Building accessible apps: Top 10 screen reader trends

Why build accessible apps?

With over 4 billion people using the internet and 1 billion people in the world living with disabilities, accessibility is a big deal. For those unfamiliar with the term, accessibility for computer interaction means access for all. An integral component of accessible apps includes screen readers. WebAIM released the results from the new Screen Reader User Survey 2019. In this article, I note the build trends relevant to the design, code semantics, and user behavior.

The top 10 list

1. NVDA and Jaws are sharing the desktop market.

NVDA ranks more popular, and Jaws dips in usage. NV Access is a charity organization and software development company. They did an awesome job of granting millions of people access to screen reader software for free. Probably it is also a good time for Freedom Scientific to review their price list for Jaws?

2. NVDA is being used more often in Chrome.

Previously accessibility requirements created confusion. Besides the main browser (often Chrome), a development team should have been spending additional effort on introducing the Mozilla's Firefox which is a main browser for NVDA.

3. Jaws with IE, previously ranked first in past surveys, dropped to fourth place.

No comments; this is expectable. And a bit nice.

4. The majority of users (71%) rely on the screen reader only and do not use visual content.

The amount of people who mix assistive technologies isn't big. This fact is important to remember when defining which groups of users you are targeting in the project.

5. Mobile vs. web usage is 50/50.

Mobile native screen readers are being used while iOS platform is leading significantly. Although the requirements are the same for web content accessibility guidelines or WCAG, the testing process of mobile apps is different. To be informed, testers should learn how VoiceOver rotor works and familiarize themselves with Android's TalkBack.

6. Vision impaired users avoid using simplified text-versions.

A text version of a page may exist if there is a reason for it, but it should not cover the lack of skills to develop a normal accessible page.

7. Landmarks usage is falling.

Looks like the old rule still valid - if you can make it without ARIA, then don't use it.

“It's difficult to know the reasons for this. It could be due to infrequent or improper usage of landmarks/regions in pages. Or perhaps because other mechanisms are continually better.”

– WebAIM Screen Reader User Survey #8

8. 35% of users have no idea if the pages they are using are meeting WCAG 2.1 guidelines.

While product owners/builders prioritize WCAG guidelines, end-user do not care about the level of conformance or certification. When building, focus on page usability, not just checking the rows in the WCAG checklist.

9. Headings and their levels are the most popular way to navigate.

Use headings to define the main blocks of information, but also as a means to develop a logical structure. Headings only work when programmed correctly. Very often, a screen reader falsely interprets a level 2 heading in one part of the page, as a child of a level 1 heading from another part—and while looking at UI it is clear that there is absolutely no relationship between them.

10. Many developers do not create accessible web sites because they lack awareness and skill.

Badly, this is true for many organizations. By seeking mastery in designing, developing, and testing accessibility, strive to make the web accessible to everyone.

Coming soon

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