Screen Reader accessibility - Keyboard shortcuts

As a new graduate student in HCC program at University of Maryland Baltimore County who is legally blind, I am using NVDA screen reader as my assistive technology and Firefox as my web browser. It is about three months that I have found Zotero Standalone combined with Firefox plugin the most screen reader accessible reference management tool for Windows. Although it is one of the best and most accessible tools in this regard, it lacks some keyboard accessibility features. If these keyboard access shortcuts are added to this amazing tool, we, screen reader users, will benefit a lot. I list some of these below. I would be more than happy if this discussion can lead to a comprehensive list of shortcut keys that can be added to the software.
1. Currently, moving items between collections can be done through drag and drop with mouse. Shortcut keys and context menu commands for this functionality are so useful: "Move Item/Collection", "Paste Item/Collection".
2. The "Add New Item" in the menu bar doesn't include "Add Stored File copy" while it is in the list of menu items when the "Add New Item" is pressed in the toolbar. The toolbar is not keyboard accessible and I have to do mouse simulation with my screen reader to reach it.
3. Deleting an item from a collection or entire library is only possible by right-clicking and selecting the corresponding menu item in the context menu. shortcut keys can help a lot in this regard to increase the speed.
4. Zotero Standalone can have a context menu entry in Windows Explorer so that we can right-click on an item such as a pdf file and choose to add the item to Zotero. Currently this addition is possible through drag and drop which is very time consuming using a screen reader.
5. The zotero button in Firefox, located next to the address bar, needs combination of several key strokes to reach via a screen reader. it would be very helpful if a Firefox shortcut can be assigned to it to open the menu under that button using the shortcut key or simulating the pressing of that button to add the paper directly to zotero Standalone.

Sincerely yours
Ali abdolrahmani
  • All good points. I'm not involved in that part of development, but I know Dan has mentioned that keyboard accessibility is important, so I'd hope these will happen, though unfortunately especially 1.) will take time.

    Some of these may already have solutions, though.

    2.) If you install the Zutilo add-on: You can configure a keyboard shortcut for "Open new item Menu" which makes this accessible via keyboard. Zutilo itself isn't built for accessibility, so setting it up the first time may be cumbersome, but once that's done that should work (and more generally be useful for keyboard shortcuts).

    3.) Ctrl+Delete actually does delete an item from the library, as does simple delete when you're looking at the "My Library" view

    4.) I don't think that will happen--it's hard to do for a cross-platform app--but addressing 2.) would give you a keyboard way of doing that, correct? (Store copy of file is the same as drag&drop).

    5.) I'm not quite sure which button you're referring to, but both can be accessed via keyboard: The button that opens Zotero in Firefox that is next to the address bar--that is accessible via Ctrl+Shift+Z.
    Or the button that's actually in the address bar that adds items to Zotero from supported webpages, which is accessible via ctrl+shift+S

    Hope that helps!
  • Hello, I have just come across Zotero yesterday, looking for an accessible reference manager,, as I am blind and use a screen reader.

    I have to say I am pretty happy with it so far! Good job to the people developing this.

    I am however running into one of the same problems as the original poster of this thread. Namely the first one. I haven't been able to figure out how to put items in collections using the keyboard. This is a major roadblock for me as I am sure you are aware how important it is to be able to organize references into different groups.

    Does some way exist to do this using only the keyboard?

    If not, please take this into account as it is very important for users such as myself that can only operate a computer using the keyboard.

    A solution like OP suggested, having an "move to collection..." in the context menu for an item would work fine. Alternatively, I can also imagine another solution, where when an item is selected, the user can ctrl + c and then once they have selected another collection, pressing ctrl + v would add the item there.
  • I think some of the other items have improved (e.g. because Standalone has better top menus now, I think the browser button can be configured with a shortcut), but I'm afraid nothing new on collections. Developers are very much aware that this is broken for accessibility and my understanding is that fixing accessibility/making collections keyboard accessible is a firm part of the plans for an improved interface, hopefully not too far out, but that's all I have on this.
  • Hi, I just wanted to know if there is a github issue created for the feature for moving items to collections through the context menu instead of drag and drop. I would like to follow the issue so I can know when it is fixed and follow developments.

    This is a super important feature for me as a screen reader user and is causing me a lot of headaches.

    It also seems that this is a simple feature. basically just adding an extra menu item to the right click menu for items in zotero library, so the fact that there hasn't been any progress in that for 6 years now is truly frustrating :(
  • @samkacer: We should have something on this soon. We'll post here when something is available to test.
  • Just commenting for support of the need for resolution of this barrier. I'm a screen reader and keyboard user who has to waste a lot of time with inefficient workarounds when moving items between collections. I'll be very excited once a solution is created.
  • how do you blind guys do move items between collections? I can't find how and it's very frustrating, as I'm trying to collect stuff for a piece I'm working on and there's no keyboard shortcut for doing this yet.
  • Hi Thanks for this much needed request! I am wondering if any one encountered accessibilities issues with intext citation using word? so, I found that cite while writing not to be accessible. Is there a solution for it?
  • Can you say more about what's not working? The Word add on is definitely 100% keyboard accessible: You can assign a keyboard shortcut to any of the functions (or, use alt and then the arrow keys to get to them on the tab), the bar is just a search bar and the additional fields like prefix and suffix for any cited item are accessible using ctrl+down arrow

    I'm not sure if it provides correct screen reader feedback though, e.g. with the search results -- I thought people had tested that successfully in the past, but not positive about that part.
  • The Word add on is somewhat usable, but takes some playing around to figure out. I recommend checking the "use classic add citation dialogue" box in Zotero preferences > cite > Word processors. I do find modifying a citation, to add page numbers for instance, difficult. I haven't figured out yet if it's just me or a barrier.
    As far as adding items to additional collections goes, all I've managed to work out is to select the items and export them. Then go into the new collection and import them. To avoid dragging and dropping files I use the "add attachment" option in an item's context menu.
  • I do find modifying a citation, to add page numbers for instance, difficult.
    Note that you can just type "p123" (that is, the letter "p" followed by the page number) into the default citation dialog after choosing a citation to add a page number. You don't need to use the pop-up for that, though I would hope it would be usable.

    Sorry for the delay on adding items to collections via the keyboard. We have some work underway on that and should have something soon.
  • Thanks for having the Classic add citation option for accessibility. It works well. However, there are two things to mention. Some edit fields are not named, so I am not sure what they are for.
    Another thing is citing multiple resources: How to create multiple citations using Classic add citation dialog in an accessible way? The arrows to move selected resources/references are not accessible or accessed by a screen reader like JAWS. Is there another way to activate the source we are selecting to move to the multiple citation area? Thank you in advance!
  • @ztas: Can you say more about what problems you're encountering in the regular citation dialog?
  • There are textboxes that are unnamed. The text box that goes with the dropdown menu is not next to each other. I have to tab through unnamed textboxes before selecting page/chapter/etc. then tab back to the first unnamed textbox to put page number or whatever related info based on what I selected.
    Also for the option for multiple citations, the arrows on that to move citations over is not found by JAWS/accessible/reading.
  • The classic view window opens however when navigating through the fields available, "edit" is the only thing that is announced, not the edit label. When using the tab key, I go from the search box (not labeled), to the text box for "page, book, chapter, etc." however all that is read is "edit", then I go to the edit box for Prefix, then Suffix, then I get to the drop down field for "Page, chapter, book, etc." None of the 4 edit boxes in the dialog box are identified by JAWS.
  • @ztas: Are you referring to the regular citation dialog or the classic one? I was asking about the regular one, in which you just type your search terms, select from a list, and press Enter to insert. You can add page numbers after making a selection just by typing "p123" (the letter "p" followed by the page number). It's possible to add multiple citations just by repeating the search process for each citation.

    The classic citation dialog isn't really being developed anymore, and we'll be overhauling the regular dialog, so it'd be helpful to know where you're having trouble with the regular dialog.
  • I was referring to the classic citation in my comments and inquiries. The classic view is the only accessible way for me to do intext citations. The regular view is not at all accessible.
    Here is why: I can't type information into the regular citation box. If I do happen to get information in that box, JAWS won't read the information that appears based on the search and as I navigate through the choices, I don't know which option I am choosing.

    I can share a video with you to show the issue. Just let me know.

    Also, Why classic view isn't being developed? Again, this is the only accessible way of doing intext citations.
  • @dstillman If you want to test this without JAWS, the behavior in the quick format dialog is the same with Windows narrator and with NVDA. It works fine to the point where you put in a search term, but it doesn't read out any of the results as you scroll through them (NVDA just repeats the search term, W Narrator is silent).

    On the topic (and while I'm by no means an expert), there are also what look like fairly significant accessibility issues in the beta:
    - I'm not able to navigate between tabs with the keyboard
    - The tab operator doesn't provide any visual feedback for several options (e.g. there are two tabs after the search PDF item that I have no idea what they do - the actual but).
    - I'm also not able to select any text in the PDF reader using the keyboard.

    Getting someone with more experience to help with some testing there would be very helpful (apart from being the right thing to do, you're likely aware that accessibility is being watched increasingly closely by US universities, several of which, mine included, have gotten into legal trouble for web/IT accessibility-related issues).
  • I am a blind 1st-year PhD student and am attempting to find a platform that I can use with a screen reader (JAWS is my preference) that does what Zotero typically does. Since the accessibility of Zotero still seems poor versus other software platforms, I am wondering if people here can suggest a strong alternative. Otherwise, there are navigational techniques that I-someone who recently worked as a teacher of the blind-have not been able to identify. If I want to navigate through the interface to select articles after I upload them, I get no responsiveness. I can use the menus and get into a few unlabeled edit fields, but that leaves me experiencing very little of what Zotero allegedly does. How are people getting into the articles after they uploaded them? Maybe Zotero would consider partnering with Freedom Scientific to do a webinar or podcast about how to use Zotero, which would also flush out the remaining accessibility barriers.
  • +1

    I would really love it if Zotero could address those accessibility features.

    @"Justin MH Salisbury" - I'm not affiliated with the Zotero developers in anyway, but we do have some Zotero documentation. We'd be very happy to chat how to make the documentation more accessible or do a webinar if you can make some introductions.
  • First of all, I'm so excited to see that adding an item to collections can finally be accomplished using the keyboard in the latest Zotero version.

    As for navigating the main Zotero windows, @Justin I think the unlabeled or poorly labeled fields you're encountering involve the tag selector. I would recommend hiding the tag selector if you're a screen reader user, unless you're actually working with tags. Navigate to the view menu, then layout, then uncheck the tag selector. At this point There are two main panes you'll be interested in - the libraries/collections treeview, and the list of the selected collection's contents. You can tab and shift+tab easily back and forth between these two areas once the tag selector is hidden.

    I have not actually used Zotero to read my references, since Zotero mostly supports the PDF format and most of the PDF's I download have very poor accessibility. I store the full-text links to EPub or HTML versions in Zotero when available, and I can walk through this process if it's helpful to anyone. Mostly I use the collections to manage references by project section and to generate properly formatted citations.

    I've been using Zotero with a screen reader for the past 3 years. I haven't figured everything out, but I'm happy to brainstorm solutions. I threw together some tips for another user a few months ago and can share them. I have not fully explored the newest version, but my initial sense is that it should work similarly once the PDF reader is turned off.
  • I'm a totally blind post-grad student using Jaws screenreader. I also use the IOS Zotero app on my iPhone. Between the two platforms, I find that I can work around most accessibility issues. For instance, I've not found a way to add extra fields to an entry. This means, for example, that I can't add multiple authors if I'm using Zotero on my desktop. Apparently there's a plus symbol that needs to be activated but my Jaws doesn't seem to be able to access that. However, I can add more creator fields using the IOS app, and I can choose the type of creator as well, which is another thing that isn't accessible on the desktop version. If these accessibility issues could be fixed for the desktop version, that would be totally awesome.

    There's one thing that I've not been able to manage on any of the platforms however so I'd be really grateful if someone has found a solution and could let me know. Alternatively, if there's no accessible solution, please could this be fixed? The problem is that I regularly want to generate bibliographies from my collections without a document containing citations inserted through the Zotero plugin. However, I can't select multiple items in a collection except where I am selecting consecutive items. So if I want to select an item written by Smith then another by Williams, I have to select all the items in between those authors. This is obviously not practical. I've found the keyboard solution which theoretically allows this operation. The trouble is that Jaws won't read the items that the cursor is passing over as I arrow down the list. This means that it's impossible to know which items to select. Has anyone found any kind of work around for this issue? If so, I'd love to hear from you.

  • Apparently there's a plus symbol that needs to be activated but my Jaws doesn't seem to be able to access that. However, I can add more creator fields using the IOS app, and I can choose the type of creator as well, which is another thing that isn't accessible on the desktop version. If these accessibility issues could be fixed for the desktop version, that would be totally awesome.
    @Enth8406: Sorry about that — we'll fix those in the desktop app. Note that you can press Shift-Enter on the keyboard while you're in a creator row to add another row.

    We'll see if we can fix the non-contiguous selection issue. (To explain for others, you can select non-contiguous items via the keyboard by using Ctrl-up/down-arrow and space bar, but as @Enth8406 notes, it currently doesn't read the row under the cursor in that mode.)
  • @Enth8406: We've fixed keyboard access to the creator buttons in the latest Zotero beta, and the fix will be included in Zotero 6.0.14 within a few days.
  • edited September 29, 2022
    @Enth8406: Zotero 6.0.14 is available now with keyboard access to the creator buttons.
  • Hi again.

    Thanks heaps for making the creater buttons accessible on the desktop version. That's an enormous help for me because now I don't have to keep switching between the desktop and IOS apps to enter things like book sections where there are editors and authors.

    On the other issue about being unable to use a screenreader to select non-contiguous items in the library, hopefully there'll be a fix for that soon? In the meantime, I've come up with a work-around for anyone who, like me, wants to generate bibliographies from the library without having used those refs in in-text citations. What I do is create a different collection and copy all the refs that I want in my bibliography into that collection. Then I can go and select every ref which will now be contiguous in that collection and generate the bibliography. It takes a bit of mucking around to shift the relevant refs into the collection but it's still way better than having to rely on a sighted person to do it. It's also way faster and more reliable than generating the bibliography from my entire library then going through the bibliography afterward and deleting the unwanted refs, which is what I was doing before. Hope this helps someone.
  • edited October 6, 2022
    On the other issue about being unable to use a screenreader to select non-contiguous items in the library, hopefully there'll be a fix for that soon?
    @Enth8406: This is now fixed in the latest Zotero beta, and the fix will be included in Zotero 6.0.16.
  • @Enth8406: The problem with reading of non-contiguous items is fixed in Zotero 6.0.16, available now via Help → Check for Updates.
  • Hello, I just installed Zotero on my PC laptop but I dont know where to learn how to use it with Jaws. İs there any guidelines or videos to learn how to use zotero with Jaws? I would be appriciated any help. Maybe a volunteer could even meet up on zoom to walk me step by step based on their experiences of using zotero with jaws?
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