Using a screen reader

What might it be like to read the BBC News website with a screen reader?
I thought this was interesting.


Using a screen reader :: YouTube video

Imagine if you needed to rely on a screen-reader to use the Internet. Seriously – give it a try.

Start the video playing, put the volume up a bit, and *shut your eyes*.

Try and follow along.

What’s it like? Imagine if you’d not seen the page before, and had to try and figure out the structure of the page from what is read out.

Choose a story that you’d want to click on, and without looking, try and work out how many times you’d need to press up/down/tab to get to it.

It’s not easy, is it?

End-to-end, it took over 18 minutes for the screen reader to finish reading the page. How long would it take you to skim over the page and figure out what you want to click on next? I’m guessing something less than eighteen minutes.

I’m not making a specific point about BBC News compared with any other website. In fact, it’s actually very good. It’s just a site that most people know well, so makes for an easy comparison.

This was a clean install of a new screenreader, without tweaking any settings or enabling/disabling any features. This is the out-of-the-box behaviour of a screen reader with the out-of-the-box behaviour of Internet Explorer. I’m sure there are ways to improve on this experience, even if just turning the speed of the speech up as you get used to it.

I’m not trying to review a screen reader here. I just found it interesting, as someone who thinks of themselves as a digital native, spending all day every day online, but doesn’t really know what the Internet is like for some people.

4 Responses to “Using a screen reader”

  1. David Bates says:

    I’ve done some screen reader stuff before with Flex. It was an utter nightmare! [shudder]

  2. Alex Bowyer says:

    Fascinating! It’s pretty much impossible to use, and this is probably one of the better sites for accessibility.

    I think this shows that you cannot have one site for all purposes.
    In an ideal world, we will need to create separate sites for
    1) normal browsers
    2) tablet browsing
    3) mobile (small screen) browsing
    4) screenreader browsing.

    I guess some of this can be done with CSS, and with WordPress plugins/themes etc. But I think above all it really shows the need for the semantic web. Once all data is stored semantically it’s much easier to generate different views.

  3. […] Visually impaired people can interact with the web using screen readers. These read out every element on a page. […]