Screen Reader Support PDF Print E-mail

j0422541What they are

A screen reader is a piece of accessibility software which analyzes, interprets, and then relates the information which would otherwise be sent to standard output (generally a computer monitor) to users who are often visually impaired.  They often relate this information verbally, but for those with both vision and hearing disabilities, a braille printer, or other device, may be used instead.  Examples of commercial screen reader software include JAWS, ZoomText, Window-Eyes, Voice Over, and System Access; while Open Source varieties such as Orca also exist.  Each software application has its strengths, weaknesses, and price point; and the application of choice for any given user will depend upon a combination of these factors.

How they work

Screen readers often work by examining your Web site's source code directly.  Remember, it's just a piece of software, and does not have the ability to intelligently interpret and relate anything which is not text - that wonderful video of your last summer vacation is useless to someone who is visually impaired, unless it is also accompanied by other descriptions and explanations for what is being presented.

How you can help

One way in which you can help make your Web site more accessible to those using screen readers is to follow good coding practices.  By organizing your content well, and by clearly labeling everything, screen readers will have a much easier time navigating and describing your Web site verbally and in print.  In our Section 508 article, we provide suggestions on basic accessibility practices, such as labeling your images with alt text, which allows screen readers to describe what would otherwise be seen by your sighted visitors.  Other useful techniques have been presented by the W3C, such as using the WAI-ARIA, which defines a document model slowly being accepted by screen reader manufactures.