Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Web Accessibility Wednesday: Screen Readers

This is part of a continuing series of web accessibility tips for IT personnel, web managers and web development groups. These tips can be used to review current website accessibility and to utilize in developing new websites with the hope of improving web accessibility for everyone.

A screen reader is a type of assistive technology that reads the text content of a web page audibly to the user. It is primarily used by individuals who are blind or have low vision, but can also be useful to individuals with certain cognitive or learning disabilities.
Screen readers read the text content of a web page linearly based on the underlying source code order - left to right, top to bottom. Screen reader users typically do not use a mouse, but instead use a wide array of keyboard shortcuts to navigate and interact with a web page. A screen reader can also output content to a refreshable Braille device to form Braille characters,thus allowing users who are deaf-blind to access web content. Design webpages with these principles in mind - techniques required include providing skip navigation links so that the screen reader users can bypass navigational menus and jump directly to the content, associating form labels with their appropriate form elements so the purpose of each form control is identified, identifying data table headers to aid in table orientation and navigation, etc. Much of web accessibility is about ensuring compatibility with screen reader technologies.

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