How to Test Websites with Screen Readers
By Aayushi Verma, Community Contributor - January 27, 2022
As of 2022, society is becoming more sensitive and inclusive when it comes to accommodating individuals with special needs. Technology is playing a significant role in this regard, helping to eradicate difficulties caused by specific physical conditions and impairment. Physical impairment is no longer a barrier to exploring the digital world.
Among the many assistive devices in use, screen readers are especially popular. They provide a solution to a major problem, i.e., Web Accessibility to partially sighted or blind people.
This article will discuss screen readers and their role in providing a more inclusive experience to users. It will also cover the process of testing websites with screen readers so that they are equipped to serve individuals with impaired vision.
What are screen readers?
Screen readers convert digital text into audible form. They help users interact with computing devices in a non-visual manner. Any user with cognitive limitations, including a partially sighted or blind person, can use screen readers to grasp and interact with on-screen media.
Essentially, screen readers loudly vocalize the textual content on a screen. It is an advanced form of assistive technology that helps users navigate digital content without having to visually perceive it.
Who uses screen readers?
- Individuals who are partially sighted or suffering from blindness use screen readers. It can also be helpful for individuals with cognitive or learning difficulties (such as dyslexia).
- Anyone trying to learn a language or experiencing difficulty reading text online can also utilize such technology. It is ideal for people who prefer to consume content auditorily, for any reason whatsoever.
How do users navigate a website using screen readers?
Screen readers work with the keyboard; they do not need a mouse. When the user enables the screen reader, it starts to read out the text on the screen. Different screen reader software uses specific commands (jump, skip, select, etc.) on the keyboard to navigate site content.
What do you understand by accessibility testing?
Accessibility testing is a way of examining whether websites and apps are accessible to individuals with disabilities or special needs – hearing disabilities, vision impairment, or other cognitive problems. In fact, legislation passed by many countries mandates that information and digital content must be made as accessible as possible. Examples of such laws would be the
- Americans with Disabilities Act – 1990
- Disability Discrimination Act – 1995 (UK)
- Disability Discrimination Act – 1992 (Australia)
- Disability Act of 2005 (Ireland)
Why are screen readers important in the accessibility testing of a website?
As explained above, website content should be optimized for maximum accessibility. For a website to be truly accessible, it must be equipped to operate with screen readers.
Some guidelines issued under the WCAG Quick Reference Guide emphasize on offering text alternatives for visually impaired people. That makes it crucial to check auditory navigation on websites, which is to be done via screen readers.
How to test websites with Screen Readers on Real Devices online
The easiest way to test screen readers on real browsers and devices online is to use BrowserStack. Access a real device cloud of 3000+ real browsers and devices to check how a website works with screen readers in real user conditions.
BrowserStack’s screen reader for accessibility testing supports multiple versions of all leading browsers – Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer, Edge, etc.
Here is a quick tutorial on how to test websites with screen readers on the BrowserStack cloud.
Step 1: Sign up for a free trial on BrowserStack.
Step 2: After signing in, navigate to BrowserStack Live. The image below represents the initiating screen.
Step 3: Enter the URL of the website to be tested. This example will use https://www.browserstack.com/.
Step 4: The website will load on the selected browser and device. On the left, you will find an option to switch the browser.
Step 5: Click on the ‘Screen Reader’ option on the menu. Check the box. You will see a green box at the top highlighting ‘screen reader has been enabled for this desktop.‘
Before proceeding to the actual testing, here are some useful keyboard commands to help you navigate with this screen reader –
- Tab – for moving to the next element
- Spacebar – for opening any dialog box
- Shift+Tab – for navigating to the next element
- Esc – for closing any menu
Additionally, the screen reader will instruct you on navigating each step.
Step 6: Navigate to the Products link option with the ‘Tab’ command. The screen reader will read aloud all content on the screen and simultaneously instruct the tester on how to proceed further with keyboard commands.
Step 7: Expand on the Product option with the ‘Spacebar’ command.
Step 8: Change the browser from Firefox to Chrome.
Similarly, they can test the website on the new browser as required.
Now, to give demonstrate how to test the websites with screen readers, let’s try testing the sign-in procedure on BrowserStack.
Step 1: The tester has changed the browser to Microsoft Edge to proceed with the test.
Step 2: With the help of the ‘Tab’ command, the tester clicks on the ‘Sign In‘ option.
Step 3: Next, he clicked the ‘Sign in with Google’ option with the same command.
Step 4: Now, the tester enters the email id using the keyboard. While entering the same, the screen reader is voicing the entered alphabet.
Step 5: The tester fills in the password following the same process as above.
The tester has now signed with the help of a screen-reader and keyboard.
Enriching user experience with Screen Readers
The basic idea is to facilitate a smooth workflow for the user and offer the required options without any hassles. Here are a few quick recommendations to enhance the user experience for those using screen readers:
- Ensure that people can access the dynamic content of your website. Sometimes, when content is modified on websites, screen readers can’t translate them.
- In order to better describe images to users, use alt tags.
- Ensure headers are well-structured according to hierarchy.
- It is better to disable the automatic carousels and autoplay to provide complete navigation control to users.
- Ensure videos contain captions and audio is transcribed.
- Perform a frequent auditory audit of the website to check whether users can navigate it completely using the screen readers.
Best practices for testing websites with Screen Readers
Testers must check the whole website from the perspective of physically impaired users. Practically, it may not be possible to perceive all their actions and expectations, but trying to be in the shoes of users goes a long way.
- Listen to the full page carefully and check for mistakes, if any.
- Particularly, pay attention to forms. Verify whether the form label is said loud while entering the field through keyboards. Many screen readers ignore forms’ mode in the encountering mode.
- Check whether the abbreviations, email addresses, acronyms, and phone numbers are well pronounced.
- Any prompt or pop-up content displayed on-screen must be read by screen readers.
Screen Readers are essential to making textual content accessible to individuals with special needs. In a world that is trying to be as inclusive as possible, they must necessarily be included in QA operations for any websites, whether in development or being updated in numerous iterations.
Testing websites with screen readers on real browsers installed on real devices is the only way to ensure that sites are optimized for viewing by individuals with impaired vision or some special needs. Tests run on the BrowserStack cloud are not bogged down by the many limitations of emulators and simulators, thus offering 100% accurate results every single time.