The Screen Reader User’s Guide to Gmail in Standard View (Pt 1)

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Des: Hello, okay, so we are in the magical world of Zoom and I’m going to now share my screen with you. And what we’re looking at the Gmail inbox in standard view. Now I went ahead and created my new email here. This is delgadilloaccess at This is the email that I’m using for my podcast. And I thought it’d be a good opportunity since this inbox is basically clean for now to kind of show you how to go about setting everything up and using standard view. So let’s go ahead and jump in. The first thing that you need to do when you get into Gmail is you need to enable keyboard shortcuts. Now keyboard shortcuts are turned off by default, but Google implements such a wide array of different shortcuts that once you turn them on, it’s going to be a completely different experience for you in using Gmail. So let’s navigate to the settings and do that together. The way to get to the settings, I think the fastest, if you’re a screen reader user, is just navigate by button until you get to settings. You can also do a search. So I’m going to do NVDA key plus JAWS, I’m sorry, NVDA key plus control plus F, and search for settings, and it has put me on the settings button. Now the settings button acts a little unreliably. Sometimes it’ll take you to where you want to go, and sometimes nothing will happen. So let’s see what happens the first time I click it. I clicked on it and see nothing was spoken at all. Let me go to the bottom of the page just because I know from previous experience that that’s where this information shows up, and it indeed did show up. The settings are down here now at the bottom of our page. It’s a little unwieldy for sure, but from here, what we want to do is we want to find the button that says see all settings, and the way to get there the fastest is from the bottom of the page. Let’s just navigate by button, and we’ll use the shift key and B together and just keep going. Here, see all settings. There it is. So we’re going to click on that. Now we are in the full settings interface. We have a ton of different options that we can select here. We are in a tabbed view, and if we just arrow up and down, we should, okay, if we tab through this list, we’ll hear the different categories that are available to us. We have general, we have labels, inbox, and a couple of other ones. Right now, just for these first few steps, we’re going to be focusing specifically on the general tab. Now that I’ve selected the tab that I want, I’m going to hit NVDA key and space, and we’re going to get back into the browse mode. Now all of the different settings are in a table view. So if you are not super proficient with tables, the best way to do this is once you’re in the table, you can navigate to the next column with control shift right arrow, and you can navigate to the next row with control alt down arrow. Now if you want to get into, say, there’s an edit field in this table, you can get to that by using your tab key. Okay, so let’s get out of this table actually, and let’s get to the shortcuts, and let’s do that with the quick NVDA search command once again. So we will use NVDA plus control plus F. And let’s type shortcuts. And here we have keyboard shortcuts, and then in the right column, we have a series of radio buttons. There’s also a link where you can learn more about keyboard shortcuts. I’ll show you how to access that without having to leave the Gmail interface in just a moment. Since I have already actually done this, the keyboard shortcuts are currently set to on already. But if you are doing this for the first time, they’re going to be off. And you can toggle them. You go to the radio button, you tab in, and now you can just go left or right. Right now it’s back to off. Let’s go back to the left, and they are on again. The last thing to remember about the Gmail settings is that before you can go back to your inbox, you have to save the changes that you’ve made. They’re not applied automatically. So the way to do that is let’s just go down to the end of the page with control plus end. And then let’s just use shift B until we get back to the save button. There you go. Save changes. And actually, since I didn’t make any changes, the setting button is grayed out. But if you had actually made the change yourself, then this button would be clickable, and clicking it would take you back to your Gmail inbox. So let’s imagine that we have now enabled the settings for shortcuts. And let’s just click back over here to Gmail. And I have been placed directly into my list of messages in my inbox. Now let’s start to review some of the shortcuts that we can use right here in the Gmail inbox now that we have enabled them in settings. So the first shortcut that I really like to use a lot is very easy, and it’s one that we use in all of our email clients. This is how we interact with multiple emails at once. So you’re going to want to go to the email that you want to click on, that you want to highlight, and then we press the X key. One thing that I forgot to note here at the beginning of this module is that when you are in the inbox for Gmail, and you want to look at your emails, the best way to do this is to turn your cursor off. So if you’re using NVDA like I am, you would simply turn off your browse mode. And if you’re using JAWS, you would turn off your PC cursor. So I’ve done that here in NVDA. I have it configured to do it automatically. If you don’t, you can get into this mode by pressing NVDA key plus space. In JAWS, it is JAWS key plus Z. Okay, so getting back to these shortcuts. We’re able to select our messages with X, and we’re able to also unselect them. Let’s re-highlight this. Another couple of shortcuts you can do is delete with Shift 3. Let’s say that was an accident. We can bring it back with the Z key. If we want to, for example, if we want to select all of the emails on this page, we can hit asterisk, so that’s Shift 8, followed by the A key. So let’s try that. And now you see if you arrow down, all of your emails here are actually selected now. And we can just unselect them all with the same command. That’s Shift 8, followed by the letter A. Oops, it didn’t work that time. I think I may have done it too slowly. Well, we’ll review this in a second, but apparently the command is not a toggle the way I thought it was. But let’s actually look at that now. So we can go ahead and open a list of the shortcuts that are available to us by using the question mark key. So that is Shift and slash. And now the shortcuts are being presented to us here. Oops. All right. There we go. I lost my speech, as you can tell, which for a blind user is the equivalent of your monitor just going black. So that threw me off for a second, but we’re back now. And in this table view, we can look at the different shortcuts that are available to us in Gmail. We can do quite a bit of things with the Google workspace and the side panel. Just to save you from getting too overwhelmed, we’re not going to learn about that in this module. We’ll learn about that a little bit later. But if you are eager to learn about it sooner rather than later, please just drop me a request in the comments. So each table is its own section. So here we’ve got the formatting section. We’ve got all the formats that you can do. It’s your typical shortcut for a word processor, like bolding, italicizing, undo, redo. The same typical patterns that you would expect. This is navigation. And jumping around. I’ll show you this in a second, but you can refer back to all of these shortcuts. So G then I would go to your inbox. G then S goes to your start conversations. G then B goes to your snooze conversations. G then T goes to your sent and so on and so on. You can look at all of your different shortcuts here when you press the question mark key from anywhere in Gmail. So let’s go ahead and get out of here because I remember these shortcuts and I can tell them to you. So we’re back in the Gmail inbox. This is, I would say, kind of your home base when you’re using Gmail. So if you’re anywhere else in Gmail and you feel lost, you feel like I want to get back to a place that’s familiar. You can always press G followed by I to get back to your inbox. Now you got to make sure that the PC cursor is turned off, or if you’re using NVDA, that your browse mode is turned off before you do that. Mine is. I just used NVDA key plus space. And now I can use the shortcuts as I wish. So I’m going to press G and I, and as you see, I’m back in my podcast, in my inbox. I was already there. So it wasn’t too much of a struggle. Okay. The next thing I want to show you is when you press period, when you have some email selected and then you press period, it shows you a context menu. Think of when you press F10 on Windows and you have a list of all the things that you can do. And you can just arrow through those. So you’ve got things like mark as important, add a star. You can filter messages like these, which is a very powerful feature that we’ll go into in a different video. You can mute. And we’re back to the top. Let’s escape and get out of this list. And let me show you one more very important command before we actually start to review emails. This is the search command, the all important search in Gmail. We simply press the slash key. Now this will seem familiar to you if you’ve used Google search with a screen reader or if you’ve used Google drive or YouTube. One of the things that Google has done consistently across all of his platforms is use the slash key to access search. So I enjoyed that immensely. You can search for anything here. Let’s search for my name because I know I sent myself an email a few days ago. And there’s me with my one search result. Like I said, there are so many different ways to filter these search results. Break it down by date, by attachment. You can customize a range of sizes that you want to search between. I mean, it’s super powerful and there’s a lot you can do in standard view that you are not able to do in HTML view. Now the last thing that I want to show you today is simply what it looks like when you open an email. So let’s go ahead and go back to my inbox. I sent myself a test message a few days ago. So let’s just go ahead and open that message now. I’m going to press enter. Now sometimes this will depend on your custom screen reader settings. Usually your screen reader’s PC cursor or browse mode will automatically turn on. I tend to use a lot of websites that depend on forms mode. So I turned that setting off. So let’s go back into browse mode now so that we can review the email the way we would review any typical HTML. So let’s turn this on with NVDA key plus space. And now a little trick for you to know. Let’s just go back to the top of the page. When you want to look, you want to jump directly to your email content. There is a skip to content button right there. But you can also bear this in mind. The start of your email content will always be denoted with a level three heading and it will be the first level three heading on the page. So there it is. That’s the first email. And this is actually my response to the email. One thing that Gmail does when you open a message that you’ve seen before is it will actually hide all of the messages that you have already read so that the only thing you’re seeing is the most recent response that you have not yet viewed. The way to get around this, expand the email so that you have the entire view. Say if you’re working in a thread that has like 45 to 50 messages and you need to go back up and refer, you would do that by turning your cursor off again. And then pressing semicolon. That expands the thread so you can see all of the messages. You can see here that from my personal email, I went ahead and sent this message. Testing and then it has my signature. So let’s explore this window. Let’s go back up to the heading with the subject line and let’s just move down and then I’m going to show you how to get to these same things using shortcuts. So it makes mention to labels. That’s how Gmail organizes its emails. And that is also a very accessible process. We’ll dive into labels in a future video when we talk more about email management. The check box to start and then the option to reply and the more button. Now the more button, let’s start there. You can actually invoke that same more button if you turn off the cursor. So what was it again? And we hit the period key just like we did for the context menu earlier when we were looking at the emails in the inbox. And now the more menu is expanded and we can go ahead and tab through. We have a few more options in here than we did before. And we can also do a few more shortcuts once we’ve accessed. We got to make sure our cursor remains off. We can do things like R for reply. Say we actually don’t want to send this message. We can press control shift D and we will just delete the draft and go back to the message we were reading. We can do the F key to forward a message. Let’s again destroy this draft. We can use the A key to reply all. You can use the E key and that will archive. Let’s undo that action. You can use the delete key or you can use the pound key, shift 3 to delete and we’ll undo that action as well. So as you can see, there is a lot of usability here. If it’s not 100% accessible, I would say it’s 95% an accessible experience. I use Gmail every single day. I have for many years. So if you have any questions about how to do something in the standard view of Gmail, please go ahead and leave a comment down below or send an email to delgadioaccess at I’ll have the email in the description here for you and I will try and answer your questions in a future video. I do have a couple more in this series coming so that you can eventually watch them all together and be able to understand how to use Gmail in standard view by the time that HTML view is no longer supported in early 2024. So thank you so much for watching this first video and I hope that you’ve learned something and if not, let me know and I will be happy to clarify. Thanks.

Earlier this year, Google announced it was ending support for Gmail’s basic HTML view in early 2024. Many users currently rely on this simplified view, including screen reader users.
Thankfully, the Gmail standard view is quite accessible with a screen reader, with a few small exceptions that I’ll highlight as we go along.
By the time you’re finished reading this post and/or watching the video, you’ll have the basics for jumping into Gmail in standard view with a screen reader. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments of this series, where I’ll show you how to use the advanced filters in Gmail, as well as some popular add-ons that can boost your workflow.

Enable Keyboard Shortcuts

When you first navigate to Gmail in standard view, you might notice that there is pretty much nothing that you can do using the keyboard. That’s because Gmail has its shortcut keys disabled by default. Here’s how to enable the shortcut keys. Thankfully, you only have to do this once per Gmail account.

  1. Access Settings: Use NVDA key + Control + F to search for the settings button, or navigate by button using the B key. Both of these key commands are the same in Jaws.
    1. Note: Sometimes Gmail will take your focus and place it at the start of settings, and sometimes it won’t. If you press enter on settings and nothing happens, navigate to the bottom of the web page and up arrow. You should hear the settings spoken. 
  2. Find ‘See All Settings’: Once you’re sure your settings have appeared, find the ‘See All Settings’ button. You can use your screen reader search commands for this, or simply go to the bottom of the page and press shift-B a few times. Press enter and you’ll be taken to a new page.
  1. Select the General Tab: In the settings interface, choose the ‘General’ tab to access various options. Just use tab to navigate through each settings category. General should be the first one. We’ll revisit the other settings categories later in this series.
  2. Enable Keyboard Shortcuts: At last. Search for ‘Keyboard Shortcuts’ in the settings and toggle them on. I suggest searching for them because this option is pretty far down the table view for the general settings. When you arrive at the row for Keyboard Shortcuts, use your tab key and you should be placed in a series of radio buttons. Moving left to right switches from ‘Shortcuts on” to “shortcuts off.” You want them to be on.
  3. Save Changes: After enabling shortcuts, navigate to the bottom of the page and use Shift-B to find the ‘Save Changes’ button to apply your new settings. You need to do this in order for your changes to take effect.

Get Familiar with Gmail’s keyboard Shortcuts

In order to perform all of Gmail’s shortcuts properly, ensure your screen reader’s cursor is turned off. With NVDA, use ‘NVDA key’ and ‘space’ to toggle between Browse mode and focus mode. In order to use the shortcuts, you’ll want to be in focus mode. Once you have opened the email you wish to read, you can then re-activate browse mode in order to read the email similar to any other HTML document.

With Jaws, similarly toggle between their version of browse and focus using ‘Jaws key’ and ‘z’.

Here are few of the shortcuts you should become familiar with right away in order to get the most out of your Gmail experience.

  1. Navigate to your inbox: Press ‘g’ followed by ‘i’. It helps to use this shortcut as a sort of a “go home” command when you find you are stuck somewhere in Gmail.
  2. Selecting Emails: Press ‘X’ to select or unselect emails.
  3. Deleting Emails: Use ‘Shift + 3’ to delete emails. You need to have the email(s) selected first.
  4. Select All Emails: Press ‘Shift + 8’ followed by ‘A’ to select all emails on the page.
  5. Undo Last Action: ‘Z’.
  6. Open email: Press ‘enter’.
  7. Access Shortcut List: Use ‘Shift + /’ to open a list of available shortcuts.

Context Menus

Gmail also allows users to utilize a context menus. This is especially helpful for users who have trouble  memorizing the keyboard shortcuts. 

With an email selected, press the period key (‘.’) to access context menus for various actions like marking as important, adding a star, muting, etc.


Opening and Reviewing Emails

  1. Open an Email: Press ‘Enter’ to open a selected email.
                                                                1. Navigate Email Content: Use screen reader commands to navigate through the email content. Remember to turn your cursor back on in order to navigate xth
                                                                        1. e email like a regular HTML document.
      1. Expand Email Threads: Press the semicolon key (‘;’) to expand email threads for viewing all messages. By default, Gmail will hide messages in the thread that you have read previously.


This guide aims to simplify the process of using Gmail with a screen reader, focusing on the standard view. While not 100% accessible, Gmail offers a highly usable experience with these tips and shortcuts. 

Stay tuned to this space for future installments of this series where we’ll go deeper into some of Gmail’s settings and add-ons for added functionality.

For any specific queries or further assistance, feel free to reach out or leave a comment.