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Use Gmail standard view with a screen reader

Quick start guide

Welcome to Gmail standard view! Here are some tips for using Gmail with a screen reader:

  • The page includes these parts: Gmail action bar, Google bar, Compose button, Navigation list, Main section (where you view or read your email), Hangouts or chat, and Footer.

  • Gmail uses ARIA labels and headings to allow for easy screen reader navigation. You can navigate through the application using tabs or your standard screen reader keystrokes.

  • Gmail keyboard shortcuts allow you to perform certain actions quickly. For example, to send a message that you've finished composing, press Control + Enter (Windows, Chrome OS) or Command + Enter (Mac). For full list of shortcuts, press the question mark key (?). If you're using a screen reader with different modes, such as NVDA or JAWS, you'll need to be in focus mode (for NVDA) or turn off the virtual cursor (for JAWS) in order to use Gmail keyboard shortcuts.

  • Use the right and left arrow keys to move back and forth between the navigation list and the main content area of the page. For the navigation list, the ARIA landmark is "Navigation," and the heading is "Labels." For the main content area of the page, the ARIA landmark is "Main," and the heading is either "Conversations" or the subject line of the open conversation.

As you use Gmail, you can navigate to this help page at any time using one of the options below:

  • Navigate to the hidden link for accessibility documentation near the top of the application: "Using Gmail with screen readers." When you open the link, this help page opens in a new window.

  • Open the Settings menu and select Help. Browse the list of topics, or enter a search term and press Enter. Press Tab to navigate through the dialog, then press Enter to open a help article. The help documentation opens in a dialog where you can read or navigate to other topics. To dismiss the dialog and return to the main Gmail page, press Escape.

For more details, keep reading through the step-by-step guide below.

Step-by-step guide

Recommended screen readers

Gmail standard view includes all Gmail features and is the default view for supported browsers.

We recommend the following screen readers for Gmail standard view:

Operating system Screen reader Browser
Microsoft Windows NVDA Firefox
Mac VoiceOver Google Chrome
Chrome OS ChromeVox Google Chrome

For unsupported browsers, Gmail also provides a basic HTML view that includes fewer features. Learn more about standard view compared to basic HTML view, or how to use basic HTML view with a screen reader.

Sign in

If you don't yet have a Gmail account, learn how to create an account.

Once you have a Gmail account, go to to sign in to the standard view of Gmail in any supported browser. You'll be taken to one of two pages:

  • The sign-in page, where you can enter your email username or select it from a list, then enter your password. If the page lists an email address, but you need to sign in to a different account than the one listed, select Manage accounts on this device.
  • If you arrive at a page describing Gmail instead of the sign-in page, select the Sign in link to go to the sign-in page.

If you need additional information or tips, learn more about signing in to Gmail.

Navigation overview

Gmail standard view uses a consistent page structure to enable easy navigation. The following sections explain what you'll find in each part of the Gmail interface.

Main content

The main content section of the page is where you can browse and read your emails. When you first sign in to Gmail, your focus is in the main content section, on the first message in your inbox. You'll hear information about the email, and you can press Enter to open the message.

Note: For some screen readers, you might need to type the shortcut j to move to the first message. (JAWS users, remember to turn off the virtual cursor to use this keyboard shortcut.)

The ARIA landmark for this section is "Main." When you're viewing a list of conversations, the heading is "Conversations." When you're viewing an individual conversation, the heading is the subject.

Compose button

The Compose button lets you start composing a new email. You'll find more details about composing messages below.

Navigation list

The navigation list is always present on the page. Use the right and left arrows to move between the navigation list and the main content area of the page.

The ARIA landmark for the navigation list is "Navigation," and the heading is "Labels."

The navigation list includes the labels in your Gmail account, such as Inbox, Sent mail, Drafts, and others. When you select a label in the navigation list, the main content section of the page displays the conversations for the selected label. Some of the labels might be followed by a number in parentheses, indicating the number of conversations within the label that contain unread messages.

Here are options that can appear in your list of labels:

  • Inbox: Conversations that contain incoming messages.
  • Starred: Conversations that you've marked with a star.
  • Important: Conversations that Gmail predicts are important to you.
  • Sent Mail: Conversations that contain messages that you've sent.
  • Drafts: Conversations that include a message you were writing and haven't yet sent.
  • Categories: Conversations categorized by type, such as promotional emails.
  • Circles: Conversations grouped by senders, according to your Google+ circles.
  • Your other labels: Any other labels you created.
  • More labels section: Other, less-frequently used labels, such as spam and trash.

Chat or Hangouts

The Chat or Hangouts section of the page allows you to start chat and video hangouts.

The ARIA landmark for this section is "Complementary." If you've upgraded to the new Google Hangouts, the heading is "Hangouts." If you're using the old chat, the heading is "Chat." For the best experience with a screen reader, we recommend the new Google Hangouts. Learn more about keyboard shortcuts for Hangouts in Gmail.

Google bar

The Google bar provides links and pop-up menus related to your Google Account, such as other Google applications, account notifications, and the link to sign out of your account.

The ARIA landmark for this section is "Banner."

The following links and pop-up menus are available in the Google bar:

  • Google+ link: This link is announced as "plus" followed by your username. If you're a Google+ user, this link takes you to your Google+ page.
  • Apps: This pop-up menu opens to allow you to navigate to other Google applications.
  • Unread notifications: This pop-up menu opens to show notifications from your Google+ account. If you're a Google+ user and you have Google+ notifications, you can read the notifications here.
  • Share: Link to share on Google+ if you are a Google+ user.
  • Account: This pop-up menu enables you to sign out, add an account, manage your account, or view Google's privacy policy. If you’re a Google+ user, the menu also has a link to your Google+ profile.

At the top of the application, near the Google bar, you'll also hear two hidden links for screen readers: basic HTML view and accessibility documentation.

Gmail action bar

The Gmail action bar lets you search your Gmail account or navigate to your Contacts and Tasks lists.

The Gmail action bar includes the ARIA landmark and heading "Search."

The following options are available in the Gmail action bar:

  • Gmail link: Link to current page. Press Enter to refresh.
  • Search Gmail edit box: Type search terms to find Gmail messages. You'll learn more about search later in this guide.
  • Advanced search options button: Opens advanced search options form.
  • Search Gmail button: Performs the search (or press Enter while in the search edit box).
  • Navigate button: Press Enter to open a navigation menu. Options include Gmail, Contacts, and Tasks.


The Gmail page footer includes these links:

  • Manage: Link to manage your Google storage.
  • Terms & Privacy: Link to Google’s Legal notices, Privacy and Program policies, and Terms of Service.
  • Account activity: Link to open the account activity box showing the last times and places your Gmail account has been signed into.

Gmail keyboard shortcuts

Along with your screen reader navigation keystrokes, Gmail keyboard shortcuts make it easier to navigate and take actions in Gmail.

Some keyboard shortcuts are enabled by default, and you can turn on the remaining shortcuts by following the steps below:

  1. Navigate to the Settings button in the Gmail action bar, then press Enter.
  2. Navigate down the Settings menu to Settings, then press Enter.
  3. Move down the page to the "Keyboard shortcuts" option.
  4. Select "Keyboard shortcuts on."
  5. Navigate to the Save changes link, then press Enter.

Note: If you're using NVDA, you need to be in focus mode to use Gmail keyboard shortcuts. If you're using JAWS, the virtual cursor must be off.

If you ever forget a key combination, you can open a list of keyboard shortcuts in Gmail by pressing the question mark (?). Along with a list of shortcuts, the dialog contains a link to view all view all Gmail shortcuts in the Help Center. To close the dialog, press Escape.

Browse and read messages

Inbox navigation

By default, most Gmail inboxes are organized in three tabs:

  • Primary: Your main mail.
  • Social: Mail from social networks and other social sites.
  • Promotions: Deals, offers, and other marketing mail.

This organization makes it easy to focus on messages that are important to you first and to scan through bulk mail all at once later. You can choose to cancel any of the non-Primary tabs, moving this type of messages into the Primary tab. You can also add additional categories as tabs. Categories are also available to you as labels in the navigation list.

To change your inbox settings, choose one of these options:

  • After the last inbox tab, choose the option to Select which tabs to show or hide.
  • Navigate to the Settings button in the Gmail action bar, then press Enter. In the Settings menu, select Configure inbox.

In the dialog, select or deselect tabs to enable in your inbox. Options include Primary (always enabled), Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums. Learn more about inbox tabs and categories.

When you navigate in your tabbed inbox, you'll hear "main table tab list" when you enter the tabs, followed by the tab name, whether the tab is selected, and the tab order. For example, if the "Primary" tab is selected, you might hear "Primary, tab selected, 1 of 3 heading." To move between tabs, press Tab. To select the tab, press Enter.

If you only have the Primary tab enabled, the table tab list isn't present at the top of your inbox.

Browse a list of conversations

In Gmail, messages are grouped into conversations. For example, if you send your friend Kim an email, Kim's response to you is grouped with your original message in one conversation. When you open any Gmail label, such as your Inbox, or when you search your mail, Gmail displays a list of conversations that match that label or search. You can use the right and left arrows to move back and forth between the navigation list and the list of conversations.

The list of conversations is formatted as a table. You can use table navigation, or you can simply press the up and down arrows to move through the conversation list. You'll hear the following information about conversations in the list:

  • Selected: By default, the conversation isn't selected. Once you select the conversation, you can perform actions on it using the action bar.
  • Starred: By default, the conversation isn't starred. Once you star a conversation, you can view all the starred conversations under the Starred label.
  • Unread: If the conversation contains unread messages, you'll hear this announced.
  • Senders: The names of senders that have contributed to the conversation. If there are multiple senders, you'll hear a shortened list.
  • Number of messages in the conversation, if the conversation has more than one message.
  • Date or time: The date or time the email was sent.
  • Subject: The subject of an email and any label that you’ve assigned to conversation. In some cases the first few words of the message might be displayed.
  • Other flags: You'll hear any special information about the conversation, such as "Has attachment."
  • Message snippet: You'll hear the beginning of the message text.

The following information is also present in the conversation list, but isn't announced by default unless you navigate column by column within the conversation table:

  • Importance: The importance marker appears on messages that Gmail predicts are important to you. If you don't want importance markers, you can turn them off in your Gmail settings.
  • Labels: If you've added labels to a conversation, this information isn't announced in the inbox.

Select and take action on conversations

The conversation action bar contains buttons and drop-down menus that apply to currently selected conversations. The conversation action bar is different from the Gmail action bar described above, which contains your Gmail search box.

If no conversation is selected, the conversation action bar includes the following options:

  • Select: Press Enter to open a drop-down menu with options for selecting messages, such as All, None, Read, Unread, Starred, or Unstarred.
  • Refresh: Press Enter to load the latest version of your conversation table.
  • More: Press Enter to expand the menu. If no messages are selected, the only option under the menu is to Mark all as read.

If you've enabled keyboard shortcuts, simply press x to select a conversation.

When one or more conversations are selected, the conversation action bar includes the following options:

  • Select: Select or unselect other conversations.
  • Archive: Archiving removes messages from your inbox, but keeps them in your account so that you can always find them later. You can find archived messages in your All Mail label, or by searching in Gmail.
  • Mark as spam.
  • Delete: Move a conversation to the trash label, where it will stay for about 30 days before it’s permanently deleted.
  • Move to a label: Move to a label, or to spam or trash. You can also create a label or manage labels from this drop-down.
  • Labels: Add or remove a label for the selected conversations, or create a new label.
  • More: Press Enter to expand the menu and explore options including Mark as read, Mark as not important, Add to tasks, Star, Filter messages like these, and Mute.

Note: Many of these options are also available as keyboard shortcuts.

The following additional buttons are always present:

  • Inbox section options: This pop-up menu gives you the option to show more messages within the conversation table, show up to a certain amount of messages, hide a section when it’s empty of messages, and to View all Inbox settings.
  • Older button: This button is enabled if there are older messages matching your label or search that aren't currently listed on the page. Press Enter to see older conversations.
  • Newer button: This button is enabled if there are newer messages matching your label or search that aren't currently listed on the page. Press Enter to see newer conversations.
  • Settings button: Press Enter to adjust your settings, send feedback, or get help with Gmail.

Read messages in a conversation

To open a conversation from your inbox or another list, press Enter. The page now displays all the messages in the conversation, as well as labels, stars, and actions you can perform on the conversation.

Messages can be in one of two formats: expanded or collapsed. Expanded messages have a heading level 3 and display all information related to the message. Collapsed messages only display the sender, date, the beginning text of the message, and whether the message has attachments.

When you first move to a conversation page, the last message and all unread messages are expanded, and the rest are collapsed. Because only expanded messages have a heading, you can easily find the unread messages in a conversation. Use keyboard shortcuts n and p to navigate to next and previous messages.

As you browse the conversation page, you'll hear the following information:

  • Conversation subject: The subject is heading level 2.
  • Importance marker button: Set to on in messages Gmail predicts are important to you.
  • Labels buttons: List of labels that are applied to this conversation. Select Enter on a label to view a list of all messages with this label.
    • Each label has a close button (x). Select the x to remove the label from the conversation.
  • One or more messages.
  • Attachments area: If the message has an attachment, you'll hear "attachments area." You can take the following actions on attachments:
    • Preview: Press Enter on the attachment to preview in Projector. To exit, press Escape.
    • Download: Press Enter on the Download button to save the attachment to your computer.
    • Save to Drive: Press Enter on the Save attachment to Drive button to add the attachment to your Google Drive.
  • Reply button.

The following controls are also present on the page:

  • Expand all button: Expands all messages.
  • Print all button: Prints the conversation.
  • In new window button: Opens the conversation in a new window.

Compose or reply to a message

To compose a new message, follow these steps:

  1. If you've enabled keyboard shortcuts, press c to open a new message. Otherwise, navigate to the Compose button in the navigation list, and press Enter to open a new message.
  2. Type the recipient in the To field.
  3. Optional: Use the From field to change the sending email address from a pop-up menu. Learn how to send mail from a different address or alias.
  4. Optional: To add Cc recipients, press Control + Shift + C (Windows, Chrome OS) or Command + Shift + C (Mac). To add Bcc recipients, press Control + Shift + B (Windows, Chrome OS) or Command + Shift + B (Mac).
  5. Press Tab to the subject field.
  6. Type the subject, then press Tab to the message body.
  7. Type your message.
  8. Optional: Refer to the next section for additional choices, such as changing formatting, adding attachments, or spell-checking.
  9. When you're ready to send the message, press Control + Enter (Windows, Chrome OS) or Command + Enter (Mac) to send, or press Tab to the Send button and press Enter.

Before sending your message, the following additional options are available:

  • Add formatting: To add formatting, such as bold or italic text, select the text that you'd like to format using Shift and the arrow keys. Then use keyboard shortcuts to change formatting.
  • Add attachments: To add attachments, press Tab past the Send button to the Attach a file button, then press Enter.
  • Spell-check: To check spelling before sending your message, follow the steps below.
    1. Press Tab past the formatting options until you hear "more options." Expand this menu, then navigate to Check spelling and press Enter.
    2. Press Control + ' (Windows, Chrome OS) or Command + ' (Mac) to move to the first misspelling.
    3. When you're on a misspelled word, press Control + m (Windows, Chrome OS) or Command + m (Mac) to open a list of suggestions, then press the up and down arrows to hear suggestions. Press Enter to select either a word you'd like to use or the Ignore option.
    4. Continue spell-checking by pressing Control + ' (Windows, Chrome OS) or Command + ' (Mac) to move to the next misspelling. Use Control + ; (Windows, Chrome OS) or Command + ; (Mac) to move to the previous misspelling.
    5. When you've finished spell-checking, navigate to the Send button to send your message.

To reply or forward a message, follow these steps:

  • In a conversation page, select the Reply button or choose a different option from the More menu, such as Reply all or Forward.
  • To reply to the last message in a conversation, navigate to the Reply edit box.

To close a new message without sending it, press Escape. The message is automatically saved as a draft. When you're ready to resume working on your draft, navigate to the Drafts label in the navigation list.

Search for messages

If you want to find an email, it can be difficult to browse through hundreds of old messages or click through multiple labels. Instead of browsing, try using Gmail search:

  1. Move to the Search Gmail edit box in the Gmail action bar.
  2. Type your search terms, then press Enter.
  3. The list of conversations is now your search results. Your focus is on the first conversation in the list.
  4. To exit your search results and return to your inbox, press the left arrow to move to the navigation list, and select Inbox.

When you search in Gmail:

  • Gmail searches the messages in the All Mail label, which includes messages that you've sent or received but haven't deleted. The Spam and Trash folders aren't searched.
  • Searches aren't case sensitive.
  • The search terms are matched against words in the Subject, To, and From fields, and in the message body. Gmail also tries to search attachments.

For more advanced searches, you can either use search operators in your search terms, or you can use a form for entering advanced search options. Both of these search methods are described in the following two sections.

Search operators

By default, your search terms are matched against the words in every part of the message and sometimes in attachments. If you like, you can specify a single part of the message and other attributes by using a search operator. For example, you can specify whether you want to search through messages that have been read, that are in a specific folder, etc. Here are some examples of searches using search operators:

Sample search Search results
is:unread All unread messages.
from:david Messages with "David" in the sender field.
to:david Messages with "David" in the recipient field. Messages with the email address in the sender field.
from:david subject:concert Messages with "David" in the sender field and "concert" in the subject field.
rock OR concert Messages that contain either "rock" or "concert." Note that OR must be capitalized.
"rock concert with David" Messages that contain the exact phrase "rock concert with David."

You can use parentheses to group words in a search. Here are some examples:

Sample search Search results
subject:(rock concert) Messages in which the subject contains both rock and concert.
subject:"rock concert" Messages in which the subject contains the exact phrase "rock concert."
(rock concert) OR bananas Messages that either contain the words "rock" and "concert," or contain the word "bananas."
from:((mickey mouse) OR (donald duck)) Messages in which the from field either contains "mickey" and "mouse," or contains "donald" and "duck." Both sets of parentheses are necessary.

To learn more, read a list of all search operators.

Advanced search options

You can use advanced search options in addition to search operators. To use advanced search options follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to the Advanced search options button in the Gmail action bar, then press Enter.
  2. A form opens where you can enter your search criteria. Press Tab to navigate around the form and enter one or more of the following criteria:
    • Search "All Mail," or select a different label in the list box.
    • Enter search terms in the "From," "To," or "Subject" fields.
    • For searching the message body, enter terms in "Has the words," "Doesn't have," or both.
    • Select the checkbox for "Has attachment" to search for messages with attachments.
    • Select the checkbox for "Don't include chats" to exclude chat conversations.
    • To restrict your search to messages that are greater than or less than a particular size (in MB, KB, or Bytes), use the "Size" fields.
    • To restrict your search to particular dates, use the "Date within" fields.
  3. Once you completed all the required fields, press Tab to the "Search Mail" button and press Enter.
    • Note: Instead of searching, you can select the Create a filter with this search link. This option takes you to another form where you can choose what to do with messages that meet your search criteria, such as skip the inbox or apply labels.
  4. To leave the form without searching, press Escape.


Gmail enables you to create labels, apply labels to conversations, and use labels for finding conversations. For example, you can create a "Vacation" label to mark conversations related to your upcoming vacation.

Labels that you've created are included in the navigation list. You can select any label in the navigation list to bring up all conversations that have that label. You can also search for conversations in a label by using the label: search operator (e.g. label:vacation).

To add labels to conversations, follow these steps:

  1. In any conversation list, select the checkbox next to a message to select it. If you're already viewing a single conversation, you can skip this step.
  2. Press L to open the labels menu, or navigate to the labels menu in the conversation action bar and press Enter.
  3. Navigate down the list, then press Enter to apply the label.

To create a new label, use one of the following options:

  • In the navigation list, select the Create new label link at the very end of the list. Enter the new label name, then press Tab to the Create button and press Enter.
  • Open the labels menu by pressing L or navigating to the conversation action bar and selecting the labels menu. Navigate to the very end of the list to the "Create new" option. Enter the new label name, then press Tab to the Create button and press Enter.

View or change Gmail settings

To view or change your Gmail settings, follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to the Settings button in the Gmail action bar, then press Enter.
  2. Navigate down the list to Settings, then press Enter.
  3. The Gmail settings open on the General tab. The General tab contains basic Gmail settings. To hear other categories of Gmail settings, press Tab to cycle through the remaining tabs, and press Enter to open a tab.

Learn about all Gmail settings.


Vivian is a Gmail expert and the author of this help page. Leave her feedback about this help page.

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