Web Accessibility Highlight: Making Screen Readers Personal

in his recent article, A Tale of Two Rooms Ryan Jones uses a great analogy of entering a room, and the strategies one would use to scan the room before entering, to explain how screen reader users often engage with web pages. The implication is that the experience of a screen reader user is similar to the experience one would have using only a flash light, with a narrow beam of light, to scan a dark room before entering. Who can’t relate to this?

I often use similar analogies when conducting disability awareness, and assistive technology, awareness trainings. One of my personal favorites is asking the audience to try to imagine their pantry, and how they might find something in it if, say, there were no light, or only a small pin light to review the contents of the pantry. I usually open the presentation for discussion, and allow audience members to talk about the strategies they might use and what types of environmental structures might assist them in developing functional strategies to review the contents of their pantry in the absence of light. It is far easier for many of us to problem solve the hypothetical strategies for scanning a dark room, or dark pantry, because these are every day things that we can see, smell, touch and even hear and taste; we can engage with them with all 5 senses and the experience is very similar to what screen reader users experience when navigating web pages and documents.