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An In-depth Introduction to the WordPress Block Editor for Screen reader Users

Introduction

Welcome to the WordPress Block Editor Tutorial Series. This tutorial introduces screen reader users to the WordPress block editor by covering blocks in the context of WordPress, and offering some tips and tricks for getting things done as efficiently as possible in the new and more complex editing environment. Future tutorials are also in the works that will cover each of WordPress’s default blocks.

We’re not writing this because we think it’s time to jump on the block train. We decided to publish these tutorials because other users of assistive technology might find themselves in situations where their employers or clients have switched to the block editor and so those users find themselves in a situation where switching back and forth from block to classic editors creates more problems than it solves. (Spoiler alert: Switching back and forth really isn’t sustainable). Assistive technology users who want to experience the new editor will also find these helpful.

What Are Blocks In WordPress?

Blocks are the components for adding content in the new WordPress editor. They are used to transform a single document into a collection of discrete elements, each of which has an explicit structure. Block structure and settings are separate from the settings for the entire document, and block settings and document settings have their own distinct parts within the editor’s user interface.

Comments on Discoverability of Keyboard Shortcuts

We’ve tested and documented a significant number of shortcut keys in order to help make the editing experience as efficient as possible, but they were not easy to find. Most are not documented within the editor, and there is no link to any outside documentation to find further information. We made an educated guess that “richedit”, (the technical term for what WordPress is calling a “media rich editor”) implied that the new WordPress editor is supposed to be something like Microsoft’s WordPad. We looked up the keystrokes for that editor, tested them with the new WordPress editor, and our educated guess turned out to be correct. We could make that educated guess because we have the background and experience with screen readers and windows to make that possible. Most screen reader users, or even just average users, do not have that background. It would not occur to most to make that educated guess, and it shouldn’t have to.

We went with Wordpad and not Microsoft Word because while Wordpad is a richedit application in the technical sense, Microsoft Word is not. Furthermore, the block editor as “Microsoft Word for WordPress” is an unattainable goal as long as the block editor lives in the browser. The goal of “Microsoft Word for WordPress” is unattainable because Microsoft Word and the browser have entirely separate, and very different, document object models which never meet. Not all the Wordpad keystrokes work, so we have documented the ones that do.

Tools used for this tutorial

  • WordPress 5.5.3 using the twentytwenty theme
  • Browsers: Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome; both browsers always kept up to date.
  • Screen readers: JAWS 2021 and 2020, NVDA 2020 and Microsoft Narrator

Frequently used keyboard shortcuts

Notes:

  • If a shortcut requires two or more keys at the same time, the keys are separated by a plus sign (+).
  • The shortcuts in this article refer to the U.S. keyboard layout. Keys for other layouts might not correspond exactly to the keys on a U.S. keyboard.

Editing Shortcuts

ActionShortcutContext
CutCtrl + XText and Blocks
CopyCtrl + CText and Blocks
PasteCtrl + VText and Blocks
UndoCtrl + ZText and Blocks
BoldCtrl + BText only
UnderlineCtrl + UText only
ItalicsCtrl + IText only
Insert hyperlinkCtrl + KText only
CancelEscapeText and Blocks

Move around in a document/block editor using the keyboard

ActionShortcutContext
1 character leftleft arrowText and Blocks
1 character rightright arrowText and Blocks
1 word leftCtrl + left arrowText and Blocks
1 word rightCtrl + right arrowText and Blocks
1 line upUp arrowText and Blocks
1 line downDown arrowText and Blocks
Beginning of lineHomeText and Blocks
End of lineEndText and Blocks

Edit and move text and graphics

ActionShortcutContext
Select previous characterShift + left arrowText only
Select next characterShift + right arrowText only
Select previous wordCtrl + Shift + left arrowText only
Select next wordCtrl + Shift right arrowText only
Select to beginning of lineShift + homeText only
Select to end of lineShift + endText only
Select previous lineShift + up arrowText only
Select next lineShift + down arrowText only

Delete text and graphics

ActionShortcutContext
Delete previous characterBackspaceText only
Delete previous wordCtrl + backspaceText only
Delete next characterDeleteText only
Delete next wordCtrl + DeleteText only

Specific to block editor

ActionShortcutContext
Switch between Visual and HTML EditorsAlt + Ctrl + Shift +MText and Blocks
Select Block typeSlash (/)Blocks only
Show/hide block toolbarAlt + F10Blocks only
Show/hide the settings toolbarCtrl + Shift + comma (,)Blocks only
Select all text in a blockCtrl + AText only
Select all blocksCtrl + A twiceBlocks only
Blocks navigation menuAlt + Shift + OBlocks only
Toggle full screen Alt + Ctrl + Shift + FBlocks only
Duplicate blocksCtrl + Shift + DBlocks only
Remove selected blocksBackspace or deleteText and Blocks
Insert block beforeAlt + Ctrl + TBlocks only
Insert block after Alt + Ctrl + YBlocks only
Move block up 1 level Alt + Ctrl + Shift + TBlocks only
Move block down 1 levelAlt + Ctrl + Shift + YBlocks only
Remove/delete block Alt + Shift + ZBlocks only
Navigate to the previous part of the editorAlt + Shift + P or Ctrl + Shift + `Blocks only
Navigate to the next part of the editorAlt + Shift + N or Ctrl + ` Blocks only

Inserting, Deleting and Changing Layout of Blocks

Inserting a new block

When starting a new page or post, a dialog appears welcoming you to the block editor. Move to the “close this dialog button” and press either spacebar or enter to dismiss.

From the block’s toolbar add a new block by either pressing the spacebar or enter key on the appropriate button. A place holder for a new block is inserted into the content area which prompts the user to start typing or press the slash (/) key to choose a block type. If using a screen reader, you will need to invoke forms or edit mode before you start typing or use the slash key.

If you are editing an existing page or post that already has blocks in the content area, you can add a block either before or after a selected block in the hierarchy. To add a block before the selected block press Control + Alt + T and to add a block after the selected block press Control + Alt + Y. Screen reader users will need to be in forms or edit mode.

You can also duplicate a block by pressing Control + Shift + D. This is useful if you have a block already formatted and want to duplicate this block along with its information in another location in your pages or posts.

Copying a block uses the standard Windows shortcut Control + C, which is useful for when your block is setup and formatted and you wish to share between other pages or posts. You can also move a block by using Control + X.

Choosing a block

With focus on the block place holder, press the slash (/) key to choose a block. A list appears with 60+ items from which to choose the block you need. The number of items in this list may change, however, at time of writing approximately 60+ items were available. Please note that screen reader users will need to be in forms or edit mode.

Use your up and down arrow keys to navigate this list until you get to the item you desire and then press the enter key. Do not attempt to use first letter navigation in this list as it does not work, only the arrow keys.

Changing your block layout

As you continue to compose your page or post, the blocks are enumerated 1 of 10, 2 of 10, and so on.

To move your block up or down in the hierarchy, first make sure you are focused on the block, make sure you are in forms or edit mode and then press Alt + F10 to bring up the block editing toolbar.

Use your right and left arrow keys to navigate this toolbar. As you press the right arrow keys, the first two (2) options on this toolbar are the buttons to move either up or down one (1) block at a time. Choose the appropriate button and press the spacebar or enter key to maneuver the block into the position of the hierarchy you desire.

You can also press Alt + Control + Shift + T to move your block up one position in the hierarchy, or press Alt + Control + Shift + Y to move your block down one position in the hierarchy.

Deleting a block

To delete a block, make sure that your focus is on the block you wish to delete, and in forms or edit mode press Alt + Shift + Z. Your block will be deleted.

Alternatively, press Alt + F10 to bring up the toolbar, then use the right arrow to move to the “More options button” and press either the spacebar or enter key to drop down a list of items, then down arrow to the option for “remove/delete block” and press the enter key on this item and the block will be deleted.

You can press Control + A twice to select all the blocks in the content area and press either the backspace or the delete key to get rid of all the blocks in the content area. You want to use caution when using this method, as it may not give you the result that you are looking for.

Document View versus Block View

For the sake of this tutorial, we will refer to editor or view, as each has a block element involved and we will attempt to untangle the confusing terminology.

Do not confuse the editing views with the editors themselves. You can switch between the two (2) editors by pressing Alt + Control + Shift + M. The block editor is also called the “visual editor” and the text/HTML editor. These editors along with the blocks are the primary focus of this tutorial. When using the text editor, be aware that block comments will show up as part of your content, so you’ll need to be mindful of those when making edits. We do not recommend attempting to memorize all the block comments, and if you find yourself in a situation where you need to use anything other than the block editor, coordinate with your other content editors on who’s editing which pages or posts because switching back and forth, even between the traditional classic editor and the block editor, gets very messy very fast.

Document view

After inserting your block of choice to work with, you will have the add block toolbar still available. Just after this toolbar are two (2) buttons used to switch between views.

The document view is used for configuring certain elements about your page or post prior to publication, such as the following:

  • Status and visibility
  • Permalink
  • Categories
  • Tags
  • Featured image
  • Excerpt
  • Discussion
  • Post attributes

It is recommended that you consider the above items before you publish to make sure everything is in place to work as you intended on your web site.

Explore these attributes on your own as it is beyond the scope of this tutorial currently to write up these options. However, this does not mean that a future revision of this tutorial may not have these attributes documented.

Block view

The block view is different for each block that you insert into your content area, so to keep this simple we will use the paragraph block to explain the configuration options available. Each block will be documented separately along with its configuration options in block view in more detail when the document for each block is introduced and published.

For the paragraph options you will have the following at the time of this writing:

  • Topography – for setting the font size
  • Color Settings – for setting text color
  • Text Settings – choose either drop cap or large initial letter
  • Advanced Settings – insert a hyperlink or modify the CSS for your choice of style

For other formatting options for the paragraph block, look at the tutorial specific to working with the paragraph block which will have much more detail.

Inserting and Deleting Hyperlinks

This tutorial is going to assume that you have a list block created with three (3) list items.

For example, my list looks like the following:

  • Visit John
  • Call John
  • Email John

Since this list is now established, let us turn the text of the list into useable hyperlinks.

First select the list block, and if you are using a screen reader turn on your forms or edit mode. Use your navigation keys to move to the first part of the text and using text selection keystrokes, select “Visit John.” Tip: be sure to only select the text, because if you accidentally select the blank at the end of the first item, the first two (2) items in the list are both incorporated into a single link.

Once your text is selected, then press the keystroke of Control + K and the insert link dialog appears prompting for a URL. Type the following in this field: https://www.customerservant.com and then you should hear that one (1) option has been found. Tab to the submit button and then press your spacebar or enter key. You should hear a message stating that a link has been inserted.

This is how to insert a hyperlink using the http or https protocol, but what if you wish to use another protocol to insert a hyperlink?

Let us select the second list item text remembering to only select the text and not the blank character at the end of the line. When you have this selection made, then press the keystroke of Control + K and in the edit field type tel://8005551212 and you should hear that one (1) item has been found. Tab to the submit button and press either your spacebar or the enter key. You should hear a message that the link has been inserted.

For the last list item, again select the text to become a link being careful not to get the blank character at the end of the line. Press the keystroke of Control + K and then type mailto:john@jcarson.wtf into the edit field and you should hear a message stating one (1) item has been found. Tab to the submit button and either press your spacebar or the enter key and you should hear a message stating that the link has been inserted.

It is now time to test your links to make sure they do what you intended to do.

Note: We used three (3) examples to show how to insert hyperlinks using different protocols just so you do not have to experiment to figure out these procedures.

Deleting or Removing a hyperlink

Deleting or removing a hyperlink is just as easy as inserting one, just select the text that is already a hyperlink using the cautions already mentioned in this tutorial and press the keystroke of Control + Shift + K and you should hear a message indicating that the hyperlink has now been removed.

What blocks can you insert and delete hyperlinks?

This list will eventually evolve with continuing revisions, however, so far, we have found that inserting and deleting hyperlinks works with the following blocks:

  • Paragraph
  • Heading
  • Image
  • Lists

This tutorial has covered a lot of ground, and we’ve attempted to lay some comprehensive groundwork in order to get users started. More tutorials are coming, but if you have any questions on this one or feel we’ve left something critical out, feel free to get in touch on social media or through the contact form on this website. Until then, happy editing, (or at least, we hope your editing experience becomes less complex).


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