When designing and developing technology, don’t forget screen readers

WebAIM’s latest screen reader usage survey is out and the results should help inform those who design and build technology

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Last month developer Kevin Miller wrote a powerful blog post about how important the choices that designers and developers make can be, particularly to the disabled, using a very personal experience to illustrate the point. In that post he made another particularly good point:

Web sites are now expected to work on a wide array of devices and screen resolutions, but somehow screen readers and magnifiers are never listed as a "device" when speaking about responsive design.

Do you consider assistive technologies when designing your website, app or software? Hopefully you do, either because it's good for the bottom line or just because it's the right thing to do. As Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said at the company's annual shareholder meeting, "When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don't consider the bloody ROI."

A computer running JAWS screen reader software

Still the most used screen reader

Image credit: Freedom Scientific

In order to take a technology like screen readers into your design considerations, it helps to have some data to inform your choices. Luckily, the people at WebAIM have once again provided some real numbers for your consideration, by publishing the results of their fifth screen reader usage survey.

The results are based on responses from 1,465 people (95% of whom say they use screen readers due to a disability) collected in January 2014. Here are some of the top level findings that I found interesting:

  • JAWS is still the dominant screen reader, used by 50% of respondents, followed by NVDA (19%), VoiceOver (10%), Window-Eyes (7%)

  • 82% of respondents use screen readers on mobile devices (65% iOS, 16% Android)

  • VoiceOver is the top mobile screen reader (60%) followed by TalkBack for Android (22%)

  • Usage of NVDA and VoiceOver screen readers are continuing to trend up, while use of Window-Eyes is trending down and JAWS usage is holding steady

  • Windows was the top operating system, used by 83% of respondents

  • Internet Explorer was the top browser choice (59%), followed by Firefox (24%), Safari (10%), and Chrome (3%)

It's interesting to see how JAWS and Microsoft still dominate for this group, though Apple and its VoiceOver reader own the mobile space. 

You can read the full results of the survey on their website. Hopefully, data like these will help inform you as you make your design and development decisions.

Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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