NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) quick reference

NVDA is a free and open-source screen reader for Microsoft Windows. Screen readers enable people with blindness, visual impairments, and/or reading disabilities to use computers and browse websites by reading out loud the text and alternative text on the screen. Users can control what NVDA reads by using their keyboard and/or mouse. If stored on a USB flash drive, NVDA can run on any Windows computer without installing or requiring administrative privileges.

Section 14(2) of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR) in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) states that designated public sector organizations, like the University of Waterloo, shall make their public websites and web content conform with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, initially at Level A by January 2014 and increasing to Level AA by January 2021.

You can evaluate the accessibility of your website(s) using NVDA. By understanding how users of screen readers navigate and read your website, you will gain insight on how your website is being used and the reasoning behind the guidelines in WCAG 2.0, such as providing image alternative text that is descriptive, meaningful, and succinct. Since there is a significant overlap between accessibility and usability, an accessible website tends to be easier to navigate and read by both visual and non-visual users.

Download NVDA and install it on your Windows computer. See a survey on the preference of screen reader users, and read about one individual’s experience in testing web accessibility with a screen reader. For more information about NVDA, see the NVDA 2015.1 User Guide.

You may follow an accessibility testing procedure from the University of Michigan. Alternatively, experiment on your website using NVDA with the commands below, or see more keyboard shortcuts for NVDA.

Basic actions | Reading | Voice | Headings | Links | Lists | Tables | Forms

Basic actions

Launch NVDA

Control key. + Alternate key. + N key.


Insert key. + Q key.

NVDA menu

Insert key. + N key.


Shift key.


Control key.

Enable speech viewer

Insert key. + N key. , Select Tools, and then select Speech viewer.

Back to top


Skip to body

Alternate key. + Shift key. + S key.

Next paragraph

Control key. + Down arrow key.

Previous paragraph

Control key. + Up arrow key.

Next line

Down arrow key.

Previous line

Up arrow key.

Next image

G key.

Previous image

Shift key. + G key.

Next block quote

Q key.

Previous block quote

Shift key. + Q key.

Back to top


Change speaker

Insert key. + N key. , Select Preference, and then select Synthesizer... ,

Set Synthesizer to Microsoft Speech API version 5, or other voices. Click OK.

Increase voice rate

Control key. + Insert key. + Up arrow key.

Decrease voice rate

Control key. + Insert key. + Down arrow key.

Back to top


Heading quick key

H key.

Heading 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

1 key. , 2 key. , 3 key. , 4 key. , 5 key. , 6 key.

Browse all headings

Insert key. + F7 key. , Type set to Headings.

Back to top


Link quick key

L key.

Browse all links

Insert key. + F7 key. , Type set to Links.

Visited links

V key.

Unvisited links

U key.

Back to top


List quick key

L key.

Items in a list

I key.

Back to top


Table quick key

Table key.

Left cell

Control key. + Alternate key. + Left arrow key.

Right cell

Control key. + Alternate key. + Right arrow key.

Cell above

Control key. + Alternate key. + Up arrow key.

Cell below

Control key. + Alternate key. + Down arrow key.

Back to top


Form quick key

F key.

Next field

Tab key.

Previous field

Shift tab. + Tab key.

Select/deselect checkboxes

Space bar.

Select radio button

Up arrow key. / Down arrow key.

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  • By default, “NVDA” key is the “Insert” key.
  • Use Mozilla Firefox web browser to test your website with NVDA.
  • Disable the Num Lock key.
  • NVDA may not scroll as it reads, so it may read content that is not visible on your screen.
  • Enable NVDA Speech Viewer to see what NVDA is reading.
  • Try using your keyboard only, as people using screen readers do not typically use a mouse to navigate and read websites.
  • Try turning off your monitor screen to simulate how people with reading disabilities would experience your website.