Category Archives: Web

Quick Hotmail control by speech

By Kimberly Patch

I got a question today about controlling Hotmail by speech. Here’s a short answer.

The good news about web programs is more of them now have keyboard shortcuts, and more of the shortcuts are standard. This makes it easier to use speech control without customization.

Do a web search for “Hotmail keyboard shortcuts” and you’ll find several lists. Here’s one from

Hotmail has a pretty good set of shortcuts, including some defacto standards. Utter Command e-mail commands like “New Message”, “This Reply”, “Reply All” and “This Save” work in Hotmail because Hotmail uses the common shortcuts for these functions (see UC Lesson 8.3).

For the less standard functions you can speak keyboard. Here are a few that are particularly useful:
“Letter fi” or “Foxtrot India” goes to the Inbox folder
“Letter fs” or “Foxtrot Sierra” goes to the Sent folder
“Control Dot” goes to the next message
“Control Comma” goes to the previous message
“Control Enter” sends

Tip: Make sure to say “Shift” before “Control “ if you use any of the shift control commands.

Probably the best way to control drop-down menus that you use frequently in web programs is to use the naming-a-mouse-click ability (see UC Lesson 10.24). You can say two mouse clicks in a row to control a drop-down using a single speech command.

Long web documents at a glance

There are two ways to speed up a computer task: Carry out the same steps you always have, but go faster, or find an easy-to-use tool that requires fewer steps.

If you need to navigate through long documents on the Internet — papers, standards documents, patent documents etc. — the Firefox HeadingsMap extension will save you a lot of time. It lets you navigate using a map of the headings in a document. The headings map also gives you a great overview — a quick mental map of the document. It works especially well with speech. And it shows errors in headings, which is useful when you’re putting together a long document.

HeadingsMap shows up as a small symbol containing an “h” on the Status bar at the bottom left corner of the Firefox window. If your Firefox window is maximized the “h” appears immediately above the “Start” button.

Click the “h” and a narrow window appears on the left containing all the headings and subheadings in a document. Click the “h” again and the window disappears. Right-click on the “h” and you’re presented with configuration options. I usually uncheck the “levels” checkbox, which makes the headings map a little cleaner looking.

In general, there are three different ways to navigate among items on tree views like the headings map:
– the mouse
– the Up/Down arrows
– the letter keys

The most efficient way to implement letter keys navigation is to let the user type more than one key of a selection, say “d o” to select “dove” rather than “dinosaur”. A less efficient way is to treat every letter as a new navigation event and jump to the next instance beginning with that letter.

Fortunately, HeadingsMap has implemented all three methods, including the efficient letter key method.This method works especially well with speech because you simply say the whole word to navigate to it, e.g. “dove”.

You can download the HeadingsMap extension here:

And here are a couple of especially long documents you can try it out on:
A paper on the effects of climate change on birds from the Public Library of Science:
The public draft of a World Wide Web Consortium standards document:

Tip: Scrolling by speech

I’ve gotten several questions lately about scrolling by speech, which is key to comfortable hands-free operation. Utter Command gives you several ways to scroll by speech. The best way depends on the situation.

To quickly look something over, use the speech command that allows you to see successive screens with a pause between changes. For example, “3 Screen Down Wait” moves down a screen, then after a default wait of two seconds moves down another screen, then two seconds later moves down a third screen. If you want a longer wait, add a specific number of seconds, e.g. “3 Screen Down Wait 5” (UC Lesson 7.23). 

To directly control the scroll bar by speech, place the mouse pointer on the scroll bar using a command like “99 by 10” and use the vertical drag command to move the scroll bar to a given point. For example “Drag By 50” moves the scroll bar to the middle. Then, if you then want to go three quarters of the way down say “Drag By 75”. You can also control the scroll bar incrementally, for instance, “Drag 3 Down” (UC Lesson 4.2, 4.5).

In some programs, including some versions of Word, the cursor moves to the page you scrolled to when you use an arrow command like “5 Down”. And in some programs, like Firefox, you can say a link number to move the cursor. In these cases you can leave the arrow parked on the scroll bar, edit the text, than say another drag command to move the scrollbar without having to move the mouse to the scrollbar again. In some programs, including WordPad, you have to move the cursor to the new page by clicking. In this case, keep the right ruler open on your screen so you can easily click back to the scroll bar when you’re ready to scroll again.

– If you use this method a lot, try naming a mouse click to move the arrow to the scroll bar at the home position (UC Lesson 10.24).

– You can also use this method to control horizontal scrollbars — use the “Drag 1-100 By” command.

– If you’re a ZoomText user, you can use this method even when the scrollbar is not showing on the screen.

Tell me what you think about scrolling by speech – reply here or let me know at info@ this website address.

Tip: Use TinyURLs to tame long Web addresses

Long URLs are awkward in many situations, most especially on Twitter, where character count is paramount. The Firefox Tiny URL Creator add-on gives you more room by reducing any URL to just a few characters.

Tiny URL creator also solves an occasional issue with the Utter Command Site List. The Site List — the list of websites you can get to using a single speech command — handles URLs of up to 100 characters. The Tiny URL Creator eliminates this limitation.

To set up the Tiny URL Creator, download it. It will add a menu item to the Firefox Tools menu. To create a URL from the current URL in Firefox say “Under t t c” to click Tools/Tiny URLCreator/From Current URL. Creating a tiny URL puts it in your system clipboard. Say “This Paste” to paste it anywhere.

See the UC Exchange page UCandFirefox  for more details.

Have you found Firefox or Thunderbird add-ons that make things easier when you’re using speech? Tell me about them – reply here or let me know at info@ this website address.

UC Exchange

The UC Exchange Wiki is up! Check it out (say “UC Exchange”). Over the coming months you’ll see pages on specific applications with advice on how to apply UC to those programs, including step-by-step tours. 

Friday Tip: Cutting and pasting from the Web

I’ve been asking people two questions lately:

1. What tasks do you do the most on your computer?

2. What tasks are frustrating to do by speech?

Cutting and pasting from the Web comes up frequently in both categories, and the frustration lies in selecting text from the Web.

When it comes to selecting text from the Web there’s good news and not so good news. The good news is that it’s easy to select in Firefox. The not so good news is selecting is not as easy as it should be in Internet Explorer.

Selecting text in Firefox

In Firefox you can use the same selection commands you’d use in any program. There’s a trick, however.

The Caret Browsing hotkey — “Function 7” — toggles text navigation commands like “3 Down” and “Go Home” from acting on the text to acting on the scroll bar. If you’re clicked into a text field, you’ll see the cursor appear and disappear when you say “Function 7”. When you can see the cursor, caret browsing is on and you should be able to move the cursor in text.

To see this say

“New York Times Site” to bring up your default browser (should be Firefox) to the New York Times site

“10 By 30” to click somewhere in a text field — adjust the numbers of necessary

“2 Down” to move the scroll bar up and down (by default)

“Function 7” to toggle Caret Browsing hotkey

“2 Down” to move the insertion point in text

Once you have the insertion point where you want it, you can use regular selection commands like “1-100 Lefts/Rights/Befores/Afters/Ups/Downs/Lines/Line Ups…” commands to select precisely.

So if you wanted to move the insertion point to the beginning of a line a couple of lines down, then select the next three lines plus the first two words on a fourth line, you’d say, “2 Down Home”, “3 Lines · 2 Afters”.

Selecting text in Internet Explorer

In Internet Explorer, you can select text using the Shift mouse method (you can use this in Firefox too, but the above method is generally easier).

Say, for instance, “10 By 40” to click at the beginning of the selection, then, for instance, “40 By 60 Shift Touch” to select from the beginning coordinates to the new coordinates. If you want to adjust the selection, say the second command again with different numbers.

Copying and pasting

Once you have something selected in either program you can copy and paste by saying a copy command like “Copy to Word” or “Copy to Window 1”.

Your tasks

I’d like to know what tasks you do the most on your computer and what tasks are frustrating using speech — let me know and chances are I’ll find a way to speed you up.

Gravity on the Web


Computer commands of all kinds — speech, keyboard and mouse — are much easier to use when they’re consistent across programs.

At the base level, it’s important that common elements like drop-down menus act the same. You control drop-down menus without thinking — click on an element or use the Left, Right, Up, Down and Enter keys.

Consistent commands are the real-world equivalent of having the same gravity in every room, or keys turning the same way to unlock.

Web applications are looking more and more like standard computer programs, but sometimes the elements that look familiar don’t act the way we’re used to. Drop-down menus usually respond in a familiar way to the mouse, but often don’t respond to the Up, Down and Enter keys.

But perhaps things are getting better.

The first drop-down menus to show up on Google Docs didn’t respond to Left, Right, Up, Down and Enter. Then most of the folder-view drop-down menus were arrow key/Enter enabled, but not document menus. A few months ago document menus changed from looking tab-like to looking more menu like, but still didn’t respond to arrow keys and Enter. Then, sometime in the last few weeks, the Doc menus were arrow key/Enter enabled (the change didn’t show up on the update notice).

The keyboard shortcuts enable better speech navigation as well. I can say, for instance, “3 Down Enter” to choose an item in an open menu, “3 Down 2 Right Enter” to choose a color on the open color menu, or “7 Right Wait 3” to take a three-second peak at each of the seven successive menus starting with the file menu open.

This is a great trend.

Now all we need is keyboard shortcuts to open the menus in the first place. We also need the same kind of control in all Web applications, including Google spreadsheets.

Friday Tip: Getting back to where you were on the Web

Question: when you’re looking for a website you’ve been to before, but haven’t put it on your UC List or in your bookmarks, what’s the fastest way to get back to it?

I’ve got a two-step solution for you, assuming you’re starting in an open browser. It works the same in Firefox and Internet Explorer.

1. Combine the command that puts the cursor in the address bar with the first two letters of whatever you’re looking for. If I’m looking for the Evite site, for instance for instance, I would say “Under Delta e v”

2. If the first choice is what you want say “Down Enter” to finish the job, if it’s the second choice “2 Down Enter” etc.

Friday Tip: Quick definitions

The second fastest way to look up a word in a dictionary using Utter Command is to select the word, then say “This Dictionary Search”. This command looks up the selection in and returns the results in a browser page.

The fastest way is to combine selecting the word and searching. For instance, “Word Dictionary Search”.

You can use these commands whether or not a browser is open.

Happy searching.

Friday Tip: Filling out forms

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about filling out forms using speech commands.

Here’s how it works:

The UC Keyword List allows you to say “Find” followed by any word or phrase to select that word or phrase in any program that has a Find dialog box. This includes Firefox and Internet Explorer. You can combine the word-finding ability with the Tab key to go straight to any field. For example, “Find First Tab” puts your cursor in the “First Name” field.

To see the forms facility in action, take this self-guided tour:
“Demo 2 File”
“Find Address Tab”
44 State St.
“Find Phone Tab”

The Keyword List comes loaded with common key words and phrases. Say “Add Keyword” to add your own (say “UC Lesson 10.1” for detailed instructions).

4/15/09 Note: The release version of Utter Command also includes the UC Tab List, which allows you to mix tabs and phrases in order to fill out two fields in a form at once. For instance, you can say “2 Tab John 1 Tab Smith”, to tab 2 fields forward, then fill in “John” and “Smith” in successive fields, or “3 Tab Address” to tab 3 fields forward and fill in your address, for instance 29 Downing St. See the UC List explanation in Overview for details, including pictures.