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4 Key Takeaways from WebAIM’s 2019 Screen Reader User Survey

WebAIM has been conducting surveys on web accessibility for years (see WebAIM projects), including a survey of Screen Reader users since 2009. The most recent survey was published in September 2019. 

I encourage everyone to read through their results and analysis as it won’t take long, but here are the four key insights I found. 

Note: Numbers rounded to the nearest full number

#1 - The technology landscape for screen readers is fragmented, but usage is not

A predominant number of users rely only on a handful of platforms and technologies. More is always better when it comes to testing, but given the scarcity of time, talent, and treasure, I would expect the best ROI by prioritizing the following list: 

  1.  JAWS on Chrome on Windows 
  2.  NVDA on Firefox on Windows 
  3.  VoiceOver on iOS/Safari 

This gets you coverage for: 

  • 87% of Desktop OS usage 
  • 70% of mobile OS usage 
  • 94% of screen readers 

Where is MacOS? Based on the data, Mac usage is less than 10%, and that 85% of those users in the survey appear to be developers without disabilities using it for testing purposes. 

Trend wise, for the first time, Chrome usage surpassed Firefox’s and NVDA surpassed JAWS. 

#2 - Page Headings are the top navigation feature. 

When asked about how they navigate a lengthy webpage 69% said they try to use page headings first, and 86% said that heading levels are useful. 

For context, more than twice as many people (7% vs 3%) will just read the whole page rather than use landmarks. 

Rather than styling div, p, and span tags to look different, structure your content using actual headings (h1-h6) which provide explicit hierarchy. 

#3 - JavaScript use is normal 

As with the general population, JavaScript usage for screen reader users is over 99%, so JavaScript on its own is not an issue but, just as on the visible web, the way you use it could be a problem. 

For reference, WCAG 2.0 removed the requirement that sites work with scripting disabled, so it is possible to have a compliant site that requires JavaScript to work. 

 #4 - Documents are problematic, especially PDFs. 

This can be a controversial topic, but documents on websites are not inherently good or bad; they have their place and should be used appropriately. 

75% of respondents indicated that PDFs are likely to cause significant issues, while only 31% thought so for Word docs. 

If you have documents, make them as accessible as possible. If you have a choice between a word doc and a pdf, the word doc is probably the better accessibility choice. 

For help making your docs more accessible just do a web search for "make accessible documents in [name of the software you are using]". 

In my opinion, the American Library Association has a great "Should this be a PDF a Word Document or a Webpage? Flow Chart" to help make the evaluation easier. 

Summary 

  1. Use data to decide on your testing program 
  2. Page headings go a long way towards the usability of your content 
  3. Using JavaScript is okay 
  4. Be wary of documents. Generally, Web > Word > PDF 

If you have any feedback or had different takeaways, I would love to discuss it. You can contact me at dylan@bluemodus.com.


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