Introduction to screen readers and screen magnifiers

Many of the questions I get when I talk about accessibility are centered on the assistive technology used by people with disablitites. And since the first (and unfortunately often the only) kind of disability people tend to think about as affecting the way you use the Web is vision impairment, the questions I get are almost always about screen readers.

To a lesser extent I get questions about screen magnifiers, which are mainly used by people who have some vision, but who are not completely blind.

Obviously I try to answer those questions as best I can, mainly by using VoiceOver, the built-in screen reader in my Mac, to browse the Web, and by using the zoom feature in Mac OS X.

But I'm not blind or vision impaired, so me showing how assistive technology used by people with vision impairments works doesn't really reflect how such AT is used by the people who rely on it.

Instead, I believe the best way of explaining how people actually use AT is by watching experienced users. And that leads me to three great videos posted on the Yahoo! User Interface Blog:

  • In Introduction to Screen Readers, Yahoo! engineer Victor Tsaran talks about who will be likely to use a screen reader, how screen readers work, and how they can be used to interact with the computer desktop and to browse web sites.
  • In Introduction to Screen Magnifiers, Karo Caran shows how the screen magnifier ZoomText is used to make the computer desktop and web sites readable to people with reduced vision.
  • And finally, in From the Mouth of a Screenreader, Doug Geoffray from GW Micro (Window-Eyes vendor) talks about the history of screen reading software and how they analyse what is displayed on the screen in order to speak it to the user.

If you have never seen somebody use a screen reader or screen magnifier, or if you have but need a refresher, these videos are highly recommended.

One neat thing that I noticed about the videos posted on the YUI Theater is that you can either watch the videos in your browser or download them in MPEG-4 format and put them on your iPod. Perfect for those lazy summer days away from the computer ;-).

Posted on July 17, 2007 in Accessibility