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Using PuTTY with NVDA Screenreader
Using PuTTY with NVDA Screenreader

Remotely access lab devices with the PuTTY terminal program in conjunction with NVDA Screenreader.

Kernessa Woodbury avatar
Written by Kernessa Woodbury
Updated over a week ago

For some Practice Labs content, you may be required to remotely access lab devices with the PuTTY terminal program in conjunction with NVDA. With the right knowledge, you can navigate PuTTY, the remote device, and it's output quickly and efficiently. Here are some tips to get you started.

NVDA Configuration and Commands

Practice Labs recommends these configuration settings for NVDA. While you are certainly welcome to use any configuration that works for you, this one has proven to work well in the terminal. Configuration changes are geared towards making it easier for you to navigate around the terminal and review text output on a more granular level with text navigation commands you are already familiar with. Normal text review is not possible due to the way that your keyboard controls the terminal. For example. pressing the up arrow in a remote session populates the prompt with the previously typed command, rather than shifting focus to the previous line. Thus, alternative navigation is necessary.

It is recommended that you set your NVDA keyboard layout to laptop, again, simply because this layout uses text navigation commands that are similar to the ordinary ones. It may help to use commands like those you are already familiar with. Changing your NVDA modifier key to Caps Lock will help with this too. It is also recommended that you set your review mode to "object review" no matter which keyboard layout you choose, as this is how you can use NVDA to access output returned from each shell command you run.

While in a terminal session with these configuration changes, you can review text with the following NVDA commands:

  • NVDA+Up Arrow: reads the previous line of your terminal

  • NVDA+Down Arrow: Reads the next line of your terminal

  • NVDA+Right Arrow: Reads the next character in your terminal

  • NVDA+Left Arrow: Reads the previous character in your terminal

  • NVDA+CTRL+Right Arrow: Reads the next word in your terminal

  • NVDA+CTRL+Left Arrow: Reads the previous word in your terminal

If you chose to use Caps Lock as the NVDA modifier key, these review commands very closely resemble those of normal text review. Ordinarily, to read the previous line of text, you would press the up arrow. To read the next word, you would press CTRL right arrow. Now, you can just add the NVDA key. Caps Lock is recommended because using the insert key as a modifier may be difficult due to the design of your particular keyboard.

Putty Configuration

While PuTTY is quite accessible right out of the box, there are still a few places where it lacks keyboard control. For instance, you cannot select text unless you use a mouse, nor can you bring up the system menu unless you right click the window. However, you can change most of this behavior for each session, and these are a few settings that may improve your experience as a screenreader user.

System Menu Appears On ALT Alone

Navigate to the treeview in the PuTTY Configuration dialog that appears when you first launch the program. Expand the tree to Window>Behavior and tab until you hear "System Appears on Alt Alone". You can also choose to have it appear on ALT+Space if you wish. Enabling this setting is recommended so that you can access the system menu while in a remote session, which contains options to minimize/maximize a window, change the settings of the current session, and a very useful "Copy All to Clipboard" button. Ordinarily, this menu is only accessible via right-clicking the window.

Ctrl + Shift + {C,V}: System Clipboard

Navigate to the treeview in the PuTTY Configuration dialog that appears when you first launch the program. Expand the tree to Window and arrow down until you hear "Selection". Do not expand it, rather simply tab until you hear "Ctrl + Shift + {C,V}". This is a combo box in which you can choose to use the keyboard shortcuts Ctrl + Shift + C and V to copy and paste. This is recommended so that you do not have to open the system menu and select "Copy" or "Paste" manually.

Other Tips*

  • You still need a mouse to select text in PuTTY, but you can mark text for selection using NVDA+F9 to start the selection and NVDA+F10 to end and copy it to your clipboard.*

  • If you don't like doing that you can also press alt/alt+Space, click "Copy All to Clipboard", and paste all your terminal output into a notepad file to review and select normally.

  • You can use PuTTY's built in logging feature to have all session output automatically saved to a file of your choice, which you can then have open in notepad. This saves you from copying all and pasting.

  • If NVDA loses focus in your terminal and starts reading you output from a previous command when it should read output from the one currently running, type "reset" or "clear" to remove any old output for it to get hung up on. Be careful not to clear away any information you may need for a lab later!

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