Creating Accessible Ranges in Microsoft Excel

Those who use Microsoft® Excel® on a regular basis know how quickly one can get lost in a spreadsheet without the use of row and column titles. When a sighted user navigates a spreadsheet, he or she can lock the row and column titles into place by using the Freeze Panes option from the Excel Window menu for Excel 2003. For Excel 2010 Freeze Panes is found in the Window group of the View tab (ALT+W followed by F). When this is done, the titles for the columns and/or rows remain on the screen as the user scrolls horizontally or vertically through the spreadsheet.

Manually Creating Column and Row Titles (End User)

JAWS has long provided a quick method for end users to create column and row titles on their own. Most regular Excel users are aware that JAWS can be configured to speak column and row titles when moving through cells in a worksheet. There are two ways to do this.

The first method uses the Adjust JAWS Options dialog box (INSERT+V) to:

The second method uses the following key combinations:

Once defined, these title locations are stored by JAWS in the user's settings directory as JSI files and are then used whenever the spreadsheet is accessed. (The extension JSI stands for JAWS Script Initialization.)

JAWS then automatically speaks the column or row title during spreadsheet navigation. However, if the spreadsheet is sent to another person using a different computer, the corresponding JSI file must also be sent and placed in the user's Settings directory, or the titles will not be spoken by JAWS. Also, if the spreadsheet is created by someone who is not using JAWS, a JSI file cannot be created. Starting with version 6.1, a new JAWS feature solves both of these problems.

Creating Titles that Read Automatically Using Excel's Built-In Naming Function (Document Author)

Microsoft Excel has a built-in function that can be used to give names to a cell or a range of cells. JAWS looks for certain specific names to identify which cells contain row and column titles. If the titles are defined in this fashion, the information is stored right in the worksheet rather than in a JAWS file and can be used to speak the title information to anyone using JAWS 6.1 or later. Furthermore, anyone can build these row and column names into a spreadsheet without installing or using JAWS.

Using Names to Create Column and Row Titles

Move to the intersection of the row and column titles and do the following:

Excel 2003 and Prior Versions Excel 2010
ALT+I, Insert menu, followed by N for Name submenu, then ENTER on Define. ALT+M, Formulas tab of the ribbon, followed by M for Define Name, and then ENTER on Define Name.

The Define Name dialog box opens. The cursor is in the Names in Workbook edit box.

Both Row and Column Titles

Type in the word Title (capital T) and press ENTER to close the dialog box. Focus returns to the worksheet again.

Now as a JAWS user navigates left, right, up, or down, JAWS automatically speaks the row and column headers for each cell.

Only Row or Column Titles

Sometimes a spreadsheet contains only row titles or only column titles. The procedures used for these titles are similar to the previous procedure.

Row Titles Only

Navigate to the column containing the titles, and open the Define Name dialog box in the same way as before. This time type in RowTitle (one word with mixed case and no spaces) and press ENTER.

Column Titles Only

For sheets containing just column titles, navigate to the row containing the column titles, open the Define Name dialog box as before, type in ColumnTitle, and press ENTER. Again, use mixed case with capital letters for the first letter of each word and do not put any spaces between the words. If you do, you get an error that says "That name is not valid."

These procedures can also be used when column titles span multiple rows or when row titles span multiple columns. When the column titles span multiple rows, select all of the rows before creating the ColumnTitle definition. When the row titles span multiple columns, select all of the columns before creating the RowTitle definition.

Remember that row and column titles are now saved within the worksheet, not in a JAWS file. Be sure to save the workbook after defining the names, or they will be gone the next time you use the spreadsheet.

Changing Title Name Definitions

If you should alter a worksheet so that the row or column titles are in different locations, you can delete the existing names and create new ones.

Excel 2003 and Prior Versions Excel 2010
ALT+I, Insert menu, followed by N for Name submenu, then ENTER on Define. ALT+M, Formulas tab of the ribbon, followed by N for Name Manager.

Press TAB to move to the list of names. Activate the Delete button to delete the selected name, ALT+D.

NOTE: Some spreadsheets may also have other cells or ranges of cells that are named that do not pertain to title locations. An example of this might be a range of cells that has been given a name, such as "FirstQuarterSales" or "Information." When names are given to cells the names can be used to navigate to that location in the worksheet by using the GoTo command in Excel, CTRL+G or F5. So be aware that there will often be other names used within workbooks besides those that JAWS monitors for title reading.

Multiple Region Support

Starting with JAWS version 7.0 Freedom Scientific added multiple region support for spreadsheets that contain more than one region. This means you can now use different column and row titles in different parts of a spreadsheet. JAWS keeps track of where you are in the spreadsheet and which titles it should use. Create names as previously discussed, using the following conventions:


By adding the word "Region" to the name, we've told JAWS that this spreadsheet has more than one region. The number one immediately following the word "Region" tells JAWS that this definition is for Region 1. The first cell coordinate, A1, tells JAWS that this is the location of the upper left corner of the region. Also note that this coordinate is separated from the region number by a period. Periods are used to separate all coordinates and region numbers in these names. The next coordinate, F4, tells JAWS the location of the bottom right corner of the region. Finally, the number one at the end tells JAWS that this name is part of worksheet one. So now you have a name which is for region one of worksheet one, and it spans all cells from A1 to F4.


This example represents a second region in worksheet one and spans cells B7 through E10.

Now when you move through any cell in either region JAWS will use the column and row titles associated with that particular region. You can have as many regions as you want and JAWS will always know which titles to use, as long as you define your title names properly.

As with the single region names discussed previously, the multiple region names are saved within the spreadsheet itself and are automatically available to any JAWS user.

Workbooks with Multiple Worksheets

As previously mentioned, all default Excel workbooks open with three worksheets. A user is free to add as many additional worksheets as required. Each worksheet must have its row and column titles defined separately before JAWS automatically reads them, even if the format of each worksheet is identical to Sheet1. However, the format of the names for title reading in all sheets higher than Sheet1 is slightly different. In these cases, the last number of the TitleRegion name represents the worksheet number.

For example:

TitleRegion3.B1.C2.2 represents a region on worksheet two spanning the range of B1 to C2

TitleRegion3.B1.C2.3 represents the same region on worksheet 3, and so on.

This format remains the same, even if the author decides to change the default names of the worksheets from Sheet1, Sheet2, Sheet3, and so on, to more meaningful names. Remember to name the title with the correct sheet number at the end, even if the worksheet has been renamed. If worksheets were given names before you define the titles, the number of the sheet (as well as other information) can be determined by pressing INSERT+F1 when you are using JAWS 6.1 or higher. This action opens the JAWS Virtual Viewer with the information in it. Remember to press ESC to close the Virtual Viewer after you read the information about a worksheet.

Create Only Row or Column Titles for Multiple Regions

If you are interested in naming only row titles or only column titles for multiple regions, the naming convention follows the structure defined above with the following names:

In the sample workbook included with today's lesson there are quantities listed for each week and totals for each month already filled in for you. Also, there is a second worksheet, named "Quarter 2 & 3" that you can practice with. To move between worksheets press CTRL+PGDN or CTRL+PGUP. For ease in finding the regions on the second worksheet, they are in the exact same locations.

EXERCISE: Take some time now to practice these naming techniques. Open the practice Excel workbook and follow along with the instructor.


The older method of using the JAWS Verbosity List to save title definitions in JSI files is incompatible with this new method and the two should not be combined in the same worksheet. However, the two methods can be used in different worksheets within the same workbook.


The technique described here is an advanced method of defining row and column titles for Excel spreadsheets as implemented beginning in JAWS release 6.1. Multiple region support was added beginning in JAWS release 7.0. This is superior to the old method since:

Prior page

Next page