The latest survey of screen reader preferences came out from Web AIM recently. It appears that most of the respondents were very tech savvy, which is not the case for all users of screen readers, but it does provide some glimpses for best practices.
Some trends that jumped out at me were:
- JAWS still has a significant market share, but other screen readers are catching up. I am hoping that this will help developers code for standards and not just standards + JAWS.
- The majority of the screen reader population (65.2%) is on some version of Internet Explorer ranging from version 9 to (ugh) version 6. If a product isn’t quite working on IE, then this community will notice. The good news for the Mac crowd is that IE dominance is dropping in this community also, but more gradually.
- Many users do use the longdesc feature when it’s available, but there’s mixed results on how effective is.
- Most users (57.2%) also use headings to find information as opposed to a Search function or skip links.
One good trend I did notice is that the use of “screenreader-only” features such as the skip links, access keys and others is dropping and being replaced by mechanisms based on the code for the visual page. The reason I think this is good trend is that adding code which can only accessed by a screen reader is trickier to debug and benefits a much smaller audience.
Something like good use of headings has added benefits for search engine optimization and usability in addition to the benefits for those on a screen reader. The support already exists and only needs minor tweaks to adjust (and Web developers are also more likely to “get” something they can see – just human nature).