Screen readers: what are they and how do they work?

A computer page showing JAWS for Windows home page.In the world of web accessibility people often talk about screen readers. But do you know what they are and how they work?  This is a very useful article for everyone who posts on a website. Nomensa blog explains that a screen reader is a software application that enables people with significant vision impairment to use a computer. They work with the computer’s operating system and common applications. It relays information either by speech or Braille. The majority of users control things with the keyboard, not the mouse. The article provides more detail of each of the operating systems that link with screen readers and the applications they support. If web pages are well structured and designed using a particular code, screen readers can interact easily. The article has additional links to other information. 

Vision Australia has a YouTube clip with a Jaws user explaining how it works for her. You’ll be surprised!

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How to write meaningful alt-text

A laptop computer on a desk showing several pictures.When meeting a deadline to get something published on the web or social media it’s easy to leave out the description of the image in the alt-text box – but should you?. Alt-text is a description of an image that’s shown to people who for some reason can’t see the image. Among others, alt-texts help:

  • people with little or no vision
  • people who turn off images to save data
  • search engines

People with little or no vision are probably the ones that benefit most from alt-texts. They use a screen reader to navigate the web. A screen reader transforms visual information to speech or Braille. If you don’t include alt-text you run the risk of a screen reader trying to convey something like: “publicity_pre_launch_43.0001.jpg” or “cropped_img32_900px.png”. While Facebook has a built in feature to describe images automatically, the descriptions are too general. “Cat indoors” doesn’t say what the cat is doing. It’s all about context and meaning. Find out more from Axess Lab on how to convey context and meaning without writing an essay! Once you get into the habit, it doesn’t take long to do.

Some really useful tips here from Axess Lab – good information for everyone, nicely laid out and easy to read. As is often the case, attention to detail makes for greater accessibility and inclusion for everyone.

Editor’s Note: the alt-text for the picture on this page is, “A laptop computer on a desk showing several pictures.” And I’ve learned that a full stop at the end is important for screen readers. 

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