FILE AND FOLDER MANAGEMENT, Reading and writing files


This section on file and folder management does not pretend to be comprehensive. It is enough to give people already familiar with Ms Windows a basic understanding of how file and folder management works using NVDA and keyboard control and from this they can apply and adapt this to other file and folder management tasks.


Typically new computer users take a while to grasp the concepts of files, folders, navigating a folder tree and how where the open and save file screens default to changes. Using Windows File Explorer or the standard file open and save screens from the keyboard with any screen reader is not a pleasant experience and is hard to teach when customisation options mean that it may not be the same on different computers.

How you present the material in this section depends on the abilities, skills and expectations  of your participants. It may be tempting to make things easier but it is often better to work through the whole topic, as the ideal is for participants to be able to use any MS Windows computer. Explain ways to make it easier after explaining the basics Windows Explorer, by then the learners will appreciate why easier is better. Teaching inexperienced participants to become proficient at managing files and folders from the keyboard is be a major task, that takes time and patience, this is only a begining. File and folder management in MS Windows uses three basic tools, the 'File Explorer', the open file screen and the save file screen and to complicate things the behaviour of the file open and file save screens changes when the show navigation pane option is turned off. NVDA will talk you through using these tools but operating them from the keyboard invoves a lot of steps.

File management is organizing and keeping track of files and folders, so information is easily located. A folder is a container for storing programs and files, similar to a folder in a file cabinet. Windows allows you to organize folders and files in a file hierarchy, imitating the way paper documents are stored in real folders. A file cabinet can contain several folders, each containing related documents with dividers grouping related folders together, so the Windows file hierarchy lets you organize files in folders, and then place folders in other folders.


The MS Windows 'File Explorer' is the main tool for managing files and folders, it can be stared from the keyboard by pressing the `Windows` and the letter `E` keys at the same time. The screenshot of numbered parts is intended to help sighted people read this section.

File Explorer is laid out with the menu bar across the top with an address field. By default, the main content of the program has a left (5) and right pane (1). The left pane (5) shows a view of the folders in your computer, at the top are frequently used folders. The right pane displays the contents of the folder that is currently selected ln the left pane. The contents of the right pane can appear as a grid of icons or a vertical list with the details for each item in columns. Use the arrow keys to navigate this pane. You can be sure to visit every item in the grid if you use the left and right arrow keys, the focus will wrap to the next row of items when you get to the last column.

Each part of the 'File Explorer' screen is a control, only one of these controls can be active at any time, Microsoft refer to this as the control with focus. Pressing the `Tab` key will activate the next control, or as Microsoft say move the focus. NVDA will announce the name of the active control (the control with focus) as you press the `Tab` key.

When you start the 'File Explorer' the active control is the right pane (1), you can use the `Up` and `Down` arrow keys to move through the list. Pressing the `Enter` key will expand a folder in the left pane (5), open a folder, or open a file with the default application program.

'File Explorer' screen

MS Windows file explorer

Pressing the `Tab` key will activate next control from 1 through to 5 and then on to 1 again, pressing the `Shift` and `Tab` keys activate the previous control.
    1. Announced by NVDA as items view list
    2. Announced by NVDA as status bar
    3. Announced by NVDA as address
    4. Announced by NVDA as search box
    5. Announced by NVDA as namespace tree
In, the right pane (1. the item view list) and the left pane (5. the namespace tree) the `up` and `down` arrow keys will move through the list or namespace tree.

 Most of the time users will only need to switch between the right panel (1. the item view list) and the left panel (5. namespace tree) but if they make a mistake they could end up somewhere else in the sequence of controls and need to know how to get back.

The move back and move forward commands will take a user through the history of folders that have been shown in the left panel (1. the item view list).


Demonstrate the File Explorer to your learners, begining by explaining the structure and cycling through the controls, finish by navigating to and opening an example file. Get the learners to practise using the File Explorer and set them the challenge of finding a particular file.


The pain of managing their own files and folders can be much reduced if:

These measures might not be possible when participants are not using their own computers.


Mastering the concept of files and folders, plus the added burden of keyboard navigation is a lot to take in for most new computer users without including the clipboard, cut copy and paste. These are important things for computer users to master but they may be considered optional for introductory level sessions