Wednesday, February 11, 2009

WebAIM Screen Reader Survey

Many of you know WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind) as one of the most complete and best maintained sources of good information on accessible design topics. In December and January, WebAIM conducted a survey of preferences of screen reader users relating to Web design and Web technologies. The survey collected 1121 responses from people with various disabilities. See WebAIM: Screen Reader Survey Results I found the results to be quite useful:
  • Headings really are important: "It is clear that providing a heading structure is important to screen reader users with 76% always or often navigating by headings when they are available." 90% of the expert users used headings always or often.
  • Site maps were not particularly useful: "The majority of respondents seldom or never use site maps."
  • Pop-up windows are difficult for less proficient screen readers to deal with. More proficient users had much less difficulty.
  • Photos should be identified as such in their alt text, rather than just described with brief text: "It was very clear that the vast majority of screen reader users prefer to have photos identified as such. Interestingly, those that do not have a disability were three times more likely to prefer the briefer alt text than those that do have a disability."
  • Flash is difficult for screen reader users: "71.5% of screen reader users reported that Flash is difficult while only 14.2% reported that it is easy."
  • Frames are not that big of a problem. "While the majority (58%) of users reported that frames are easy, those that are blind were 3 1/2 times more likely to indicate that they are easy than those with no disability."
Clearly, Web accessibility evaluator's rules of thumb (i.e., Frames are not accessible) can be simplistic or misleading . I encourage everyone to read through these results carefully. And I would like to send a hearty thanks to WebAIM for conducting the survey!


Dan said...

This survey was very interesting and valuable. Some aspects that I've been spending little time discussing (increased interpretation of alt text) clearly need to be bumped up in priority. Other things I've observed, such as vastly decreased impact of frames and the need for solid heading structure, were reinforced. And of course Flash continues to be a problem for most.

Perhaps the most important lesson from the survey is that screen reader users are similar to any other web site visitors -- they live in a wide spectrum of expectations and skills. Web designers can't assume that users of screen reading software all operate their software in a similar fashion -- just like all web users.

I look forward to WebAIM's continued work in this area.

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.