I launched a survey to help me answer some lingering questions I have had about what tools screen reader users user to navigate websites. Specifically, I wanted to learn about how users interact with links on a site.
What is this survey all about?
This question of screen reader user interaction stemmed from the fact that unique link text is an important aspect of an accessible website. Among many other reasons, one rationale that I have come across for unique link text is the fact that screen reader users can navigate a page via an alphabetical list of all links. However, the (very few) screen reader users I know do not alphabetize that list. I wanted to see if this links list is widely used and (sadly) WebAIM’s screen reader survey does not contain this information.
So, I created my own (very short) screen reader survey. The goal is to get a clearer picture around how screen reader users use the navigation features of their readers. The survey focuses on the links list, the landmarks list, and the headings list.
The survey consisted of 8 questions. I asked respondents about how often they use a screen reader, which one(s) they use, and if they have ever used the reader’s landmarks list, headings list, or links list.
I collected responses from August 15, 2017, through September 13, 2017 and received 42 total responses. The survey is still open; however I have not received any responses since September 13.
How often do you use a screen reader to navigate a website?
Of the 42 respondents to this survey, 35 of them use a screen reader at least some of the time.
How long have you been using a screen reader?
The vast majority of the 35 respondents who use a screen reader at least some of the time can arguably be considered expert users. Over 68% of the respondents (24 users of 35) have been using screen readers for over 10 years.
Which screen reader do you use?
Also, of the 35 users, most use either JAWS or VoiceOver. Respondents were able to select more than one screen reader, since many will use multiple readers depending on their situations and preferences.
Landmarks list usage
The landmarks list appears to have very mixed results. Only about 50% of respondents who use a screen reader (18 users of 35) reported that they use the landmarks list at least some of the time. The other 50% (17 users of 35) reported that they either never use this list or had no idea this feature existed.
Do you ever use the screen reader's landmarks list?
Headings list usage
In contrast, the headings list appears to be used quite frequently among respondents. Over 77% of respondents who use a screen reader reported that they use the headings list at least some of the time.
Do you ever use the screen reader's headings list?
Links list usage
The questions of whether of how screen reader users use the links list was the catalyst for this survey. Like the headings list, a clear majority of over 77% of users (or 27 users of 35) reported that use the links list at least some of the time.
Do you ever use the screen reader's links list?
If you use the links list, how do you sort the links?
Of the 27 users who use the links list at least some of the time, an overwhelming majority of 89% (24 users of 27) view the list in DOM order. I am counting both the users who responded that they have no idea about the order as users who view the list in DOM order because these users are likely using the default settings. The default settings for the links list is DOM order.
Obviously, 42 respondents is not a large enough sample set to draw any hard conclusions. However, I learned quite a few things and reaffirmed some assumptions I had going into this survey:
- The majority of screen reader users are very experienced in using screen readers.
- Screen reader users are using the navigation tools provided by readers, such as the landmarks, headings, and links lists.
- While the vast majority of users view the links list in DOM order, there are a few who choose to alphabetize this list. (This also means that the option to alphabetize links really does exist!)