Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Bridges Blog Series: Managing Mail May 2024

It’s a Website, It’s an App, It’s an Email Provider… It’s Gmail

Managing Mail May

When we go to school or work full-time, we need to communicate effectively with our colleagues, teachers and employers. Checking our email is part of our morning routine, and we continue to check our email throughout the day. This May, we’ll explore ways to read, write and organize email for our personal and professional lives.

This week, we tackle the omnipresent (though maybe not omnipotent) Gmail.

Gmail: Then and Now

Gmail has long been (and continues to be) one of the most popular providers of email accounts for all users, blind/low-vision and sighted alike. For many years, it was regarded as one of the most accessible email providers available, and the ideal service for blind/low-vision people who wanted a simple way to access their email on the Web for free. This was primarily because of Gmail’s “Basic HTML” view, which contained fewer graphics and more shortcut keystrokes than its “Standard View.” However, as noted by TechCrunch, in February 2024, Google disabled Basic HTML view, making Standard View the only format in which Gmail can be displayed on the Web.

So, is Standard View accessible? We can’t answer that question with a simple “yes” or “no.” While there is screen reader support built in, a guide to using Gmail with screen readers that can be found on the home page, and several shortcut keys still present, there are also prominent accessibility bugs and places where a user has to experiment with unexpected workarounds to get to places that were once easy to find. The interface can also be generally cluttered, causing the learning curve to be quite steep. For these reasons, many people who once used the Basic HTML version of Gmail have recently switched to Microsoft Outlook for email access on their computers. However, some professional and educational settings leave us no choice but to use the Gmail Web interface, bugs and all. So, here are some tips to make that easier.

First-letter Navigation

The Bridges Resource Library JAWS Power Moves entry, referenced using first-letter navigation to make the process of getting to where we want to go faster and easier on a busy Web site. Gmail is a perfect case in point. There are a lot of buttons on the Inbox page, and none of them have shortcuts to them anymore.

For example, we can use the B for button to get to the “Compose” button if we want to send a new email. While we’re talking about shortcuts, here’s a very handy one: While the Inbox is a table, there are multiple tables on the page, so T for table is not necessarily the quickest way to get there. We can, however, press X, which will immediately take us to the top of the Inbox.

First-letter navigation is also helpful once we open an email, but this can get a bit tricky. When the screen reader first reads an email, pressing enter does not open it; it selects it. So, once we hear the sender and subject of an email, it is most efficient to down arrow to the link labeled with the subject of the email.

For example, if you were to get an email from our Bridges Helpdesk responding to a question about using Gmail, you would first hear “unread, Bridges Help Desk, Re: Using Gmail”. But, if you want to open that email, you would want to arrow down until your screen reader says, “Link Re: Using Gmail.” This link will take you to the email itself, where you can use h for heading to skip the navigation buttons and get to the text of the email.

Composing an Email: Sometimes You Just Have to Ignore JAWS

We know—this is antithetical to every lesson of every assistive technology teacher, who is constantly reminding students to listen to their screen readers. But sometimes we are forced to talk (or, more accurately, type) over our screen readers, and the “compose mail” section of Gmail is one of those instances. For example, in the “to” field, Gmail suggests people we might want to send an email to based on past recipients or contacts. If the name it comes up with is correct, we can press enter to select it and move on. However, if it is not, we simply have to keep typing, ignoring and interrupting what our screen reader is reading. After each recipient, press enter, then tab when you’re done to go to the subject field.

Accessibility Can Break. When It Does, Try the Gmail iPhone App!

Only a few days before he began writing this Transition Tip, our project coordinator, Chris Nusbaum, was attempting to set an automatic reply for his work email to be delivered while he was away. This feature had been accessible in the past, both in Basic HTML and Standard views. But, when he tried to do it most recently, he found that the settings button did not do anything when he pressed enter on it. As an alternative, he tried the Gmail iPhone app, and that allowed him to set up the automatic reply and access other settings throughout Gmail.

This is an example of something Chris and other people who use Gmail with screen readers have noticed as a common trend. Though the Web interface changes frequently and the accessibility is spotty at best, the iOS app is much more user-friendly. If you like another email client, such as iOS Mail or Microsoft Outlook, you need not receive emails in both apps at the same time; in fact, you can “hide” an account in the Gmail app so emails don’t show up in two places at once. But, if you have a school or work-based Gmail account, the Gmail app may be worth having as a more usable workaround.


Though the accessibility of Gmail has been the subject of some controversy and there is room for debate, we have tried to be as objective as possible in this article, basing our content (as we always do) on factual information and the experiences of our team members. We invite you to try Gmail and decide what’s best for you. If you need help in that process, reach out anytime to our free Bridges Helpdesk.

Please check out the Bridges Technical Assistance Center Resource Library today!

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Bridges Technical Assistance Center’s Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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