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Published On: Tue, Mar 17th, 2020

3 Things That Screen Readers and Assistive Technology Can’t See

The internet has become so ubiquitous, it’s hard to imagine that any part of it could be unavailable to a significant portion of the population. And yet, nearly 7 million people are affected by visual disabilities so profound, they are unable to access the World Wide Web without using a screen reader or some other form of assistive technology.

Do these assistive technologies give their users an equivalent experience to the one that cyber-surfers who don’t have to rely upon adaptive devices enjoy? Hardly. Accessibility blocks abound. Here are the three biggest hurdles that visually disabled users routinely stumble over.

Unlabeled Graphics

When graphics are uploaded onto a website, their HTML markup is supposed to comply with a standard formula: 

The “IMG SRC” attribute defines the specific URL of the image the web designer wants to display while the “ALT” attribute includes a description of the image. Originally, the ALT attribute was introduced because many web browsers did not have the capacity to display graphics. These days, however, the ALT attribute is essential because without it, visually disabled viewers will not have the slightest idea what the graphic represents.

photo/ Gerd Altmann via pixabay

Missing Headers

Screen readers use HTML headers like H1, H2 and H3 to identify different categories of content. There is a hierarchy involved with these headers so that information that is displayed within an H2 header is presented within the larger, overall context of the H1 header.

Search engines utilize page headers to assess those pages’ relative rankings on search requests; screen readers utilize them to navigate pages and to give the users who depend upon screen readers the ability to skip ahead or back to the desired heading. Without properly formatted headings, the points that a webpage is trying to convey may get all jumbled up when a visually disabled person tries to access it.

Inaccessible PDF files

Brochures and manuals are common website offerings, but often they are uploaded as scanned images rather than as text. This practice is commonplace even when the original brochure or manual was a PDF file.

Screen readers can access PDF files if the image is converted into text by means of a software application that has OCR (Optical Character Recognition) functionality. Without that conversion, though, a screen reader cannot retrieve these files at all.

Planning for Accessibility

Even the most technologically advanced assistive device can only render information that’s actually available in a website’s HTML and other coding. How can you know whether that coding is robust enough to support screen readers? The experts at the Bureau of Internet Accessibility advise, “Audits using both human and artificial intelligence are the only way to give you an accurate picture of your level of accessibility.”

Author: Digital Solutions

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