Teaching Students to Use Menus (Windows)

Every student who uses Windows will encounter menus in their daily computer use, both offline and online. Navigating these menus with a screen reader can seem complex at first, but once a student has the skills to navigate menus, they can use these skills across many different programs. Learning to navigate menus also allows students to discover shortcuts for new programs or frequently-used items.

One important concept to understand before starting is focus. Just as you can only look at one item on the screen at any given time, the computer's user interface can only have one item in focus at any given time. The item that has focus is the item that will be activated or that a screen reader will read. In Windows, the focus is indicated by a blue line and shading around the item with focus. Note that the keyboard focus is not always necessarily the same as the location of the mouse pointer.

All of the navigation discussed in this post can be used with or without a screen reader. This means that students with low vision who don't use a screen reader can still benefit from this knowledge. Teachers who don't have a screen reader installed on their computer can use this knowledge to preview what they plan on teaching or to discover new shortcuts for their students or themselves.

A computer menu, like a restaurant menu, provides a list of items one can choose from. On Windows, menus are organized by topic on a menu bar, which runs across the top of the screen, just underneath the title bar where the program’s name is. For example, in the Notepad program, the menu bar has categories File, Edit, Format, View, and Help. The Windows keyboard command to move the focus to a menu bar is the alt key.

Once the focus is on the menu bar, the left and right arrows can be used to move across the menu bar, and the up and down arrows can be used to navigate up and down through each menu. A menu can be closed, and menu bar exited, by pressing the escape key (you may have to press this multiple times).

Understanding how to navigate the menu bar without learning specific shortcuts is important for students to learn, because it allows them to explore a completely unfamiliar program and eventually learn the shortcuts for the menu options they use most frequently. To start, introduce students to navigating the menu bar and sub-menus. It allows them to explore a completely unfamiliar program. Then introduce shortcuts for frequently used items.

About the author

Jen Jesso

I have worked in various roles in the field of visual impairment since 2007. In addition to working as a teacher of students with visual impairments, I recently completed coursework to become an orientation and mobility specialist. I have been fortunate to work with the fantastic team at PRCVI since 2014.

I enjoy many aspects of my role at PRCVI, but highlights include working with teachers of students with visual impairments and their students on outreach visits and working on PRCVI initiatives and projects.

Outside of work, my interests include reading, computer programming, swimming, and spending time with friends and family.

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