Thoughts on the Screenreader Survey

WebAIM have produced a very useful screenreader survey (which they in fact produced a couple of weeks ago, only I’d not got round to looking at it before now).

For the full details, you should obviously refer to the survey. I’m just going to list a few points which I think are worthy of note. It’s important to note that totals may come to more than 100%, owing to rounding, and owing to the fact that multiple options aren’t necessarily exclusive (e.g. you can be blind and have motor difficulties; you can use JAWS and Windows Eyes).

  • JAWS is by far the market dominant screen reader (74%), followed by Windows Eyes (23%). Nothing else even reaches 10%
  • Most screenreader users (75%) update their version within a year of the new version coming out. A significant minority take longer than this, but this would seem to suggest that we no longer need to assume people are all running on very old versions of screen readers, although a minority (6%) may take over 3 years to update
  • Accesskeys are more widely used than previously suspected — 22% use them whenever available, and only 10% never use them. We may therefore need to start treating accesskeys more carefully, despite the key-combination problems that they may cause.
  • 76% of screen reader users use headings to navigate either ‘often’ or ‘all the time’. Properly marked up headings are therefore critical.
  • Site maps are not used very often (51% seldom or never). Is it time to give up on site maps?
  • 53% of screen reader users find pop-up windows either ’somewhat’ or ‘very’ difficult to deal with; so lets avoid them, in comparison, people don’t seem to have difficulty with frames.
  • Despite frequent advice from accessibility people to the contrary, it would appear that screen reader users would prefer (by 80% — 12%) that the alt text associated with a photo be identified as “a photo of X” rather than just “X”. That one is a surprise.
  • 71% of screenreader users report that Flash is ’somewhat’ or ‘very’ difficult to use, with only 3% finding it ‘very easy’.
  • There is a relatively even split over PDF files — 44% say ’somewhat’ or ‘very’ easy to use; 48% say ’somewhat’ or ‘very’ difficult.

It’s important also to note that there are differences in the results which can be identified based on how experienced computer/screen reader users people are, and that in some cases these preferences — use of accesskeys, alt with “photo of…”, alt provided for decorative images — are contrary to what is frequently described as accessibility best practice.

It just goes to show: you need to talk to people now and again to find out what they actually do, or need.

3 Responses to “Thoughts on the Screenreader Survey”

  1. catherine responds:

    JAWS is by far the market dominant screen reader (74%), followed by Windows Eyes (23%). Nothing else even reaches 10%

    Yes, that seems to be the case and no doubt that JAWS has an important market share but what the study does not seem to say for now is among the impressive number of respondants, what countries they are from. That would have been an interesting detail.

  2. Christophe Strobbe responds:

    Catherine makes a valid point. When the survey was announced on the WebAIM list, I suggested that screen reader statistics might be biased because market shares may be different in different countries or language communities and I contacted French and German mailing lists to find volunteers for translations. Those volunteers weren’t too hard to find, but hosting turned out to be a big obstacle. At the moment, I am not aware of any translations.

  3. Andy Mabbett responds:

    Access keys have always seemed a developmental cul-de-sac. Better to let authors identify subsections of pages with rel-links or a set of globally-agreed(!) microformat-style classes or IDs (or, soon, HTML5 elements), then let the user choose which key should always go to “home”, “footer” or wherever.

    As to alt=”a photo of X” I wonder if that’s because that’s what they’ve come to expect?

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