Screen readers and web content

A computer page showing JAWS for Windows screen reader home pageIf you haven’t seen it in action, screen reader technology is not what you might expect. Experienced users listen at a speed most of us couldn’t contemplate. But screen readers are only as good as what they are given to read – it is a machine after all. The way web content is written, described and placed makes a difference to the efficiency of the reading device and the user.

Axess Lab has a four minute video of a how a screen reader works.  If you haven’t seen this before it makes for fascinating viewing. In the video Marc Sutton explains some of the basics. The Axess Lab website also has advice for the more tech side of things as well for desktops and mobile readers.

Web designers might do all the right things in designing the site pages, but sometimes it is the document uploads where things fall apart for screen readers. For example, when you insert a table into a document, have you ever thought about how a screen reader might decipher this? Marc Sutton shows what happens and how to make it more accessible.

Vision Australia has a YouTube clip with a Jaws user explaining how it works for her. Nomesa blog site has additional information. 

Screen readers 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.  If web pages are well structured, screen readers can interact easily. There are good reasons why websites should suit screen readers

 

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!

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.