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Websites, not assistive tech, are key to accessibility, say screen-reader users

New research into screen-reader usage has revealed the majority of users feel that improving existing websites would have a bigger impact on accessibility compared to better assistive technology.

The newly published findings are taken from the seventh Screen Reader User Survey by non-profit organisation WebAIM, conducted in October 2017. A total of 1,792 people responded to the survey, 89.2% of which reported using a screen-reader due to a disability.

Asked whether they felt ‘better (more accessible) websites’ or ‘better assistive technology’ would have the greatest impact on improvements to web accessibility, 85.3% of respondents opted for ‘better websites’, with only 14.7% choosing ‘better assistive technology’.

Jared Smith, WebAIM’s Associate Director, told e-Access Bulletin that the finding “puts the responsibility squarely on website authors to implement accessibility”. He said: “Over several years, the responses to this question have increasingly shifted from assistive technology improvements to website improvements, perhaps indicating that screen-readers have gotten better in recent years. It is of interest that while respondents increasingly need accessibility improvements to websites, they are generally optimistic about accessibility progress on the web.”

The results of the survey also shed light on a range of issues experienced by screen-reader users, as well as revealing preferred technology and browsing habits. CAPTCHAs were found to be the most significant problem for users, remaining the top problem reported by respondents since the last WebAIM survey in 2015.

Other issues noted in the report include ‘unexpected screen changes’, ambiguous links or buttons, Flash content, lack of keyboard accessibility, complex forms, and missing alt text.

Asked how they felt about the accessibility of web content overall during the past year, 40.8% of respondents said that content had become more accessible, 40.4% felt it hadn’t changed, and 18.8% said it had become less accessible.

Another key finding was the continued popularity of mobile apps as a means of accessing the web and, similarly, increased usage of mobile screen-readers: 88% of respondents used a mobile screen-reader – the highest figure yet recorded in a WebAIM survey.

Read more at the WebAIM site.


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