For Thunder Version 2. By Alasdair King (Alasdair@webbie.org.uk)
Thunder is a free screenreader. It’s more powerful than Narrator, easier to use but less powerful than JAWS, and more focused on Microsoft applications than NVDA. If you don’t like it, try NVDA from http://www.nvda-project.org or System Access to Go from http://www.satogo.com.
This guide assumes you know standard Windows terminology and how things work – windows, desktop, drives, that kind of thing. It focuses on the hotkeys that are useful when using Thunder.
Using Thunder means learning how to get around the system and what keys you need to press.
CONTROL makes Thunder shut up so you can think about what to do next.
CURSOR KEYS are used in lists and windows and menus and lots of places. They’re most useful in text areas, like Notepad or Email or the Run box in the Start menu. You can also use HOME and END in text areas for the start and end of a line, or CONTROL+HOME or CONTROL+END for start and end of the whole area. CONTROL+A selects all the text in the text area, then CAPSLOCK+H reads it out. Thunder will speak as you move around. CAPSLOCK+L reads the current line.
Use TAB to go around applications, and SHIFT+TAB to go back. This will go from button to button, or list, or pane, or textbox. It won’t leave the application window and it won’t bring up the application menus. CURSOR KEYS sometimes move around some windows, like the Shut Down window, but not every window.
Use SPACE to toggle checkboxes and press buttons. Use CAPSLOCK+SHIFT+O to read out the button or checkbox or whatever you’re currently on.
Use ALT+F4 to close the current window. If you’re on the desktop this will shut down your computer.
Use CONTROL+ESCAPE or WINDOWS to open the start menu. Then you can cursor around it. Look in All Programs for programs to run. Or open the start menu, type the name of the program: it’ll be displayed in a list, and you can cursor up and down until you hear it. Sighted tip: add shortcuts to the top of the Start menu for the programs you want to use.
Use ALT+TAB to cycle through the open programs. Hold down ALT then tap TAB slowly to move through the applications, and release ALT when you have got to the application you want. SHIFT+ALT+TAB takes you backwards.
WINDOWS+E opens Windows Explorer. TAB, CURSORS and RETURN will get you around Explorer. If it’s a bit much try the Disk Explorer program in WebbIE.
ALT brings up the menu for a program. Then cursor around to explore the menus. Press return to select a menu item. As you explore you’ll notice common shortcuts listed on the menu items, like CONTROL+S to save, or F1 for Help. These are found in most programs, but not all. Where they are listed in the menus or described in the Help file for the program you can use them. If there aren’t any such shortcuts you’re out of luck with that program.
The other thing to try is pressing the MENU key to the right of the right ALT key, or SHIFT+F10. This usually pops up a context menu of things you can do, like copy or paste. Cursor up and down to hear the menu contents and RETURN to select something.
ESCAPE closes most dialog windows and menus. RETURN makes most things take effect.
WINDOWS+D minimises everything and goes to the desktop. Then you can cursor around icons and files and folders there. Press RETURN to start or open the current item. You can also press TAB and you’ll get to the Start button, the Quick Launch shortcuts, the Task Bar, and the System Tray (Notification Area). This is how you get to things like the time or system volume or alerts in the system tray. Within each section use the CURSOR KEYS and RETURN to start things.
In most lists – Start menu, program menus, Windows Explorer lists of files etc. – you can press the first few characters of the item you’re looking for and the focus will go there. HOME and END will take you to the start or end of the list if you get confused.
CAPSLOCK+; (SEMICOLON) makes Thunder repeat what it just said. This is useful when you’ve got somewhere but not quite grasped what you’ve heard.
CAPSLOCK+F reads the current application window, from top-left to bottom-right. This is useful when there is text in the window that you can’t get to by tabbing around.
CAPSLOCK+SHIFT+N reads the current application window title so you can tell what the current application is.
For web browsing you have two choices: use the WebbIE text browser or Internet Explorer. In Internet Explorer you use PAGE UP and PAGE DOWN to move through the page. F4 brings up a Google search facility so you can just type your search words then get a list of results – much faster than using Google directly. F6 takes you to the next form field. F7 takes you to the next header on the page. F10 brings up a list of just the links on the page. TAB and SHIFT+TAB take you through links and form elements and END and HOME take you through form elements only.
For the vast majority of users, the previous “what you need to know” section is quite sufficient. There are already enough keystrokes to learn. Stop, and learn application-specific keystrokes (like for Word or WebbIE) instead. Work out which applications are accessible to you with what you can do, and don’t use anything else. Get on with doing things you want to do with your computer.
For some users, however, they want to do more with their system. They’ll need to gain a more complex understanding of how Thunder works and how it can interact with applications. You may want to go get NVDA at this point and play with that. Don’t get me wrong, Thunder is enormously powerful in what it can do, but it’s not designed for you power users. Don’t expect any help.
Still here? OK, I warned you. You’ll need your number key pad working for lots of the following.
You have two things when you’re using Thunder. There is a reading cursor, which is where Thunder is at, and there is the mouse cursor. They aren’t the same. If you’re typing into Notepad the reading cursor is moving as you type, but the mouse cursor is sitting where it is. If you’re in Notepad and you’re moving the mouse around the screen, it doesn’t change where letters will appear when you type. The reading cursor isn’t the caret either, though. The caret is where you’re typing. The mouse pointer is wherever it’s at. The reading cursor is where you’ve told Thunder to read.
Sometimes you need to explore the screen to find things you can’t tab to. You need to use the Numeric Keypad. If your keyboard doesn’t have one then try to find a special key that turns it on. Then you can use NUMPAD8 to move up, NUMPAD6 to move right, NUMPAD4 to move left and NUMPAD2 to move down. This moves the reading cursor AND the mouse pointer but not the caret. Thunder reads whatever you hit. You can jump to the top-left corner of the current window with NUMPAD7 and the bottom-right corner with NUMPAD3. Other number pad keys move the pointer, but they’re a bit flaky. When you’re done messing around use ALT+TAB or the CURSOR KEYS or TAB to move the reading cursor back to where you were. Or you can press NUMPAD5 to click the mouse pointer wherever it has got to. Or NUMPAD-MINUS to right-click. You can even select text or whatever by pressing NUMPAD-PLUS to left-click-and-hold the mouse, moving the mouse pointer, and then press CAPSLOCK+NUMPAD-PLUS to release the left mouse button.
When you get to somewhere by tabbing or mousing and you want to be able to get there again more quickly, set a marker to that location. Then you can move the mouse straight back there. For example, tab around until you get to a button of interest. Press CAPSLOCK+S and then a letter and this location will then have a marker. At any time you can press CAPSLOCK+G and then the same letter and the mouse pointer and reading cursor will be moved to that location on the screen – but not the focus. But you can then send a left-mouse-click with NUMPAD5. Note that the marker isn’t located where the mouse pointer was, it’s located where the reading cursor or focus is. This all breaks if your window isn’t in the same place as when you placed the marker, of course: you may want to maximise windows before you start making markers, so you are working with a consistent window, which you can do with CAPSLOCK+T for tidy.
There are lots more advanced shortcut keys in Thunder. You can see them all in the Thunder settings window and check out the Hotkeys list of shortcut keys. Many of them aren’t documented, so you’ll have to figure them out yourself. Note that you can’t get to this Hotkeys list unless you know how to move the mouse…
Thunder supports Scripting and has a powerful scripting engine. See the Thunder Scripting Manual for how to create your own scripts. No-one has ever written a script, to our knowledge, except the Thunder developer himself. But you could, for example, set a hotkey that maximises the current window, moves the mouse cursor, then reads the object under the mouse, then moves the mouse back – you could then say to the user “press CAPSLOCK and T and you’ll get the time!” It’s very flexible and powerful.
Thunder works fine in UAC. Install, in the Ease of Access Center – under “Use the computer without a display” –make sure Thunder is checked. Thunder should now start up in UAC, but it can be temperamental. Start Thunder, then with it still running restart the machine. When you log back in all should be well. If you close Thunder at any point you may have to restart to get it to work again.
There’s a big set of help files in Thunder: hit the Help button on the main Thunder form. Then contact Roger or Marg at Screenreader.net. You’re probably best calling on 0844 500 4441, but you can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.