Narrator for a day

For the last few releases of Windows 10, I have been reading about improvements in Windows 10’s Narrator; However, I have not used it much. For one thing, Narrator was not useful in the past, so I have not taken it seriously. Sure, I have used it just long enough to get out of a jam or to install NVDA or JAWS on a computer, but not as my screen reader. Then on Sunday night, I read a message from somebody on a technology list that I am on asking how to find out who is talking on Zoom using Narrator. I got curious, turned off JAWS and started Narrator. The key stroke to start Narrator on recent versions of Windows 10 is Control Windows Enter. I found a Zoom meeting to sign into. Normally, Control 2 tells you who is talking in Zoom. When I pressed that key stroke, I heard from Narrator who was talking. After that, I decided to try to use Narrator for things I would normally use JAWS for for a day.

During my work day, one thing I always have open is Outlook. I was able to read and reply to messages in Outlook using Narrator. I was also able to open other email folders and navigate the Outlook calendar.

Another thing I was able to do was browse web sites using Microsoft Edge. If you know JAWS or NVDA, web browsing is similar. You can use the arrow keys to move around. Some keys such as H and Shift H to move by heading also work in Narrator. You can also press Insert or Caps Lock F7 to bring up a list of links, but it works slightly differently than the JAWS Links List. In the JAWS or NVDA links list, you can keep pressing the first letter of the link you are looking for. With Narrator, you spell out the link until you find it. For example, if you are looking for a link called Training, you would type the first few letters of the word training then press Enter when you hear the link. Pressing Enter puts your cursor on the link, so you would need to press Enter a second time to open the link.

During my work day, I use Excel. I teach people who are blind/visually impaired for a non-profit organization. Each person I work with has an Excel spreadsheet that I need to put entries in whenever I work with the person. I was able to fill out these spreadsheets using Narrator, but there is one problem. I can get JAWS to tell me if text is too wide for a cell. I have not found a way for Narrator to tell me this. Another thing I cannot get Narrator to do is to read a certain row as column titles. With JAWS, I can press Insert V and turn on title reading. If somebody knows how to do this with Narrator, feel free to comment.

I was able to almost use Narrator with Microsoft Word. I am able to navigate Word documents, select and edit text. One problem I had is with a document that has a table in it. I tried using Control, Alt and the arrow keys to navigate the table. Narrator was sluggish. Each time I moved to another column or row, I had to wait a few seconds for Narrator to tell me where I was. I turned JAWS back on to work with that document.

For this experiment, I used Office 365 since that is what I have on my computer. I am using Windows 10 version 20H2. If you are using an older version of Windows 10, your results may very. I have tried Narrator with Office 2013 and the results were not nearly as good. I hope Microsoft keeps up the good work on Narrator. In time, the few problems I wrote about will probably be fixed. If Microsoft keeps up the work, I think people will be able to use it as their primary screen reader.