Using QuickBooks Online With a Screen Reader
Historically, when blind or visually impaired users of assistive technology had to choose an accounting system, the two main choices were QuickBooks Desktop by Intuit and Cash Manager by Accomplish. Within the last several years, QuickBooks Online has improved in accessibility enough to warrant consideration as a third option. Here are some tips on working with QuickBooks Online using a screen reader such as JAWS or NVDA.
CHOICE OF BROWSERS
Google Chrome version 83 and higher and recent Chromium-based versions of Microsoft Edge are known to work well with QBO. In the past, Firefox has suffered from sluggish screen updates but this no longer seems to be true as of version 78. Using Internet Explorer is not recommended as various parts of the dynamic interface will be invisible to the screen reader.
A Comment on the QBO Desktop App
In addition to accessing QuickBooks Online with your browser of choice, Intuit also offers what they call a Desktop App for QBO. This is essentially a version of Chrome which is customized by Intuit. It offers these benefits:
- Stay permanently signed-in without typing your password
- Adds many additional shortcut keys
- The Chrome menu is removed
- There are additional accounting menus at the top of the window including File, Edit, View, Create, Company, Navigate, Reports, Window, and Help 
 These menus are not accessible as of this writing (07/06/2020) and the issue has been reported to Intuit.
To find out more about the QBO Desktop App, visit: https://quickbooks.intuit.com/online/apps/
Understanding the QuickBooks User Interface
Unlike QuickBooks Desktop, QBO does not have the standard menus available at the top of the screen which include: File, Edit, View, Lists, Favorites, Company, Customers, Vendors, Employees, Banking, Reports, Window, and Help
Instead, the various program areas are navigated using these three controls:
- The "Main navigation region"
- The "+ New" button
- The "Settings (gear icon)" button
Each of these will be discussed in more detail below.
Using Your Screen Reader's Find Command
Because QBO lacks a consistent menu interface, you may find that using your screen reader's find command (JAWS+f or NVDA+f) is the fastest way to find the heading, text, button, or link you're looking for.
Tip: When using NVDA's find command, it is often necessary to first move the review cursor to the top of the page before initiating the find command. By contrast, JAWS may automatically wrap back to the top of the page in order to complete the find.
To make navigating faster, QBO supports a number of shortcut keys. Press Ctrl+Alt and any of the following keys:
|a||chart of accounts|
|f||search for transactions|
|d||main navigation region|
And within transactions, press Ctrl+Alt and any of the following keys:
|s||save and new|
|d||save and close|
|m||save and send|
As you move about the app, you will notice the URL at the top of your browser change. For example:
These URLs remain relatively consistent over time, so you may wish to bookmark frequently used areas of the program for faster navigation.
USE OF REGIONS INSTEAD OF HEADINGS
Many screen reader users rely first on heading level navigation to move about a page. However, since Intuit uses headings somewhat inconsistently, we have found regions to sometimes be a faster way of getting to the part of the page you're looking for.
For example, in JAWS, pressing r from the top of the page will move through several regions, such as:
- Main navigation region
- Tools region
- Main region
The beginning of content for most pages is the "main region," so instead of pressing r several times, we can use q to jump straight to the Main region in JAWS.
Similarly, in NVDA, regions are called landmarks and the key to move between them is d. So pressing d several times should move you to the "main region" where content begins.
If you find yourself consistently going to the same part of a screen, you may want to setup a placemarker for it. For example, if you run a Profit and Loss report daily, you might setup a placemarker for "Profit and Loss" on the reports screen.
Placemarkers are accessed using Ctrl+Shift+K in JAWS. A similar feature is available in NVDA using the Placemarkers Add-on or browser marks in the Browser Nav Add-on.
Working With Various Controls
Several controls in QuickBooks Online deserve special consideration:
QBO makes extensive use of a hybrid control called an Edit Combo. You'll see these when choosing an account to categorize a transaction, select a customer, and many other kinds of selections involving lists.
As you type in the edit part of an edit combo, choices are matched dynamically in the combo part of the control. Once you get the hang of edit combos, you'll find them quite useful.
Let's say you're categorizing a transaction for advertising. In the category edit combo, you might type "a" and the combo will populate with matching accounts such as:
- Accounting Expense
- Accumulated Depreciation
- Advertising Expense
You could press down arrow several times and hit Enter on "Advertising Expense" or you could continue typing a "d" which would narrow the combo list to "Advertising Expense" Then down arrow and hit Enter. You can also use backspace to remove characters from your edit and thus broaden the search again.
Sadly, there are still quite a few unlabeled controls in QuickBooks Online. These controls may be announced by your screen reader as merely "edit", "checkbox", or "Unlabeled button." Sometimes, you can use your cursor up and down arrows to review nearby content to determine the label for a control. Other times, you may ask a sighted assistant to identify the control.
When you determine the proper meaning of an unlabeled control, you may be able to relabel them using the JAWS Custom Label command JAWS+Ctrl+Tab.
In most cases, there are no unsurmountable accessibility barriers in QuickBooks Online. However, as visually impaired users, we must remember more of the steps required to complete a workflow than our sighted counterparts. This is because we cannot so easily scan the screen to determine the next step. For this reason, we highly recommend that you document the steps necessary to complete your routine and common workflows, as this will help you remember what to do next until it becomes second nature.
When All Else Fails
Sometimes when working in a new part of QBO, you'll encounter a screen or control that makes absolutely no sense. In these situations, we have found it highly effective to take advantage of Intuit's free Aira support for QuickBooks users. By calling Aira and allowing them to use Team Viewer to view your QuickBooks session, you'll often have an ah-ha moment that will allow you to move forward on your own both now and in the future.
Although we have found no fully accessible and usable accounting system on the market today,QuickBooks Online has good potential. With the tips in this article, and a willingness to document what works, visually impaired business owners and accounting professionals can absolutely have an accounting system that they can use independantly.
Ben Humphreys is a software developer and accountant based in Jacksonville, Florida, USA.
He can be reached AT (904) 430-5887 or e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow on Twitter @EyesFreeAcct
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Used with permission under the QuickBooks ProAdvisor Agreement.