What a Screen Reader Is Not!
By Geof Collis
December 3, 2010
I recently read a couple of articles where the Author, obviously not a screen reader user, tried to explain what they are and what they do.
While I’m sure they meant well they aren’t doing those of us who have to use one on a daily basis any favours.
A screen reader cant be summed up in one nicely wrapped paragraph as if it is going to somehow solve accessibility issues, it is infinitely more complex than that.
Screen Reader Users come in different levels of skill, from beginners to Advanced and have different ways of navigating websites, documents and other software applications. We’re not a “One size fits all” Group.
A Screen Reader is a program that “Can” read text, not “Will” read back text if it can “See” it so to speak, for instance, it cant read an image of text.
I’ve read it too many times from misinformed people that it is some kind of perfect replacement for eyesight and that it can read anything and everything, some Comments in an Online Publication reinforced this and they more than likely get this misinformation from non Screen Reader Users trying to explain what they are and what they do without any real experience.
Screen Readers such as JAWS (Job Access With Speech) are tempermental pieces of software, one minute they are your best friend, the next minute you want to throw them out the window.
If the webpage, document or software program is created properly, JAWS will read back the information as it should but if it isn’t then it’s next to useless, boat anchors serve better purposes in these cases.
Under ideal conditions JAWS will perform as expected but implement to many keyboard commands in fast succession and he just might stop talking to you and shut down. That is only one of the reasons it needs to drive you nuts!
If you’re completely Blind you wont see the dialogue box that pops up stating it’s having problems and I can only imagine what you think when you’re wondering what the heck happened. I have at least enough vision to see the box and figure it is time to restart it, not without some expletives to go with it, sometimes it even needs a Computer Reboot.
However, a warning box doesn’t always show up and it’s lucky I’m not on a room that is above ground or out the window the Computer will go.
I could write a book on the problems encountered using a Screen Reader.
JAWS for instance is always being upgraded, trying to catch up to the latest implementation standards and it is always behind, not to mention that each version comes with its own glitches, having the latest version doesn’t put you ahead of the curve when it comes to accessibility, quite the opposite can happen.
Sometimes I dont think they even test each new version with Blind people, what they call advances are anything but, a new learning curve is in order, some new features are quite annoying.
Web programming standards are in constant flux, as are just about all electronic information dont assume because you read it somewhere the Screen Readers “Can Read” that they “Will” and those who dont use them who try to explain what they are, choose your words carefully, some people take what you say as Gospel.
More often than not a Screen Reader User has to defend their position that something isn’t accessible because some “Expert” gave out the impression that Screen Readers read everything.
A Screen Reader is just a Tool, not a replacement for Eyesight