Is there a key to navigate by groupings?

Luke Robinett

Often times when I’m tabbing around in a webpage or Windows app I will hear the container announced as ”grouping.” An example of this is the ribbon in Microsoft office applications. For example, you have the clipboard grouping which then contains your cut, copy and paste operations. NVDA seems to recognize these groupings but I can’t figure out the shortcut key to navigate by them, similar to how you can press D for landmarks or L for lists. Does such a navigation key exist and if so, what is it? I’ve looked through the documentation but couldn’t find anything.


Hi Luke

Use Control + left and right arrows in a ribbon to move from one group of features to another.

When on a web page, you can move to the end of a container element using comma. Add Shift to move to the beginning.

I hope this is helpful.

All the best.


-----Original Message-----
From: <> On Behalf Of Luke Robinett
Sent: Monday, 31 August 2020 6:49 AM
Subject: [nvda] Is there a key to navigate by groupings?

Often times when I’m tabbing around in a webpage or Windows app I will hear the container announced as ”grouping.” An example of this is the ribbon in Microsoft office applications. For example, you have the clipboard grouping which then contains your cut, copy and paste operations. NVDA seems to recognize these groupings but I can’t figure out the shortcut key to navigate by them, similar to how you can press D for landmarks or L for lists. Does such a navigation key exist and if so, what is it? I’ve looked through the documentation but couldn’t find anything.


I can't say what may happen on any webpage, but when it comes to Windows, groups as part of the ribbon interface all behave in the same way, regardless of the program involved.  I wrote the following tutorial a couple of years ago:   That tutorial is basic, and not all that long ago someone asked me privately for a lot more detail, and this is what I ended up putting together:

The tutorial I put together was done very quickly, and like so many things under Windows, there is more than one way to achieve the same ends, and the same keystrokes will behave according to the context in which they are invoked.

When you hit ALT, and only ALT, to throw focus to the collection of Ribbon Identifier Tabs at the top of a program, at that time, the left/right arrows will move you from ID tab to ID tab, announcing the ribbon that you have focus on, but you are not yet in the controls for that ribbon, you are only on its identifier tab.

When sitting on an identifier tab for a ribbon, hitting either TAB or Down Arrow will throw focus on the leftmost control in the leftmost Group (essentially, first control of the first control Group) in the ribbon.  At this point is when the functionality of the arrow keys changes, and things can get messy, which is why I prefer TAB for control by control traversal within a group and moving between all the groups (if that’s what you’re looking to do).  Using TAB will go, control by control, through a group before moving to the next group.  CTRL+L/R Arrow will jump directly from the group you’re currently sitting in to the previous/next group in the ribbon.  The CTRL+L/R Arrow gives you a way to traverse groups quickly whether you’re exploring them, or you know, say, you want a control in the Paragraph group in Word.  It’s much quicker, once you’ve dropped into the Word ribbon’s clipboard group (leftmost), to hit CTRL+R Arrow 2 times to jump to the paragraph group and start looking than it is to hit TAB 21 times to get through each and every control in the Clipboard and Font Groups before arriving at the first control of the Paragraph Group.  Were you to use the L/R and Up/Dn Arrow keys once you’ve dropped into the ribbon, they behave very much like they do were you navigating a table, and where Groups are ignored as far as how navigation behaves.  For example. If you drop yourself into the Word Home Ribbon and start navigating with TAB, you’ll start on the Paste split-button control in the Clipboard Group, then land on the Cut, Copy, Format Painter, and Office Clipboard control for the Group (the last one).  If you continue tabbing you go into the Font group, through all its controls one by one, then the Paragraph and its controls one by one, etc.  If you drop yourself into that same Ribbon, but use R arrow as your navigation key, you do start on the Paste split button, but move to the right to copy, then to the right again, into the Paragraph group to the Bold, Italic, Underline split button, strikethrough, subscript, superscript, then, finally, clear formatting controls.  If you keep R-Arrowing you then move in to the Paragraph Group to the left justify, center, right justify, even distribution justify, then line and paragraph spacing control.  Essentially, you’ve run across the ribbon Groups, through the center of each, hitting only the controls in the middle of each.  There are controls both above and below the center line in each of the groups, and using the other arrow keys would move you in the respective directions.  This can be very handy once you already intimately know the controls in a group and you want to get to one you know is, say, below the bold control (which happens to be the Text Effects and Typography control).  For myself, I never use the straight L/R/Up/Dn arrow keys for navigating the ribbon.  I far prefer sticking to CTRL+L/R arrow to move between Groups, and TAB to move between controls in a Group so I know I’ve hit all of them.

As to your question about using Dn Arrow rather than 4 TABs in File Explorer, sure, you can think of that as a shortcut if you like.  But it’s really just an artifact of the way File Explorer is designed.  There are a couple of controls in the File Explorer frame that most of us, including me, never use, and using TAB will land on those first before dropping into the actual ribbon controls while hitting Dn Arrow bypasses those and drops you straight in to the Ribbon controls.

As I’ve said repeatedly, and it applies generically, any OS is wildly complex, and the exact details of how a given keystroke will behave is very specific to context.  The same keystrokes get used over and over again, and those for specific function (e.g. CTRL+S) tend to remain static across programs while things like the arrow keys, tabbing, etc., change up a bit depending on what needs to be traversed in context, which changes depending on the Window in use.  You can safely presume they’ll move you, but exactly how and exactly where is entirely dependent on the Window you have open and the program that’s running in it, be it File Explorer, MS-Word, some music composition program, etc., etc., etc.

As to substituting “horizontal arrows” for L/R Arrow and “vertical arrows” for Up/Dn Arrow this falls into a “that ship has sailed” category.  The actual directional indicators (whether fully written out or abbreviated) are a part of the culture of computing, and not limited to assistive technology.  While I can go for the logical shortening of left and right as L/R, and up and down as Up/Dn, that’s the extent I can go for (or at least that I think would be accepted and communicate precisely).

Q: So, if I understand your explanation, tab/shift+tab move among all
the controls within a ribbon group, while control+arrows move between
first items in each group.

A: Correct.  Though I prefer to think about CTRL+arrow key as moving between ribbon groups.  It’s got to land somewhere when landing in a group, and that somewhere is on the first control for the group it’s landing in.  Groups themselves are just containers for their controls, so you can’t land on a group, just in one.


Q:  But you're saying that they (TAB/SHIFT+TAB navigation) cycle through all groups, which implies that I could theoretically tab from the first to the last control in the entire ribbon menu.

A: Correct, and not “theoretically,” as that’s precisely what happens.  When you jump from the last control in a given group to the first control in the next the Group name is announced as part of that jump so you know you’ve exited one group and entered another. It's conceptually the same as a menu in the sense that you land in a menu but then you begin navigating its controls.  The menu itself is the container, but the menu itself serves no other function.


I would not use your terminology about zoom in/out with regard to navigation keys.  The CTRL+Arrow navigation is group navigation, or group-to-group navigation. TAB navigation (or SHIFT+TAB) I simply next/previous for whatever the context happens to be, whether in ribbons, webpages, or whatnot.  In the case of ribbons, it’s next/previous control, except when on the very first or very last control at which point wrapping back/forward occurs, which is pretty typical overall.

There are, and always have been, controls outside the ribbon, and when they are present they rest on “the window frame” very much like the minimize, maximize, and close controls always do.  It’s just that most of us never touch them.  But like all things, a screen reader cannot presume to know whether you actually want to use, for example, the Save, Undo Split Button, Redo/Repeat typing button, or Customize Quick Access Toolbar control that are part of the window frame for MS-Word.  So it’s got to visit them, and when it visits them is as part of the “ribbon go round.”  There are a couple of other controls, too, related to your account if you’re using one of the newer versions of Office as well as the Ribbon Display Options button.

With regard to sliders, the original physical slider on audio control equipment (with which I am quite certain you must be familiar) is used to increase (up) and decrease (down) some attribute.  On things like mixing boards, these are always oriented vertically, but I’ve seen some older stereo equipment where they were oriented horizontally.  When oriented horizontally (left/right) going to the right always increases and left always decreases.  It makes conceptual sense to always use the up/down arrow keys for increase/decrease independent of how a given designer may have chosen to orient the actual display of a slider.


Brian - Windows 10 Pro, 64-Bit, Version 2004, Build 19041  

A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally.

          ~ Oscar Wilde



While I don't disagree with your descriptions and explanations, I think they are far too detailed for the beginning user and I think it is better to start with much less detail while giving enough information to allow efficient use of ribbons. If someone wants to know more details, they may then want to go through your tutorial. They will then see your explanations and add your information to the conceptions and framework they learned from mine. I prepared a tutorial for working with ribbons many years ago which allows the user to work efficiently with them without going into a level of detail that would likely be discouraging for many learners. I shall reproduce it in a moment at the end of this message, under my signature.

Before sending the tutorial, I read it again and made some changes for clarity.

You may agree or disagree with my approach but now people know my views and have both tutorials to work with. and of course, people may try both and see which they want to use first and then decide if they want to work with the other.


I'll provide a brief tutorial based on what I wrote years ago of how to work with ribbons.

I've added a little to it here.

Ribbons are ribbons wherever you find them. This tutorial teaches you how to move through them and see or skip what you want. certain ways of movement may cause you to miss things and not have any idea you are.

First, I'll discuss a structure found in later versions of Windows that you need to know about-- the split button.
One thing you will see as you look around ribbons and in other places in Windows are split buttons. A split button often allows you to see more options than just the default action. Let's take an example.
Let's say you come across a split button that says shut down Windows. If you press enter on that button, Windows will shut down. That is the default action. Split buttons often show more options if you either right arrow while on the button or down arrow. As an example, if you are on the shut down split button, you can right arrow and a list of options will open. the items in the list include sleep, hibernate, restart, and others. You up or down arrow through the list or use the short cut commands you hear announced as you move through the list. the letter shortcuts often take actions without pressing enter so be careful when using them, just as you are in menus.

So, let's review. You find a split button that says shut down. If you press enter, the computer will shut down. If you right arrow, other options may be displayed. Or if you down arrow, other options may be displayed. A split button won't work with both methods. One method, either right arrowing or down arrowing will do so if it can be done with the button. Try both methods if you don't know which one might work. If you are on a tool bar which extends across the screen from left to right, down arrowing will open additional options. If the strucgture moves up and down on the screen, right arrowing will open more options. That's why if one doesn't work, try the other. If you open the options a split button offers and don't want to work with them, arrow in the opposite direction to move out of them. For example, if you right arrowed to open more options, left arrow.
Some split buttons don't do anything when you right arrow or down arrow. In that case, open them with alt down arrow. Then tab through the additional options. I've almost never worked in this way with split buttons but if you want to close a split button, try alt up arrow if you've used alt down arrow to open it.

Now, to ribbons themselves.

Regarding ribbons, much of the complaining about them is not warranted if you understand how they work and how to use short cut commands effectively and efficiently. and I would strongly recommend against using the JAWS virtual menus, no matter what the JAWS training material says about ribbons being difficult to use. the training material is just plain wrong and using virtual menus, you will be unnecessarily dependent on one screen-reader. There are other disadvantages to using them which I won't go into here. I will say regarding the dependence on one screen-reader iswsue that tutorials for programs that use ribbons done for blind people generally don't use the JAWS virtual ribbons and you will be greatly limiting yourself in learning such programs with tutorials if you use the JAWS virtual ribbons. The JAWS virtual ribbons are off by default so you needn't do anything if you haven't turned them on.

Try looking at ribbons and doing what is described below in wordpad. Everyone with Windows 7 and higher has the ribbon version of Wordpad on their machine.

The essence of working with ribbons is this:
Press alt to move to the upper ribbon.
You will probably be on an item that says home tab. Items on the upper ribbon are announced as tabs such as home tab, view tab, etc.
To see what ribbons are available, right or left arrow repeatedly to move through the ribbons. Move in one
direction to move through all of them, just as you would to move through all the menus.

For this demonstration, just so we are all doing the same thing, move with the right arrow. When you get back to where you started, you can keep right arrowing to move through the items again, if you wish. You can move through all the items as many times as you want. Or you can move with the left arrow whenever you want to move in the opposite direction.

Stop on view. Then start tabbing. You will move through all items in what is called the lower ribbon that are in the view ribbon.

In other words you tab to see the items in a ribbon once you move to it. Tab moves you forward through the items, shift tab moves you backword.
So tab and shift tab are used instead of up and down arrow.

Many items in the lower ribbon are buttons. Use either the space bar or enter to activate the button. You may find a button that opens a menu and if you press enter or the space bar, you will then be in a menu.

Each time you move to an item, you will hear the short cut command to work with that item.
But JAWS has a bug and you often won't. To hear the short cut, use the command JAWS key tab. If you are using the default JAWS key, it is either insert.

Try tabbing to an item in a Wordpad ribbon and using the command insert tab. You will hear some extraneous information. The last thing you will hear is the short cut sequence. You can repeat the information by repeating the command as often as you want.

Let's look at an item which is usually called the application menu. Return to the main program window in wordpad by closing the ribbons. You can either press escape repeatedly, if necessary, or you can press alt once. Now, open the ribbons again with alt.
Start right arrowing until you get to the application menu.
You will hear application menu and then something like button drop down grid. Never mind drop down grid. It's a description you don't have to worry about. The important things are that you are on a button and at the application menu. Press enter or the space bar to activate the button. Activating the button opens the menu. Start down arrowing. you will hear the item you are on and the short cut information to open or cause that item to take an action. This iss the same behavior as in any standard menu.

I told you one of the long ways to open the menu. The short cut way is alt f. When you open the menu and move through it, you will hear all the letters announced. for example, if you down arrow to save as, you will hear alt f a. that means that, when you are in the main program window, you open the menu with alt f, then type a. Alt f opens the menu and a then opens save as. In other words, alt f was chosen as the short cut way to open the single menu in ribbon programs because it allowed the preservation of commands people have used for decades, such as alt f, a, for save as.

Ribbon programs have one menu and you should look through it. Many important and common commands and interfaces such as options may be there. By options, I mean the kind of options interface you used to find in the tools menu.

Now the we have seen the menu, let's look at the ribbons structure some more.
To review, and add more information, as you have seen, you can move to the ribbon interface with alt. Then right and left arrow, just as you would move from menu to menu.
You can also move to a ribbon using alt and a letter. So, alt h takes you to the home ribbon. Alt v takes you to the view ribbon, etc. Once you are on the ribbon you want to work with, tab to move forward through the items in a ribbon. Shift tab to move back through the items. So tab and shift tab are used instead of up and down arrow.
Ribbons are divided into categories which you will hear announced as you tab. for example, in an e-mail program, a ribbon may have a category named respond. You may hear this announced as respond tool bar. As you tab, you will hear commands such as reply and forward in the respond category. When you hear a category announced, don't tab until you hear everything spoken. You will miss the first command in the category if you do. I'm talking about working with an unfamiliar ribbon.
there are often many more commands and items in a ribbon than in a menu. So memorize command sequences for items you know you will use regularly.
As I said, there are different categories in ribbons to help organize items. You can quickly jump from category to category in a ribbon to help you see if there is a category you want to look through.
Move to a ribbon in Wordpad. For example, alt h for hhome or alt v for view.
Then repeatedly issue the command control right arrow to move forward from category to category and control left arrow to move back. When you get to a category you want to hear the items in, start tabbing. Of course, you can shift tab to move back.

You can switch between moving by groups and individual items as often as you want. You can move to a group, look through the items, then continue to move by group, switching to individual items again when you find a group you want to move through by individual items.
Open a ribbon in Wordpad and tab through it to see how it is organized by moving through it.
Then use control right arrow to move by category and tab to see what is in a category.

Commands such as control o, control n, control s, control r, etc. are mostly retained in programs
that use ribbons, though you won't hear them announced. If you don't already know them, you'll have to find them in ways such as by looking at a list of keyboard commands for the program. Such lists are often available in the help for the program. If you already know the commands from having used an older version of the program, most or perhaps even all of the commands you know will work.