Since 2001, the Bureau of Internet Accessibility has taken action to improve online accessibility for people living with disabilities. One effort they have made includes advocating for websites to be designed and coded correctly so technology such as screen readers can assist sight impaired users in navigating the Internet. The question many people ask is, how helpful are screen readers to people with visual impairments?
What are Screen Readers?
Screen readers are software programs that convert text into synthesized speech for people who may have no or low-vision, have trouble reading or have difficulties seeing a Web page, such as those who may be color blind. Screen readers may also include Braille output technology that allows users to access information by touch to activate text reading.
Screen Reader Success Stories
According to Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D. of University of Washington, the performance of school children using a screen reader shows evidence that screen readers significantly help children who have a disability. Overall grades of school children with one or more disabilities who used a screen reader, proved better than those without this technology. In a story highlighted on EdSource.org, an 8th grade student diagnosed with dyslexia started using a screen reader, and is helping lawmakers understand the breakthrough benefits that this assistive technology has made in his life. After spending more than seven years in special education classes that provided no noticeable change in his dyslexia, the screen reader he now uses allows him to take advantage of his higher than average IQ.
This kind of technology clearly benefits the end user, but companies are starting to take notice as well. Social media sites, television stations, cable companies and electronics manufacturers are realizing the benefits of ensuring their digital presence is inclusive, and are actively seeking ways to improve website accessibility.
Screen Reading Technology Advancements
While screen readers, like any other developing technology, are ever-evolving, many strides have already been made that have vastly improved the lives of people living with disabilities. Likewise, other technologies such as accessing TTS features in a browser, voice apps and the "listen to this" button on blog posts, all aid in the efficiency of accessing information otherwise inaccessible to this population in the past. With all of these improvements having already been released, the future of assistive technology will likely be noteworthy and exciting.