If 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.
Writing “click here” to link to a web page or electronic document is intuitive for the writer. But not to all readers. This is particularly the case for people who use screen readers. Writing “click here” or “download here” requires the reader to make sense of the words before and after to get the context. This is workable when you can visually read the page. However, a screen reader is a machine and can’t do this for the user.
It’s hard for a user navigating the page audibly if the link text isn’t clear. They can’t be sure where the link will take them. When a link has a focus the link text is announced by the screen reader. If it isn’t created clearly it can be difficult to understand. Link text is clear when it makes sense on its own away from other text.
It’s all very well having web designers familiar with the accessibility requirements in their designs, but what about the people who post content on the website? In many organisations staff write their own material and send it to the webmaster for uploading. But is their writing and format also accessible? It is easy to post a document that might have been originally meant for another reader, such as a submission to a government body, but perhaps an Easy English version should be considered for the ease of access for all readers?
The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has some easy tips to followfor those who write content or upload documents.