WebAIM have recently published the results of their Survey of Screen Reader user preferences. There’s already been a lot of coverage of the results, but I’ve summed up a few keys points that I found particularly interesting.
Summary of respondents
- 1121 responses
- 90% of respondents were full-time Screen Reader (SR) users
- 58% considered themselves expert or advanced SR users
- 74% use JAWS, 23% Windows Eyes, 8% NVDA, 6% Voice Over
Some key points
First visit to a page
35% of respondents tend to navigate through or listen to the links on a new page, whilst 46% read through whole the page. The latter tended to be the behaviour of more proficient users, who will usually have their verbosity and read speed settings cranked up to make page reading a lot faster.
Only 22% of respondents always use Skip Links, where available. 10% claimed they never use them. Regarding the naming of Skip Links, 22% preferred ‘Skip to Content’, 28% preferred ‘Skip to Main Content’, whilst only 6% liked ‘Skip Navigation’. This would seem to be a very useful finding.
An important one, this. 52% said they always use Headings to navigate a page, whilst 24% do so often. Also, the more proficient the user was, the more likely they were to use Headings in this way. This underlines the importance of correctly structuring your pages with Headings.
As you’d imagine, over half of the respondents like to use Search, where available. Again this underlines the importance of making any Search function usable and relevant.
A mixed response to this one, with 25% saying they found pop-ups very difficult to handle, whilst 17% said they were not at all difficult. This could be clearly linked to the users’ proficiency, so whilst it may not affect the experts, avoiding pop-ups will greatly help the less proficient users.
Identification of photos
Quite a big surprise… 80% would prefer the alt description “Photo of the White House” over just “The White House”. This contradicts the assumption that we should always keep things as short as possible. Important to note that we may not be able to say the same of other such situations (i.e. other types of graphics).
No great surprise to see that 71% of users found Flash content somewhat difficult or very difficult to access. There are some very accessible implementations of Flash out there, but generally content presented in Flash will cause problems. This was apparently backed up by many strong comments from respondents about the inaccessibility of Flash.
The overall conclusion drawn by WebAIM was that all SR users are unique in their use of the technologies and how they interact with web content. We can make assumptions, informed by research and user testing such as this, but ultimately there will never be a 100% ideal solution. Conforming to international standards, and getting rid of the obvious barriers, are just the first steps to making your content truly accessible to SR users.