These days we are devoting an increasing amount of screen time to our smartphones and tablets. But for many of us, the good old fashioned desktop or notebook computer still plays an integral part in our accessible, connected lifestyle. We may use iPhone apps to check social media and to shop, but for many of us, riding a keyboard is still the best way to create and edit documents or surf the Web. With that in mind, in this review we’ll focus on the latter of these tasks: accessible Web browsing.
To surf the Web on a Windows PC you’ll need a browser. The most popular option is the Chrome browser from Google, and in this article we’ll take a look at a new e-offering, Get Cracking with Chrome for Windows, from Dean Martineau, author of Flying Blind’s must-read Top Tech Tidbits newsletter.
What You Get
This is Martineau’s second offering. We reviewed Martineau's first offering, Windows Keyboard Power User Guide in the October 2019 issue of AccessWorld. We use the term “offering” because it is available not just as an eBook, and not just as an audio tutorial, but as either or both.
After all, we all have our preferred learning styles. Some of us like to follow along with an audio presentation or demonstration. Others prefer to delve into written text, either via speech or going hands-on with braille. So as with the previous tutorial, Get Cracking with Chrome for Windows is available in both a 15,000-word MS Word document, and as a three-hour-plus audio MP3 presentation that follows the text chapter by chapter with demonstrations and a few asides. There is also a combo pack that includes both.
As with Martineau’s previous work, I was offered access to both formats. I doubled up on the first two chapters, using JAWS to review the text and then my iPhone to listen. After that I alternated back and forth. The learning experience was more or less equivalent using either format, however if there was something I wished to reread, or a minor point I wanted to refer back to, I found the Word document easier to search and navigate.
What You Learn
I feel it’s necessary to begin this section by describing what you will not learn in this tutorial. The author presumes a working knowledge of your screen reader of choice. As such, he does not detail the use of quick navigation keys or other screen reader browsing capabilities, other than the NVDA commands he uses to demonstrate browser features in the audio tutorial. For detailed screen reader help you will have to wait for the second book in his Web Browsing Instruction series, tentatively entitled Web Browsing with JAWS.
So, if not primarily for beginning access users, at whom, exactly, is this book aimed? The potential audience is threefold. First, and perhaps the largest, is the population of screen reader users who have been using access technology so long they still default to IE and are reluctant to change—despite all the warnings that the browser is outdated and insecure. Many of these warnings come from Microsoft itself. The second potential audience for this book is users of Firefox and other minority-share browsers who have discovered that a single browser isn’t enough. Sometimes pages and other Web features that do not render accessibly using one browser display much more effectively with another. Here, Martineau is absolutely correct when he opines that for best access, the sight impaired computer user needs to learn at least two screen readers and be able to operate at least two different browsers.
Last, but certainly not least, are those who wish to take a deep dive into their current browser of choice and discover new features or new ways to use the ones they already know, and perhaps learn a trick or two that can save them time or enable them to accomplish new tasks.
You can check out the *Get Cracking with Chrome for Windows Table Of Contents on the Tech for the Blind website. You will find a fairly standard list of topics to be discussed, including:
- Laying some Groundwork
- Launching and Closing Chrome
- The Menu, the Toolbar and the Context Menus
- Privacy Settings
At first glance these topics seem rather pedestrian and rudimentary. However they encompass a great deal of more-advanced topics. In fact, I fear the author has done himself a disservice by not including subheadings in his Table of Contents. Let's take a look at just a few of the advanced topics you'll learn about in this tutorial.
You probably already know the standard way to navigate from page to page, and from tab to tab. But how many times do you find yourself wanting to return to your immediately previous tab, only to wind up in a loop of CTRL or Alt-Tab? Martineau shows how, with just a bit of planning, you can hotkey navigate to any open page you wish, or toggle easily back and forth between your current and previous tab.
Tired of returning to that search results page to check out the next item? It’s easy to open multiple pages from the search, or any other page, and then navigate your way through them. Here, Martineau also explains the difference between opening a new page, a new tab, and a new window. Separate windows can be quite handy, if, say, you are working on two different projects. You can even save the collection of tabs so they can be reopened the next time you launch Chrome. And if you accidently close a tab or window, Martineau has you covered on this, too. You can easily reopen that page after pressing Alt + F4.
Most of us think there’s nothing easier than conducting a Web search. Simply plug your terms into Google and press Enter. But what if you would prefer not to use Google, a browser that tracks and compiles all of your search data? Or maybe you’d just like to test out a different search engine, such as DuckDuckGo, which does not track your search data.
Have you ever heard of DuckDuckGo’s “!” “Bang/exclamation” search operator? The service has a long and growing list of search codes for different sites, such as Amazon, Yahoo News, Bookshare, and even Google. Martineau demonstrates how you can use these codes to perform a quick search limited to data from a single source. You can even create and save a search that will automatically return to a website and repeat a search with a different subject. For example, he takes you through the steps necessary to create an easy-to-run search that will reach out to Bookshare, search for books with your choice of key words in the annotation, and then present the list in the order of their copyright dates.
Google Reader View
Mac and Firefox for Windows users are probably already familiar with Reader View. When invoked, this feature removes a lot of the extraneous links and other data that make reading some webpages a genuine pain. Google’s version of this feature is called “Toggle Distilled Page,” and Martineau devotes a brief chapter to its setup and use. Unfortunately this feature seems to have gone temporarily missing. When I inquired about this I was told: “While the 'Toggle distill page contents' option isn't available in Chrome version 78 or 79, it is available in the Chrome Dev browser (version 80 and 81). If you don't want to wait for those versions to release you can download the Chrome Dev browser here."
In the meantime, Martineau describes how to use a Google extension called Mercury Reader to get you through this rough patch. He also introduces the reader to several other extensions, and describes how to locate, install and configure keyboard shortcuts for them.
New screen reader users may feel more than a little intimidated trying to follow along. For them I would recommend a tutorial about browsing with a screen reader, such as “Using the Google Chrome Browser with JAWS or NVDA" from the National Council for the Blind Ireland. You may also choose to wait for Martineau’s next book, which, judging by the brief interval between the release of this and his last tutorial, may already be available if you are reading this article via the AccessWorld archives.
Those who wish to learn to use a second browser, or who would like to move from IE to Chrome, will find a wealth of useful information in this book. The material covered in both Word and audio formats is largely the same, so choose your format and “get cracking with Chrome.”
Where to Buy
Get Cracking with Chrome for Windows, by Dean Martineau, is available from Tech for the Blind in two formats:
- MS Word Edition: $15
- Interactive MP3 Edition: $15
- Combo Pack containing both editions: $25
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
- Book Review: Windows Keyboard Power User Guide, by Dean Martineau by Bill Holton
- Book Review: 31 Cool Things You Can Do with Your iPhone: From Fun to Practical to Entertaining, by Judy Dixon by Deborah Kendrick
More by this author:
- Book Review: Getting Started with Google Suite: A Brief Overview of Google's Most Popular Productivity Apps by Lisa Salinger, Kim Loftis, and Chris Grabowski
- Vision Tech: Corneal Clarity