Do You Need to Support All Screen Readers?

We have all heard the quote, ‘The more, the merrier!’. While this is applicable in most situations, when it comes to deciding the count of screen readers an application should support, the quote might not hold true. In this digital era, there are a plethora of screen readers available for the users to pick. JAWS, NVDA, VoiceOver, TalkBack, ChromeVox, MS Narrator, Orca, etc. are some of the renowned screen readers, along with many more. Can you support all of them? Is it even necessary? 

For some time now, there has been a spike in the demand for making web applications ADA/WCAG compliant. When it comes solely to screen reader support, people tend to extend legal compliance to most of the screen readers, if not all. There is the apprehension of litigation of the application in case of non-compliance with all screen readers. As per WCAG’s Robust Principle, an application’s content should be compatible with different browsers, assistive technologies, and other user agents. No law or guideline mandates the specific count of screen readers to ensure compliance. In fact, WCAG and other standards are designed to be technology agnostic, so people who are frantic to ensure screen reader compliance should breathe a sigh of relief. 

While it is a must to comply with at least one screen reader, it would certainly be wise to test the application in as many screen readers as possible. If the organization follows generally accepted accessibility techniques, coding semantics, and well-defined page structures, they can be reasonably assured that their content will work with the majority of screen readers. 

Factors to consider while determining screen reader compliance.

The selection of a screen reader tool relies on multiple criteria such as the popularity of the screen reader, target audience, geographical reach, platform support, screen reader cost, infrastructure, efforts to train about screen reader functioning, etc. Let’s elaborate on the above aspects.

Popularity:

This is the utmost important factor of all. As an owner, you would want your product to reach the most users. Proper research would assist you in identifying the widely used screen reader tool. According to the Primary screen reader section (check graphic representation below) of the recent WebAim survey, NVDA is the most used tool, followed closely by JAWS. VoiceOver trails at a distant third place.

*Image Source: https://webaim.org/projects/screenreadersurvey8/#primary

Target audience:

At times a product is aimed at a specific set of users. Knowing your target audience will help you in narrowing down the list of screen readers that your app should be compatible with. A careful analysis should be done to examine the suitable user groups for which the product is built. While it is reasonable to limit the product to a particular user category, the web being open and accessible to one and all, you should ensure the product is flexible enough to give basic support to other groups of users as well.

Geographical reach:

It is equally important to know the coverage area of your product. Demographics combined with previous factors would largely help you pick the right screen reader. It would be pointless if the users of the region you wish to target are not accustomed to the screen reader, even though it is widely used in other parts of the world. You can plan a quick survey (either on your own or through an independent entity) to better understand user preference in the intended region. 

Platform support:

There are a bulk of screen readers available in the market today. Most of them are supported on specific platforms. JAWS and NVDA run on Windows only whereas VoiceOver works only on Apple products. TalkBack is supported on the Android platform while ChromeVox works in the Chrome browser and in Chrome OS. A comprehensive list of screen readers provides better insight into the supported platforms.

Screen reader cost:

This is another significant factor that might impact the selection of screen readers. Some screen readers need to be purchased to unlock all features while others are available for free. JAWS comes with a 40-minute trial version, after which system restart is required to use the tool again. If you plan to procure the complete version of JAWS, there is a cost associated with it. NVDA, on the other hand, is an open-source tool and freely available. VoiceOver and TalkBack are built-in Apple and Android products, respectively. ChromeVox is pre-installed in Chrome OS but it comes as a free extension in other platforms.

Miscellaneous:

Other factors include the proficiency of the users to work with different screen readers, hiring skilled resources, efforts to train internal resources, infrastructure setup cost. There can be other points to consider which might be specific to the application.

Conclusion

Brainstorming on the above factors should help you in picking the right set of screen readers. One should also be cognizant of communicating the selection to the actual users. Earlier, we used to mention the best browser to view a website (mostly as a statement in the footer). On similar lines, we can mention the screen readers that are compatible with the application, probably at the beginning of the page or in the accessibility statement. 

By Kalpeshkumar Jain, Lead Accessibility Expert, LearningMate Solutions

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