Screen reader demos, research and resources

In my last article I suggested using personas to help teach accessibility, especially to other front-end developers. Another approach is to show how real people use assistive technologies and the common problems they face and to share findings from user testing and research.

Below are some links to screen reader demos, research and resources that I’ve collated and am currently making my way through. Although screen readers are only one of many types of assistive technology, for developers they are the most important to understand as are most directly affected by how we write HTML, CSS and Javascript. The more javascript we include in our web pages the more we need to understand them and be using them for testing.


  • Victor Tsaran: An Introduction to Screen Readers (Video, 27 minutes) 2007
    In this video from 2007, Yahoo! Accessibility Program Manager Victor Tsaran shows us the core functionality of screen readers and how they interact with the desktop, then demonstrates how he uses them to explore and understand web sites, how sites are “linearized”, and how using semantic markup to build sites supports accessible navigation and usability.
  • Videos of screen readers using ARIA (14 videos) October 2011
    Recordings of screen readers using web page components that do and do not make use of WAI-ARIA can be a good educational resource for why ARIA is important to accessibility. A collection of such video collated by Zoe Mickley Gillenwater.
  • Understanding the purpose of an image using alt text (Video, 3 mins) September 2011
    A quick tutorial on how to provide alt text for different sorts of images in such a way that people using assistive technologies will be able to understand the purpose of the image.
  • How ARIA landmark roles help screen reader users (Video, 2 mins) June 2011
    Léonie Watson from Nomensa demonstrates how ARIA landmark roles help screen reader users understand the purpose of different areas of a web page, such as search, navigation or main content.
  • Using the lang attribute (Video, 3 mins) April 2011
    Matt Lawson from Nomensa demonstrates how the lang attribute affects how text sounds in a screen reader.
  • Order of content (Video, 3 mins) March 2011
    Emily Coward from Nomensa demonstrates the importance of making sure the order of content on a website is logical to ensure that it makes sense when it’s read through from top to bottom by someone using a screen reader.
  • Demo of JAWS Screen Reader (Video, 27 mins) March 2011
    Peggy Hoover, an employee from the College of Health and Human Development, demonstrates how she uses JAWS to navigate Penn State services.
  • Demo on JAWS Screen Reader, Part 2 (Testing Sites) (Video, 28 mins) March 2011 Michael Brooks of World Campus provides a description of some accessibility issues for a screen reader witihin an interactive Web site and how they could be addressed in HTML.
  • Accessible Forms & Javascript (Video, 2 mins) Feb 2011 Dan Stringer from Nomensa demonstrates why submitting forms with javascript rather than buttons causes issues for people using screen readers.
  • Robin Christopherson: Designing for All in a Web 2.0 World (Video, 30 mins) 2009
    A presentation given at the Future of Web Design, London 2009. Robin uses a screen reader and selection of websites with varying levels of text and multimedia content to give some demonstrations of good and bad practice in terms of accessibility compliance.


  • Google News: How User-Friendly is It for the Blind? (PDF) 2011
    Abstract: Being able to read text, find out information and know about the latest news has always been a challenge for those who cannot access the printed version, such as the visually-impaired. The advent of the Web has been a big step in the right direction for blind people to obtain up-to-date information on the internet. Many portals and Web sites offer online services for up-to-date news. In this paper our aim is to evaluate how easy and rewarding it is for blind people to access this. For this purpose, we are focusing on the well-known online service provided by Google, i.e. Google News as a case study. In order to truly benefit from access to the information available on the Web, the page interface must be simple and easy to use by everyone, including people who have to use assistive technologies. In this work we analyze not only the accessibility of the service offered by Google for its News, but also in particular the usability when interacting via screen reader.
  • A Modified Google Docs UI accessible via screen reader (PDF) 2011
    Abstract: Collaborative editors are simple tools that enable people to create, share and exchange documents via Internet, quickly enhancing learning, knowledge and socialization. However, at present collaborative software is designed with little attention to the needs of differently-abled persons, such as the blind. Dynamic user interfaces and visual features delivering meaning may be inaccessible via screen reader, if an appropriate design is not adopted. In this demo we show a prototype of some modified Google Docs User Interfaces (UIs) — for accessing and editing a document — that allow full accessibility via JAWS screen reader. An interaction with the original and modified UIs is shown to highlight barriers and possible solutions for their elimination.
  • Screen Reader User Survey #3 Results WebAIM, February 2011
    1245 valid responses
  • More than Meets the Eye: A Survey of Screen-Reader Browsing Strategies (PDF) 2009
    Abstract: Browsing the Web with screen readers can be difficult and frustrating. Web pages often contain inaccessible content that is expressed only visually or that can be accessed only with the mouse. Screen-reader users must also contend with usability challenges encountered when the reading content is designed with built-in assumptions of how it will be accessed – generally by a sighted person on a standard display. Far from passive consumers of content who simply accept web content as accessible or not, many screen-reader users are adept at developing, discovering, and employing browsing strategies that help them overcome the accessibility and usability problems they encounter. In this paper, we overview the browsing strategies that we have observed screen-reader users employ when faced with challenges, ranging from unfamiliar web sites and complex web pages to dynamic and automatically-refreshing content. A better understanding of existing browsing strategies can inform the design of accessible websites, development of new tools that make experienced users more effective, and help overcome the initial learning curve for users who have not yet acquired effective browsing strategies.
  • Usability and Accessibility of eBay by Screen Reader (PDF) 2009
    The evolution of Information and Communication Technology and the rapid growth of the Internet have fuelled a great diffusion of eCommerce websites. Usually these sites have complex layouts crowded with active elements, and thus are difficult to navigate via screen reader. Interactive environments should be properly designed and delivered to everyone, including the blind, who usually use screen readers to interact with their computers. In this paper we investigate the interaction of blind users with eBay, a popular eCommerce website, and discuss how using the W3C Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) suite could improve the user experience when navigating via screen reader.
  • Screen Reader User Survey #2 Result WebAIM, October 2009
    665 valid responses
  • Screen Reader User Survey #1 Result WebAIM, January 2009
    1121 valid responses
  • Coping Strategy Pattern Identificatio (PDF) 2008
    Conclusion: People with visual impairments are hindered when accessing content on the World Wide Web (Web) as it is not designed with their needs in mind. As such many visually impaired users develop coping strategies that allow them to access Web content. In this paper we have used three independent data sources and identified the low level coping strategies using a definition of coping that we have created in previous works. From those low level strategies we have identified six recurring abstract patterns that describe the processes that are involved with the coping strategies …
  • Source Order, Skip links and Structural labels 2005
    Abstract: Is page source order important to screen reader users? Recently, the idea of placing the informational content of a web page before the navigation has gained some currency. This paper reports on our research into the relevance and importance of page source order, skip links and structural labels for screen reader users.
  • Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites: Observing Users Who Work With Screen Readers 2003
    Conclusion: To truly meet the needs of all users, it is not enough to have guidelines that are based on technology. It is also necessary to understand the users and how they work with their tools. For example, just realizing that vision-impaired users do not listen to the entire page is critical for designing usable pages for them. In this paper, we have developed guidelines for bringing accessibility and usability together based on observing, listening to, and talking with blind users as they work with Web sites and their screen readers.






Let me know what you think. Do you know of any other useful links?

12 Responses to “Screen reader demos, research and resources”

  1. Alistair Duggin says:

    Tips for JAWS users using the new Yahoo! Mail

  2. Chris says:

    Interesting collection of information. I’d love to pass along the link but as a Window-eyes user the JFW references are to many. Sighted users already don’t understand how long term use of a screen reader enables functionality and therefore are just looking for an excuse to force standards on blind users even when the user already has a reader and system that works. This just helps them. To bad since there is plenty of good info here.

  3. Alistair Duggin says:

    Hi Chris,

    If you have any Window-eyes links/rsources I’d love to add them. The whole point of this page is to help people understand more about screen readers and how they are used.

  4. Kylee says:

    While I think this is a great collection of information, I always get uncomfortable when we market accessibility as a “special needs” requirement. I prefer to consult with people using the principles of universal design and best practice; and then there’s the fact that everything about accessibility (markup, alt-text, contextual links etc) is also great for SEO. My approach means that people can’t sidestep issues because they think they pertain only to a specific group.

  5. Jeremy Curry says:

    Here are links for Window-Eyes information as requested by users noted in the comments above.

    If you can add information regarding Window-Eyes in your blog posts in the future as requested by several comments above, it would be much appreciated. There are likely many more that you can find, but I thought I would help by throwing out a few for you. I hope this helps!

    GW Micro (Makers of Window-Eyes) Website

    Window-Eyes Webinars, including worksheets on how to use Window-Eyes with the Internet and more

    Window-Eyes How Do I Do That? video tutorials with accessible audio

    Window-Eyes Tutorial

    Window-Eyes App Tutorials

    Top 21 Things You and Your Students Should Know About Window-Eyes

    Window-Eyes versus JAWS Comparison Chart

    Window-Eyes Manual

  6. Alistair Duggin says:

    Thanks Jeremy I’ve added a Window-Eyes section to the post with a couple of links.

    Kylee, I completely agree with Universal Design and followingbest practice. However, it’s also important that developers have an understanding of how screen reader users interact with a web page as how a page is coded can have a big affect on them. For a few examples check out one of my other posts Quick accessibility and usability improvements to a blog. Understanding assistive technologies and how they are used helps to set context for why best practices need to be followed.

  7. […] Screen reader demos, research and resources by Alistair Duggin. Written the day after my dinner. […]

  8. Alistair Duggin says:

    A blind screen reader user demoing aria live regions, headings and lang attribute:

  9. Gary M. Morin says:

    While the article opens up talking about personas of various disabilities and various functional needs and limitations, the only AT addressed here are screen readers. Will there be additional articles that address other AT – such as speech recognition software? I’ve long known that most people who know a little about accessibility (but think they know a lot) only talk about and address JAWS-compatibility. Even if they were to broaden their world-view to screen reader-compatibility, that still only addresses those with severe vision impairments.

    Sadly, what I’m realizing now is that it is becoming a pitting of one disability group against another. It’s not about universal access or design – it’s about ‘blind people have greater needs than other groups of people’ (though I haven’t seen the basis for that allegation.). Relatively speaking, a good amount of web design is done with screen readers in mind. I see almost nothing – web-based or software application-based – done with speech recognition software in mind, and it does make a difference.

    thanks for letting me vent and give voice to another part of the equation.

  10. Alistair Duggin says:

    Hi Gary,

    Absolutley planning more articles to address other ATs. Am in the process of collating videos and links. I’ll post something soon.

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