If you’ve been asked to create anaccessible e-learning course, you might’ve come across the term “screen reader” and understood that your course needs to work with them. But what exactlyarescreen readers? Who uses them? How do they work? And how can you make sure your e-learning courses work with them? In this article, we’ll answer all those questions and more. Ready? Let’s dive in!

What’s a screen reader?

A screen reader is a software application that turns the visual content displayed on a computer or mobile device—like buttons, text, and imagery—intotext-to-speech (TTS) audioorbraille(with the help of arefreshable braille display).

Many—but not all—modern devices come with built-in screen readers. Here’s a list of some common screen readers:

  • JAWS (Job Access With Speech):JAWS is the industry-standard screen-reading software for Windows computers. This software must be purchased.
  • NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access):NVDA is free, open-source screen-reading software for Windows. It was created as an alternative to the paid software.
  • VoiceOver:The screen reader built into Apple devices.
  • TalkBack:A screen reader created by Google that’s installed by default on Android devices.

Who uses screen readers?

People withvisual impairments—like partial sight, low vision,color blindness, legal blindness, and total blindness—are the primary users of screen readers, since these impairments make it difficult or impossible to interact with computers on their own.

However, some people with learning disabilities like dyslexia and ADHD also use screen readers to cut out visual distractions and allow them to focus on the content.

How do screen readers work?

When people use screen readers on a computer, they rely onkeyboard shortcuts—not a mouse—to navigate. On touchscreen devices, they usemultitouchgestures.

As they navigate, the screen reader converts on-screen information intotext-to-speech audioorbraille.

For text-based information, this is pretty straightforward. The screen reader simply reads the text aloud or displays it in braille. But what about images?

When screen readers run into an image, they look to see whether there’s anyalternative text (alt text)—a description—associated with it. When creating software, websites, or e-learning courses, developers can choose to include alt text for this purpose. If no alt text is present, the screen reader will often read the file name. For example, if the learner comes across your person1.jpeg file, they’ll hearperson one dot j peg. Obviously, that’s not ideal, because it doesn’t provide the user with the same information as a sighted user.

To give every learner a great experience, it’s a good idea to write effective alt text for images. This is easy to do in most authoring apps, including Storyline. Check out的基本知识alternative text for some helpful tips to keep in mind.

What’s it like to use a screen reader?

The best way to gain a better understanding of the experience of using a screen reader is to try it out for yourself. You candownload NVDA on your computer for freeor simply open the default screen reader on your mobile device and give it a test drive.

Once you’ve got the screen reader open, close your eyes. If you’re on your computer, try to navigate using the keyboard shortcuts (e.g., the down and up arrows). If you’re on a mobile device, try using multitouch gestures. You’ll be surprised how different it feels to interact with technology without any visual input.

Although there’s no substitute for the real thing, these short videos will give you a rough idea of what the experience is like:

How can you create e-learning courses that work with screen readers?

Some authoring apps—likeStoryline 360—allow you to create courses that work on screen readers automatically. But if you want to provide screen reader users with a top-notch experience, there are a few design considerations you’ll want to take into account. We’ve outlined some of them inHow to Design an Accessible Course with Storyline 360.

Once you’ve created your accessible course, it’s a good idea to quality-test it with the screen reader that most of your learners will be using. For tips on how to do this, check out these articles:

Learn More

Hopefully this article has given you some insight into what screen readers are, who uses them, how they work, and how to create screen reader–compatible courses.

For more detailed information about screen reader usage, check out the results ofthis screen reader user survey.

And if you want to learn more about creating accessible e-learning, be sure to dig into these helpful resources:

Do you have any experience using screen readers with e-learning courses? We’d love to hear about your experience! Leave a comment below to share.

And be sure to follow us onTwitterand come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

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