Nearly 300 million people worldwide have moderate to severe visual disabilities, many of whom rely on Assistive Technology (AI) to access and use the web. Integrating a screen reader is an excellent way for website developers to accommodate this substantial target audience. It’s wise for business and ADA-related reasons, and most importantly, it’s the right decision for our fellow citizens. Read on to learn what a screen reader is, along with tips and FAQs to point you in the right direction for achieving compliance and accessibility.

How do Screen Readers Work? 

Screen reader software helps people with visual disabilities use digital devices and understand online information. The best screen readers translate information into forms like audible speech that are easy for this user group to digest. In essence, screen reading says website text out loud, transforms it to braille and enables end users to navigate various areas in their screen view. In addition, these devices usually require keystrokes because most people with vision disabilities have difficulty using a mouse.

How People Use Screen Readers Online

People use screen readers to peruse documents, navigate web pages, interact with files, and listen to tunes. All of these actions correspond to a particular keyboard command. 

The Two Ways Most People Use Screen Readers: 

1. Browse Mode: Here, the user cruises through a site and uses up and down arrow keys to make the screen reader sequentially change focus from each page component to the next.

2. Focus Mode: The user interacts with a particular UX (User Experience) webpage element. An excellent example concerns online forms, where the user finds a field, automatically switches to focus mode, and uses the correct keystrokes to populate that field..

5 Tips to Design for Screen Reader Accessibility

1. Proper HTML Tags

Screen readers need semantically-rich tags to comprehend web content and elements from which end users can choose. That means your site needs HTML tags that concisely convey their message in a way that’s easy for humans and devices to read.

2. Expressive Headings and Lead Sentences

People who use screen readers share one thing in common with all users: they skim content. So headlines that convey the main point of your message—preferably using a big, bold font—cut through the clutter, encouraging people to read on.

3. Alt Text 

Yes, it’s an excellent way to optimize SEO, but its primary purpose is to provide screen readers with a way to comprehend and express digital content like images and videos. This process is crucial to offer a rich user experience to people with visual disabilities. For example, screen textreaders ignore images without alt text and just read the image file name. To ensure accessibility for each page, provide easy-to-understand alt text for all images, videos, icons, and embeds.

4. Correct Punctuation

You want grammatically correct content on your site for all end users, but it’s even more crucial for screen reader users. That’s because screen reader text-to-speech functionality stops when it encounters periods, commas, new paragraphs, and other grammatical elements to simulate speech. So, errors in your content can cause the screen reader to stop unnecessarily and interrupt the user experience.   

5. Partner with A Trusted Third-Party Provider

Choose a vendor with a trusted reputation for developing comprehensive, proven screen readers for the visually impaired. There are many options available on the market today, but you want to choose one that checks all the boxes concerning full access and compliance for people with these disabilities. 

The UserWay Screen Reader Stacks up Against the Others

Meeting section 508 compliance helps our fellow citizens and your organization stay in good legal standing. After all, everyone should have equal access on the Internet. UserWay’s AI-Powered Accessibility Widget provides the easiest and most effective solution to satisfying Section 508 guidelines.

Answers to Common FAQs

What Kinds of Errors Cause Issues with Screen Readers?  

You want to avoid problematic errors for the most popular screen readers, some of which can disrupt an entire site. The most disruptive errors include unworkable navigation, excessive mouse dependency, and not making error messages accessible to end users. The most disruptive errors include unworkable navigation, excessive mouse dependency, and not making error messages accessible to end users. 

How Do You Test Digital Accessibility for Screen Readers Users?

There are numerous free screen readers on the market to do your initial testing. You can also do in-house testing or hire an outside tester to assess your site. The most effective approach, however, may be asking someone using a screen reader to buy one of your products online. Their feedback should tell you if your site is accessible. 

What’s the Most Common Myth About Screen Readers?

It’s easy to assume that screen readers are only for the blind and those with low vision, but the numbers tell a different story.

According to a WebAIM Screen Reader User Survey:

  • 3% of screen reader users have cognitive disabilities
  • 6% are deaf or hard-of-hearing
  • 2% have motor disorders
  • Nearly 4% have disorders that aren’t listed
  • Roughly 16% have numerous disorders 
  • Over 12% say disabilities aren’t the reason they use screen readers


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International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness’s Vision Atlas Report

National Library of Medicine