Use a screen reader to explore and navigate File Explorer in Windows

Decorative icon. Screen reader content

This article is for people with visual impairments who use a screen reader program with the Office products and is part of the Office Accessibility content set. For more general help, see Microsoft Support home.

Use your keyboard and a screen reader to explore and navigate File Explorer in Windows 11. We have tested this article with Narrator, JAWS, and NVDA, but the instructions might work with other screen readers as long as they follow common accessibility standards and techniques.

Notes: 

In this topic

Open File Explorer

Press the Windows logo key +E to open File Explorer. The focus moves to the first item in the content pane. By default, this is the first item in your Quick access view, which lists your Folders and Recent files.

Cycle through the main screen elements

Press F6 (forward) or Shift+F6 (backward) to cycle through the main elements of File Explorer in the following order:

  • The content pane taking up most of the screen

  • The sorting buttons for the content pane (if the content pane is in the Details view mode)

  • The status bar at the bottom of the screen, containing buttons for changing the view mode

  • The toolbar at the top of the screen, containing navigation buttons and the Search box

  • The navigation pane on the left side of the screen

Navigate the content pane

Use the content pane to interact with the files stored on your computer. The content pane lists the folders and files in your Quick access view, or in the currently selected folder, drive, or network location.

  • To move the focus to the content pane, press F6 or Shift+F6 until you hear "Items view" or "Enter table items view," followed by the name of the first item.

  • To browse the contents, use the Down and Up arrow keys. To open the selected file or folder, press Enter.

  • To use the content pane sorting buttons (if the content pane is in the Details view mode), press F6 or Shift+F6 until you hear the name of the currently selected sorting criteria, for example, "Date modified, split button." To navigate the sorting buttons, use the Right and Left arrow keys. To sort the current view by the selected option, for example, Name or Date modified, press Enter. Some of these layouts display thumbnails with the content of your items, while others show standard icons based on file types. The different views to preview files and folders are Extra large iconsLarge iconsMedium iconsTiles, and Content.

  • To select multiple files, press the Tab key until you hear the name of the first file or folder you want to select. Then hold down the Shift key and use the arrow keys to select the files or folders. When you have selected all the files and folders you need, press Ctrl+X to cut or Ctrl+C to copy, or press the Delete key to delete.

Navigate the navigation pane

Use the navigation pane to access folders, drives, libraries, pinned files or folders, and network locations such as your OneDrive. By default, the first item in the navigation pane is your Quick access view, listing your Pinned and Frequent folders. When Quick access is selected, the content pane will show Recent files in addition to Pinned and Frequent folders.

  • To move the focus to the navigation pane, press F6 or Shift+F6 until you hear "Navigation pane," with Narrator, followed by the name of the first item, for example, "Quick access." With NVDA, you hear: "Tree view." With JAWS, you hear: "Navigation pane, tree view."

  • To browse the folders and drives, use the Down and Up arrow keys.

  • To open the selected folder or drive in the content pane, press Enter. Note that the focus stays in the navigation pane.

Navigate the toolbar

The toolbar contains various navigation buttons, depending on the current view. These include the Back, Forward, Recent locations, and Up buttons.

  • To move the focus to the toolbar, press F6 or Shift+F6 until you hear "View mode," and press F6 once more. The focus moves to the first active button on the toolbar.

  • To navigate the toolbar buttons, press the Tab key. Press Enter to make a selection.

Navigate the App bar buttons

Above the toolbar there is a row of App bar buttons used for creating new folders, copying, moving, deleting, and sharing files.

  • To move the focus to the App bar buttons, press Alt. You hear “App bar,” followed by the name of the currently selected button, for example, "Copy, App bar button."

  • To move between the buttons, use the Left or Right arrow key, and press Enter to select it. 

Use the Search box

The Search box helps you to find a file in a particular folder or library.

  1. To use the Search box, press Ctrl+E. Type your search term. After you stop typing, several top results are displayed below the Search box.

  2. Do one of the following:

  • To open the full list of search results in the content pane, press Enter. Then press F6 until you hear the first search result, use the Down and Up arrow keys to browse the list, and press Enter to open the selected result.

  • To browse the top results listed below the Search box, press the Down arrow key. To open the selected result, press Enter. To close the search, press Esc.

If you selected a folder, the focus moves to the first item in that folder.

If you selected a file, the file opens in the associated app and the focus moves to that window.

See also

Use a screen reader to explore and navigate the Start menu in Windows

Use a screen reader to explore and navigate Settings in Windows

Set up your device to work with accessibility in Microsoft 365

Accessibility support for Windows

Use your keyboard and a screen reader to explore and navigate File Explorer in Windows 10. We have tested this article with Narrator, JAWS, and NVDA, but the instructions might work with other screen readers as long as they follow common accessibility standards and techniques.

Notes: 

In this topic

Open File Explorer

Press the Windows logo key +E to open File Explorer. The focus moves to the first item in the content pane. By default, this is the first item in your Quick access view, which lists your Frequent folders and Recent files.

Cycle through the main screen elements

Press F6 (forward) or Shift+F6 (backward) to cycle through the main elements of File Explorer in the following order:

  • The content pane taking up most of the screen

  • The sorting buttons for the content pane (if the content pane is in the Details view mode)

  • The status bar at the bottom of the screen, containing buttons for changing the view mode

  • The toolbar at the top of the screen, containing navigation buttons and the Search box

  • The navigation pane on the left side of the screen

Navigate the content pane

The content pane lists the folders and files in your Quick access view, or in the currently selected folder, drive, or network location.

  • To move the focus to the content pane, press F6 or Shift+F6 until you hear "Items view" or "Enter table items view," followed by the name of the first item.

  • To browse the contents, use the Down and Up arrow keys. To open the selected file or folder, press Enter.

  • To go back to the previous view, press Alt+Left arrow key. To go forward to the view you returned from, press Alt+Right arrow key.

  • To use the content pane sorting buttons (if the content pane is in the Details view mode), press F6 or Shift+F6 until you hear the name of the currently selected sorting criteria, for example, "Date modified, split button." To navigate the sorting buttons, use the Right and Left arrow keys. To sort the current view by the selected option, for example, Name or Date modified, press Enter.

Navigate the navigation pane

The navigation pane lists the folders and drives on your computer, and network locations such as your OneDrive. By default, the first item in the navigation pane is your Quick access view, listing your Frequent folders and Recent files.

  • To move the focus to the navigation pane, press F6 or Shift+F6 until you hear: "Tree view."

  • To browse the folders and drives, use the Down and Up arrow keys.

  • To open the selected folder or drive in the content pane, press Enter. Note that the focus stays in the navigation pane.

Navigate the toolbar

The toolbar contains various navigation buttons, depending on the current view. These include the Back, Forward, Recent locations, and Up buttons.

  • To move the focus to the toolbar, press F6 or Shift+F6 until you hear "View mode," and press F6 once more. The focus moves to the first active button on the toolbar.

  • To navigate the toolbar buttons, press the Tab key. Press Enter to make a selection.

Navigate the ribbon tabs

Above the toolbar there is a row of ribbon tabs containing tools for copying, moving, deleting, and sharing files, for example.

  • To move the focus to the row of ribbon tabs, press Alt. You hear “Ribbon, exit table,” followed by the currently selected tab.

  • To move between ribbon tabs, use the Left or Right arrow key, and press Enter to select a tab. The contents of the selected ribbon tab are displayed on the ribbon below the ribbon tabs, and the focus moves to the first option on the ribbon.

  • To navigate the ribbon, press the Tab key or Shift+Tab. Press Enter to select an option.

Use the Search box

The Search box helps you to find a file quickly if you know its name.

  1. To use the Search box, press Ctrl+E and type your search term. After you stop typing, several top results are displayed below the Search box.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • To open the full list of search results in the content pane, press Enter. Then press F6 until you hear the first search result, use the Down and Up arrow keys to browse the list, and press Enter to open the selected result.

    • To browse the top results listed below the Search box, press the Down arrow key. To open the selected result, press Enter. To close the search, press Esc.

If you selected a folder, the focus moves to the first item in that folder.

If you selected a file, the file opens in the associated app and the focus moves to that window.

See also

Use a screen reader to explore and navigate the Start menu in Windows

Use a screen reader to explore and navigate Settings in Windows

Set up your device to work with accessibility in Microsoft 365

Accessibility support for Windows

Keyboard shortcuts in Windows

Technical support for customers with disabilities

Microsoft wants to provide the best possible experience for all our customers. If you have a disability or questions related to accessibility, please contact the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk for technical assistance. The Disability Answer Desk support team is trained in using many popular assistive technologies and can offer assistance in English, Spanish, French, and American Sign Language. Please go to the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk site to find out the contact details for your region.

If you are a government, commercial, or enterprise user, please contact the enterprise Disability Answer Desk.

Need more help?

Join the discussion
Ask the community
Get support
Contact Us

Was this information helpful?

What affected your experience?

Thank you for your feedback!

×