Sunday, January 10th, 2010

WebAIM Study: Screenreaders and Javascript Co-Exist

Category: Accessibility

Paul Irish points to a recent survey by WebAIM showing what high-level accessibility guidelines frequently omit to mention: screenreaders and Javascript often co-exist. The study shows between 75% and 90% of screenreader users have Javascript enabled. This isn’t just speculation, but a survey of 655 screenreader users.

This response may help strengthen the notion that scripted content must be made accessible. Many developers incorrectly believe that inaccessible scripting is permissible so long as it degrades gracefully or a non-scripted alternative is provided. The vast majority of screen reader respondents encounter scripted content.

Assuming you’ve solved the accessibility problem just by graceful degradation to raw HTML is fallacy. The whole issue is much more nuanced.

There’s also a handy summary of problematic items reported by this user segment, which ranked as follows:

  • CAPTCHA – images presenting text used to verify that you are a human user
  • The presence of inaccessible Flash content
  • Links or buttons that do not make sense
  • Images with missing or improper descriptions (alt text)
  • Complex or difficult forms
  • Lack of keyboard accessibility
  • Screens or parts of screens that change unexpectedly
  • Missing or improper headings
  • Too many links or navigation items
  • Complex data tables
  • Lack of “skip to main content” or “skip navigation” links
  • Inaccessible or missing search functionality

Posted by Michael Mahemoff at 5:06 pm

3.6 rating from 44 votes


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Tip of the accessible hat to Mr. kangax who I picked up that link from.

Comment by PaulIrish — January 10, 2010

Javascript disabled is like surfing in 2001 or so. Bad.

Comment by Aimos — January 11, 2010

I can’t help but think that the more interesting part of that survey is the stats around browser version usage amongst screenreader users.

A lot of the work towards making scripted web-apps more accessible for these users is based around the WAI-ARIA technologies. However, since these are implemented only in a small subset of clients, it’s difficult to know their efficacy.

I had largely assumed that a user reliant on screenreaders or similar technology would be far more sensitive to browser technology than a fully able user, and therefore would be more likely to change/update their browsers, especially where the implementation or otherwise of a particular feature would make a significant impact on their experince of the web.

On the whole though, this is tremendously interesting set of results for those of us who might have fallen into the trap of looking at screenreader accessibility purely from the perspective of someone who has never relied on such a thing.

Comment by lennym — January 11, 2010

“The presence of inaccessible Flash content”

Does this mean all flash content, or only content that does not mean certain requirement.
Considering that adobe published SDK to extract swf’s content (initially for search engine) in 2002, I would expect decent screenreaders being able to read basics swf.

Comment by ywg — January 11, 2010

Just because a swf’s content is extracted, doesn’t mean that you can read it. Who knows whether paragraphs, words, or even letters will come out in the correct order?

Comment by Skilldrick — January 11, 2010

I hear that that a lot of people who unplug their DVD player can’t watch DVD’s.

Comment by nataxia — January 11, 2010

Some can, but these are pirates…

Comment by mare — January 12, 2010

I can attest to this; we have an XHR-dependent web app that we have several blind users quite active in. Some use braille displays, some use screen readers. How the data is parsed depends entirely on clean markup.

Comment by Martindale — January 16, 2010

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