Microsoft Excel: Secrets of Effective Non-Visual Work with Tables

written by

In today’s information age, proficient use of office application tools has become a key skill for enhancing productivity and successful data management. Among these tools, Microsoft Excel holds a special place — a powerful tool for working with tables and data analysis. In this article, we will share the secrets of non-visual work with Microsoft Excel, revealing methods and techniques that will optimize the work process for the visually impaired with data. From using keyboard shortcuts to working with functions and formulas, we will discuss ways that will transform your Excel experience and make it a more efficient tool in your workflow.

Note: This guide is not a comprehensive description of all the features and principles of using Microsoft Excel. We will focus on the main functions and provide practical recommendations for their application, laying the foundation for further exploration of Microsoft Excel’s functionality. Many more comprehensive and detailed guides miss important aspects of working without a mouse and ignore the principles of work for visually impaired users using screen access programs. Our goal is to address these omissions in computer guides. The subsequent parts of the guide assume that the visually impaired user already has basic skills in the Microsoft Windows operating system, such as keyboard knowledge, navigation through windows and tabs, and an understanding of standard computer notations. Basic skills in Microsoft Word will also be an advantage.

Description of Common Elements of the MS Excel Interface

Excel is a software application designed for working with spreadsheets. The program is widely used in business, finance, education, and other fields for processing and analyzing data. The application interface includes the following elements:

  • Ribbon: A horizontal area located at the top of the window that contains tabs grouping various commands and functions. Each tab represents a specific aspect of working in Excel, such as “Home,” “Insert,” “Page Layout,” “Formulas,” and others. You can access the ribbon by pressing the “Alt” key.
  • Quick Access Toolbar: A small panel, usually located at the top of the window, next to the ribbon, where you can place the most frequently used commands for quick access. To navigate to the toolbar, press the “Alt” key and, while on the “Home” tab, press the up arrow.
  • Formula Bar: An area located below the ribbon where the contents of a cell are displayed and where you can enter and edit formulas.
  • Workspace: The main screen area where users enter, edit, and process data in spreadsheets.
  • Status Bar: Located at the bottom of the window, this bar provides various information about the current state of work, such as the sum of selected cells, calculation mode, etc.

Microsoft Excel Workbook

When opening MS Excel, it creates a “Workbook,” which is the main document where you create and store your spreadsheets. It is a file with the extension .xlsx (or .xls in older versions of Excel). You can open multiple workbooks for simultaneous work. It’s convenient to temporarily minimize workbooks that are not in use.

Minimizing a workbook is done using the “CTRL+F9” combination, and maximizing – “CTRL+F10”. Minimized workbooks will be represented by icons at the bottom of the Excel window. The “Ctrl + F6” and “Ctrl + Shift + F6” key combinations allow you to switch between open workbooks, or you can use the “Window > Switch Windows” menu on the “View” tab on the ribbon. After creation, a workbook contains one or more sheets, each representing a separate workspace.

Workbook Sheet

Simageheets in a workbook have their unique names, typically consisting of the word “Sheet” and its sequential number. However, you can change this name using the “Cells > Format” menu on the “Home” tab on the ribbon. In this menu, you can also change the order of the active tab by moving it within the current workbook. The names of all sheets opened in a workbook are displayed horizontally under the workspace. Switching between sheets in a workbook is done with the “Ctrl + Page Up” and “Ctrl + Page Down” key combinations.

JAWS screen reader users can easily get a list of all the sheets in the book using the “Shift+CTRL+S” key combination.

To add a new sheet to the workbook, use the “Cells > Insert” menu on the “Home” tab, and to delete a sheet, use the “Cells > Delete” menu. When deleting a sheet, pay attention to which sheet is active, as it will be the one that is removed.

Worksheet Workspace

Each sheet represents a separate workspace, divided into cells that allow you to enter data, perform calculations, and create graphs and charts. A cell, in turn, is the intersection of a column and a row. Columns are denoted by letters (A, B, C, etc.), while rows are denoted by numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.). The worksheet workspace can be thought of as a tic-tac-toe field but with broader possibilities: 256 columns and 65536 rows. Each cell can contain text, numeric values, formulas, or other data.

Working with data in MS Excel is similar to working in any other text editor. The only difference is that there is no cursor on the sheet, but there is always an active cell. The active cell can be:

  1. Edited,
  2. Copied,
  3. Deleted,
  4. Cleared of content,
  5. Formatted and resized,
  6. Merged with other cells.

This is not an exhaustive list; other actions are also available.

To navigate through the cells of the workspace, the following keys are used:

  • Left, right, up, down arrows: move between adjacent cells in the corresponding direction;
  • “Page Up” and “Page Down”: move one screen up or down in the column (about 31 cells);
  • “Alt + Page Up” and “Alt + Page Down”: move one screen left or right in the row (about 31 cells);
  • “Home”: Move to the first cell of the row;
  • “End + arrow left, right, up, down”: move to the last cell in the corresponding direction;
  • “Ctrl+Home”: move to the first cell of the worksheet;
  • “Ctrl+End”: move to the end of the active area;

Using these commands with the “Shift” key allows you to select cells. Also, in JAWS, the “Insert+Tab” key combination announces the sheet name, cell content, and its coordinates, while “Insert+C” announces only the cell coordinates. In NVDA, the “NVDA+Tab” key combination is designated for this purpose.

To fill a cell with data, simply select it and start typing text, a number, or a formula. To edit a previously filled cell, press “F2”. In edit mode, a standard text editor cursor appears, and you can navigate through the cell content, edit, and perform standard operations.

If a cell contains the result of a formula, editing will display the text of the formula, not the result of its operation. To exit edit mode without saving, use the “Escape” key; to exit with saving changes, use the “Enter” key. When saving, after pressing the “Enter” key, the cursor will move down one cell.

Note that when you need to enter a decimal fraction, you should use “,” instead of “.” to avoid an error in perceiving the entered value as a date.