, Heading 3, is the indented, bulleted point. Additional sub-headings Heading 4, 5 or 6) are increasingly indented. When marked correctly, these headings are read by screen readers and students can quickly jump from Heading to Heading using special navigation commands. Reading the Headings is an efficient ool for skimming the material – both visually and with a screen reader or for going back to find a particular section to read again.

Navigating by Headings: iOS Gestures

On an iOS device, first make sure that the desired Rotor settings are selected. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Rotor > and check Characters, Words, Lines, Headings and Tables.

Note: Other rotor items may also be checked. This post is specifically addressing navigating by Headings.

iOS Activity

If appropriate for your student, have your student to select an animal. Ask a question – i.e. What are the animal’s predators? – that can be found under a specific Heading. Allow the student to read starting at the beginning of the article. Then discuss how navigating by Headings can be more efficient when searching to find the desired answer. No more reading the whole document again when you can jump to the specific area! For students who need more guidance, first teach how to use Headings and then ask a question that can be found under a specific Heading.

Notice that there maybe different heading levels. Example: On the American Bison article, the  “American Bison” is the title and therefore, is Heading Level 1. Visually, on this website, “American Bison”  has the largest font and is green. Heading levels will increase sequentially as the importance of the content decreases. With the Animal Fact Guide website, Heading Level 2 and Heading Level 3 have already been used to identify other areas of the website. Example: The tabs (Home, Animal Facts, Wildlife Blog, etc.) are Heading Level Threes. Therefore, Heading Level 4 is used to identify and label sections within the American Bison article. These sections (Diet, Predators, Reproduction, Conservation Status, etc.) and are in bold print that is smaller font than the title but larger font than the content. In the American Bison screenshot below, the Voiceover focus (bold black box) is on the word “Diet” – which is a Heading Level 4.

Navigating by Headings: iOS Refreshable Braille Display Commands

Adjust the rotor using 5 + 6 + space simultaneously. When the rotor is set to Headings, use 6 + space or press the joystick down to move to the next Heading; use 3 + space or joystick up to move to the previous Heading.

Navigating by Headings: iOS Bluetooth Keyboard Commands

When using a Bluetooth keyboard, adjusting the rotor is done with the up + right arrow keys. When the rotor is set to Headings, the down arrow moves to the next Heading and the up arrow moves to the previous Heading. HTML is the mark-up language used to format web pages. There are additional Bluetooth keyboard commands that can be used to navigate by Headings, when Quick Nav is on. (Turn Quick nav on or off by pressing the right + left arrows simultaneously.)

Additional Website Resources

Note: Not all websites are compliant with accessibility standards; however, developers are becoming more aware of and are following website accessibility standards. Want to practice Headings on additional kid-appropriate websites?

Hint: When viewing an article on a website, use the Reader option – this eliminates all the clutter on the page! (The Reader button is located to the left of the URL on all Apple devices.)

Note: Use the rotor to navigate by links, buttons, tables, text fields, etc. (Make sure that the desired items are added to the rotor in the Settings app. Typically, the item type has to be available on the page in order for the item to show up in the rotor.)

Navigating by Headings on a website is a tool to skip all the tabs – both the open website tabs and the tabs at the top of each website. When using a screen reader, the Read All commands or navigating to the next item is time consuming.

Headings is also a quick way to navigate through all the things listed at the top of the page. Headings can and should be also be used in textbooks, journals, and documents. In Word (on the computer), type your desired text. Highlight the the title; in the ribbon, select Heading Level 1. In the document content, select and highlight the word or phrase; in the ribbon, select Heading Level 2. Repeat for any sub-headings and select Heading Level 3. When reading the Word document, the screen reader will announce the Heading Levels that have been applied.

Learn more about creating accessible Word documents – Creating Accessible Word Docs and PowerPoints: Teacher Resource post or  Learn how to Create Accessible Word Documents post

Learn more about teaching Headings – Creating Headings for a Screen Reader: Lesson Plan post

Note: If the Word document is created on a computer and opened on an iOS device, the Heading format does not transfer to the iOS device. Headings and other HTML markup will transfer between a PC and a Mac.

Navigating by Headings: JAWS Commands

Navigation Quick Keys makes it easier to move around on a Web page and other areas when the Virtual Cursor is active. H is used to navigate to the next Heading. Shift H is used to navigate to the previous Heading. Other computer screen readers (VoiceOver, NVDA, etc.) also use H to navigate by Headings.

JAWS navigating the Internet with Headings video

Reading Efficiently Series

Part 2: Reading Efficiently with a Screen Reader: Reading by Paragraphs

600 Words Per Minute Series

Want to know more about efficient reading skills for students who use a screen reader? Ed Summers has shared a series of posts on the importance of reading 600 words per minute and how to increase your student’s reading speeds.

By Diane Brauner

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