System Access Basics

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Welcome to System Access!

Before we explore what System Access can do for you, let's first take a look at a few concepts you'll need to understand in order to use System Access effectively.

Before You Begin

Please note that starting System Access should automatically close any other screen reader which is currently running. However, in cases where this doesn't happen automatically, you will have two voices talking at once. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you first unload any currently running screen reader before starting System Access. Please consult your screen reader's documentation regarding this step.

Starting System Access

If you have installed System Access on your computer, you may start it by pressing CTRL+Alt+S. This is done by holding down the Control Key, the Alt key, and pressing the letter S simultaneously. When these keys are pressed, you will hear a sound, hereafter refered to as the working sound, indicating that the program is loading. System Access will begin talking within seconds. Once System Access is loaded, you'll have full access to the Windows applications installed on your system.

The System Access Modifier

While System Access reads most of the pertinent information on your screen automatically, and standard Windows navigation keys can be used within your applications, there are also hot keys for System Access itself which can be used to gain access to specific information, such as date and time, a list of links on a webpage, and much more.

Most of System Access's commands are performed by holding down a key, referred to as the Modifier Key, in conjunction with another key. The System Access Modifier Key can be one of four keys, including the Insert Key, often located near the Home Key on the keyboard, the Caps-lock Key, the 0 Key on the numpad, or the Scroll-lock Key. For your convenience, all these modifier keys are active and you may choose the one which seems most comfortable at any given time. For example, you may find it easiest to use the Caps-lock Key in conjunction with the letter F to bring up the System Access menu, but you may prefer using the NumPad 0 Key in conjunction with F11 to bring up a list of items in the System Tray.

Here are just a few keystrokes and their descriptions to get you started. See a full list of keyboard commands in the Keyboard Command Quick Reference

Modifier+F: Brings up the System Access menu, where you may adjust preferences, view or modify account settings, and launch other Serotek services.

Modifier+F12: Speaks the current time and date.

Modifier+F11: Brings up a list of items in the System Tray.

Modifier+Down Arrow: Reads from your current position to the bottom of the document or window. Modifier+Up Arrow: Reads the current line. Press twice quickly to spell the current line. Modifier+F7: Brings up a list of links on the current webpage.

Modifier+F4: Unloads System Access.

System Access Menu

The System Access menu allows you to customize your preferences to make System Access look and sound the way you like. From this menu, you can also view or modify your account settings, purchase other Serotek products and services, view text and audio help files, and much more. In this section, we will provide a brief overview of some of these options. We'll also provide a reference to sections in the Help file that cover these items in greater detail.

To open the System Access menu, press Modifier+F. The first option in this menu will change depending on the Serotek products and services you have. For example, if you have a subscription to SAMNet, which is thoroughly discussed in the SAMNet Help file, you'll see an option to connect to the System Access Mobile Network. Otherwise, the Preferences option may be the first item within the System Access menu. You may use your Up Arrow and Down Arrow to move through the items in the menu, and when you've found the option you want, simply press Enter to open the menu item.

Note that as you move through the menu items, you may pause on any item to hear the shortcut key associated with that item. For example, if you're focused on the Preferences option within the menu, you'll hear the word "Preferences", followed by a short pause, and then the letter P. By learning which key is associated with an option in the menu, you may quickly jump to that option rather than using your arrow keys to navigate to it. For instance, you may press Modifier+F to bring up the System Access menu, and then press the letter P to be taken to the "Preferences" Section.

System Access Preferences

In order to use System Access to perform tasks with your computer productively and effectively, you'll want to make sure that System Access sounds, looks, and feels comfortable to you. The System Access Preferences page allows you to customize the behavior of System Access to best fit your needs. Before we explore the items on this page and discover what they do, let's briefly discuss a few types of controls you're likely to encounter, not only in System Access dialogs, but in other Windows applications as well.

If you are already familiar with controls such as checkboxes and drop-down lists, you may skip directly to the "General Preferences" section to begin learning about customizing System Access. While we won't explore every type of control that can be found in a dialog box, we'll briefly discuss a few of them and how to interact with them.


A control which can be toggled on or off. Press the Spacebar to toggle the state of the checkbox. When the box is checked, the behavior associated with the checkbox is enabled, and when the box is unchecked, the behavior is disabled.

Drop-down list:

This control contains several options, only one of which may be selected at any given time. When a drop-down list is closed, you'll only be able to see the option that is currently selected. To open a drop-down list and see what it contains, press Alt+Down Arrow. Next, navigate the options in the list with Up or Down Arrow Keys. When you're focused on the one you want, press Enter and the list will be closed.

Edit Box:

This control allows you to type in information. When you've finished entering information, you may press the Tab Key to move to the next control, or Shift+Tab to move to the previous control.


A button performs one specific action when pressed. For instance, an OK button confirms that you understand a message, or that other controls in the dialog box are set the way you want them. To press a button, press the Spacebar. Note that the Enter Key will also press a button, but the Enter Key either presses the currently selected button, or it presses the default button if none is selected. For this reason, it is probably safest to press the Spacebar rather than Enter on a button you wish to choose.

General Preferences

When opening the Preferences dialog from the System Access Menu, you'll be focused on the first item in the list, which is General Preferences. You may choose this option by pressing the Enter Key on your keyboard. Now, you'll be presented with a set of options to customize how System Access behaves. You may move through these options with the Tab and Shift+Tab Keys on your keyboard. Note that the Tab Key will move to the next option in the dialog box, while the Shift+Tab keystroke will move backward through the dialog box. When you have customized options in a particular dialog, you may tab to the OK button and press the Spacebar. If you'd like to leave a dialog without saving any of your changes, press the Escape Key, or tab to the Cancel Button and press the Spacebar.

Key Echo:

Key Echo determines if System Access speaks each key on the keyboard as you type it. If this checkbox is checked, System Access will speak each keystroke as you press it. Leave this box unchecked if you don't want System Access to echo each keystroke.

Word Echo:

This option determines whether System Access echos each word as you type it. If checked, System Access will speak the word you've just typed whenever you press the Spacebar or use a punctuation mark.

Link Alert Type"

This drop-down list provides several choices for how System Access handles the announcement of links on webpages. Note that the option you choose in this list only applies when System Access begins reading the page automatically, or when you have used the "say all" command. When navigating a webpage with your arrow keys or Tab and Shift+Tab Keys, the word "link" will be used to denote items that are links.

Optional Messages:

sometimes, additional information is available about items on the screen. For example, when inside a drop-down list, there is information about how many items are contained in that list. We refer to this type of information as an optional message, and you can customize how System Access handles such messages. They can be read in an alternate voice, the default voice, or not at all.

Read Tool Tips:

This option determines how System Access behaves when it encounters buttons on toolbars which have additional information. The other options in the General Preferences Dialog will be discussed in detail in the help files pertaining to SAMNet.

Text-to-Speech Preferences

The next option on the preferences page allows you to select the speech synthesizer that you want System Access to use, and to customize how that synthesizer sounds. The default synthesizer, or engine, is DECtalk, but you can select another speech engine that you have installed on your computer. For a complete list of voices that may be purchased for use with System Access, including Eloquence, Neospeech, RealSpeak, and Ivona voices, please choose the My Account option from the System Access menu and follow the link to purchase Serotek products and services. In addition to the speech engines you may purchase directly from Serotek, you may also use speech engines that are already installed on your computer. To see a list of speech engines that are installed, choose the SAPI5 or SAPI4 engine, then tab to the Voices Option to view the list of voices available for that engine.


The Voice menu option allows you to change the voice that your synthesizer uses. For instance, if you've chosen Neospeech as your default engine, you may then select Paul, Kate, or Julie as your default voice.

Speaking Rate and Pitch:

The Speaking Rate option determines how slow or fast your computer will speak. Use the Faster and Slower buttons by pressing the Spacebar on them, until you find the rate of speech that works for you. also, use the Higher and Lower buttons to raise and lower the pitch until the voice sounds the way you want it.


The Punctuation option specifies how much punctuation you hear. This varies depending on the voice you are using. Therefore, you will need to play with this setting a bit until you find what best meets your individual needs. For the remaining options in this dialog, you need only tab to the option to hear its function.

Magnification preferences:

These preferences allow you to control how System Access built-in magnification behaves. You may use the Larger and Smaller buttons to increase or decrease magnification of the screen. The print can be magnified from 1.25X to 6X in increments of .25X.

Braille Preferences:

In this dialog, you may select the translation table that you prefer, and you may decide whether speech is enabled with System Access when you have a Braille display connected. For more information about using Braille with System Access, and to see a list of supported displays, please read the section "Braille with System Access".

Other preferences for System Access and SAMNet will be explored in later sections of this, and the SAMNet, help files.

When you're ready to close the System Access Preferences page, simply tab to the Close link and press Enter, or press Escape from the main System Access Preferences page.

Keyboard Help Mode

If you need to explore the keyboard without your keystrokes having any effect, turn on System Access Keyboard Help Mode by pressing Modifier+H. While this mode is on, each key you press will be announced, and if you type a System Access hotkey, (a combination of two or more keys pressed together), System Access will describe what the hotkey does. There are a few exceptions to this: Control+Alt+Delete is handled by Windows itself, so when you press this keystroke, you won't hear a description of what it does. Rather, Windows will handle the keystroke. The other keystrokes which do not have spoken descriptions when pressed are Modifier+H and the escape key. These keys allow you to exit keyboard help mode. Also, hardware-specific keys, such as those used to modify or access settings of a notebook computer, will either not speak at all, or may speak inaccurately.

Last modified December 10, 2014

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