Using Gmail in Standard Mode

Over the last few years, the popular web mail service, GMail, has made drastic changes to its interface so that it resembles the desktop experience. However, many people who use screen-readers have found this problematic as they had ben used to what Google calls the "Basic Mode".

In this post, I am going to share with you a tip on how to use the GMail interface in standard mode.

The Problem

Today up to \(\frac{3}{4}\) of web users who rely on free web mail services use GMail as this is a gateway to many other related Google offerings. For example, even if you rely on some other email service provider, having a GMail account makes it possible for instance to:

  • Use the Playstore on an Android-powered smartphone or tablet;
  • Join in Google Groups - where useful online discussions about almost everything take place;
  • Managing your Youtube account requires a GMail account; and
  • Many, many more.

The bottom line is that a GMail account is now something that is considered as one's online passport to enjoying many services provided by Google.

When GMail started, it was simple: one could just launch a browser: type an address to Google, log into the mail and check for messages.

The problem came when Google overhauled the look of their interface: and styled it the standard mode. This means that this new interface is supposed to be the way emails have to be accessed. The old mode was now basic.

So how does one access this new interface when using a screen-reader such as NVDA or JAWS?

The Solution

While GMail itself offers you the option to switch to basic mode if you are using a screen-reader, yet there is no reason to do so unless your network is slow.

The advantages of using the standard mode is that

  • You can load messages as they get in,
  • You receive notifications for any event that takes place, and
  • You can use keyboard shortcuts for common actions.

If you are using NVDA,

  1. Go to GMail.

  2. When the GMail page loads, press NVDA+Spacebar to get into focus mode. [1]

  3. Use your Up or down arrow keys to move through your messages.

  4. When you get to the message you want, simply press the Enter key.

  5. When the message loads, get out of the focus mode by pressing NVDA+Spacebar and read your message in the default virtual buffer mode.

  6. After finishing reading the message, press NVDA+Spacebar once again to get back into the focus mode. Then

    • If you want to go back to the list of messages, press u;
    • To go to the next message, press j;
    • To go to the previous message, press k;
    • If you want to make searches, anywhere just press the slash key.

If you are using JAWS, just make sure that your setting for Autofocus mode is on. Then you can use the steps listed above.


Once you get the hang of working with GMail, you will find that it is indeed an easy exercise. You will enjoy checking your messages and will not even think of the basic mode, unless of course your internet is slow and not that you are using a screen-reader.

Thank you for reading today's tip: until next time, have a pleasant GMail experience!


[1] This is a forms mode used by NVDA to interact with forms: you are switched from the default virtual buffer mode and uses the forms mode where key entries are sent directly to the web page.