Using Narrator dev mode

Narrator is the integrated screen reader for Windows 10. The August 2nd Windows 10 Anniversary update introduces several new Narrator features, including a Narrator mode designed specifically for developers.

When you develop accessible apps, webapps or websites, one of the challenges is understanding how screen readers consume content. Making sense of speech output and relating it to the different objects on-screen is an acquired skill.

What is Narrator dev mode?

Narrator dev mode helps developers identify which on-screen objects are accessible to Narrator, which object Narrator is currently focused on, and what information is available to Narrator about that object.

When Narrator dev mode is enabled, the screen is masked except for the object Narrator is focused on. Only accessible objects and the text that is associated with them is visible. In other words, Narrator dev mode presents the visual equivalent of using Narrator in addition to Narrator’s default speech output.

How is Narrator dev mode enabled?

Narrator must be turned on before Narrator dev mode is enabled. It’s a good idea to get a basic understanding of Narrator commands before experimenting with Narrator dev mode, but if you want to jump right in, the following table has the commands you’ll need.

Useful Narrator commands
Action Command
Turn Narrator on/off Control + Windows key + Enter
Discover Narrator commands Capslock f1
Discover Narrator context sensitive commands Capslock f2
Turn Narrator dev mode on/off Capslock Shift f12

Getting into the habit of testing your app, webapp or website with Narrator and Narrator dev mode won’t give you a comprehensive knowledge of how the entire screen reader ecosystem consumes content. But it will help you understand the linear nature of screen reader interaction, and whether your product exposes information that is useful to screen readers – and that is knowledge that can be transferred to testing with other screen readers and/or platforms.

5 comments on “Using Narrator dev mode”

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  1. Comment by Alasdair King

    Good news, Léonie. I was just idly thinking how a “visual view” would help sighted developers like me understand what a screenreader user is actually getting.

    I’m sure developers will still find Inspect32.exe, AccExplorer32.exe and AccEvent32.exe necessary, but this is a great help.

  2. Comment by Patrick H. Lauke

    Tiny side note: the shortcut to enable/disable Narrator has changed…it’s now Windows key + Ctrl + Enter

  3. Comment by Simon Jaeger

    I think this is a deceptively huge deal for sighted developers. Put another way:

    Exhibit A: Sighted person downloads a demo of JAWS or a lesser-known open source screen reader which comes with a very grating voice for someone not used to text-to-speech.
    Exhibit B: Sighted person presses two keystrokes and can instantly determine what I can or can’t see in their program.

    Thanks for doing this.

  4. Comment by Andre Polykanine

    Remember however that now it is Ctrl+Windows+Enter, not just Windows+Enter.

    1. Comment by Léonie Watson

      Thanks Andre. I’ve updated that information in the post.

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