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How to interact with websites using a desktop screen reader

Due to the differences between browse and focus modes in desktop screen readers, interacting with form controls or widgets can be a bit of a challenge at first. In the end, well-built components can always be understood and controlled by screen reader users, regardless of the given complexities.

Important: For this article you need to know how to read websites using a desktop screen reader. If you haven't done so yet, go back and read How to read websites using a desktop screen reader thoroughly before you continue here.

Activating elements

When the screen reader cursor is on an element, press Enter to activate it if possible (like links or buttons).

Interacting with elements


Press Enter to interact with editable form elements. Use Space to expand/collapse comboboxes or to toggle checkboxes. Use Left/Right/Up/Down keys to toggle values.

Use cases:

  • When reaching a textarea in browse mode, to enter text into it, press Enter to activate focus mode, then enter text.
    • To jump to the next input (or any other focusable element), press Tab.
    • To look around for non-focusable content instead, leave focus mode by pressing Esc, then browse around with the Up/Down keys.
  • When reaching a text input in focus mode, you can immediately enter text.
  • To toggle through the values of a combobox, make sure you are in focus mode, then use Up or Down.
  • To toggle the value of a checkbox, simply hit Space (regardless of whether you're in browse or focus mode).

If you are really curious and want to learn more about this, skip ahead and read How to handle forms.


Interacting with widgets can be tricky, especially when ARIA roles are used (if you haven't done this yet, go back and read ARIA - when HTML simply is not enough).

In general, widgets should be controllable similarly to other interactive elements.