Screen readers are a tool used by individuals with vision impairments, as well as individuals with some types of learning disabilities. Screen readers work by reading aloud text content presented on a screen. Most screen readers are software-based, and offer a number of features. They are controlled via keyboard commands, using a standard or Braille keyboard and can identify the cursor’s position, read text, locate particular words or text in a set color, and perform other key tasks. Screen readers can also work with Braille display technology.

Some things about screen readers might surprise you. Individuals who routinely use screen readers may speed up the speed far beyond what you might expect; 300 words per minute isn’t unusual. When users are using a screen reader to understand a website, they need an array of information, including what language is being used; however, they may not need as much information when they’re reading documents. 

Making Documents Accessible to Screen Readers

While video content is often quite accessible to users, either through carefully describing what is on the screen or integrating audio descriptions along with a video file, text-based files may pose additional challenges for users with vision impairments. Learning how to create screen reader-friendly documents can enable you to improve accessibility for users. The tips here apply to a variety of document types, but are most relevant for the types of documents content owners are likely to provide to users, including .PDF, .DOCX, and .PPT files.

  • Create a logical underlying structure. This typically relies upon tags. These tags, just like tags in a website, help the screen reader software to understand the correct order of information in a document. 
  • Provide alternate text (or alt text) information about image and graphics. For instance, if you have presented an image of a red car, driving down a highway alongside the beach, the alternate text should enable the user listening to the screen reader to understand that there is a picture on the document and the content of that picture. Longer alternate text descriptions may be needed for some graphics.
  • Incorporate navigation aids, like a table of contents or bookmarks to improve the ease of navigation for all users.
  • Avoid the use of unusual or specific fonts; these can confuse screen readers, leading to difficulty for users.

The Importance of Providing Digital Documents

In classrooms and offices, many people rely upon paper handouts, whether these are meeting minutes, supports for multimedia presentations, or other information. For individuals with visual impairments and some types of learning challenges, this is an inadequate solution to provide accessibility.

To meet the needs of students who use screen readers, consider providing content prior to the meeting or course in a digital form. The YuJa Enterprise Video Platform provides the ability to upload a variety of file types directly into an overall media collection. This make the paper handouts or documents you might give someone in person available to every user before a meeting or class. You can, of course, still provide the same documents in paper form; you may even want to offer a larger print version for users who struggle with small print.

In addition to allowing the direct upload of document files, the YuJa Enterprise Video Platform also enables content owners to upload documents directly associated with a particular media file. These documents can be viewed while viewing the media, or can be downloaded for later or separate review. This is an effective way to supplement media-based learning or information sharing, but can also provide users who do need screen readers and other assistive technologies with improved understanding of video content.