JAWS,Screen Reader for Visually Impaired Individuals:
As part of course assignment for the digital media classes, I decided to use Screen Reader software designed for visually impaired people and to contemplate my thought for this amazing and humbling experience.
A screen reader is software that works together with a speech synthesizer to read aloud everything contained on a computer screen, including icons, menus, text, punctuation, and control buttons. Older versions of screen readers were designed to simply read text on the screen. We used a PC computer to read my webpage, with IE browser. The JAWS software reads out what is happening on the screen, such as which dialogue boxes are opening on the screen, links, headers, space, apostrophe, tab, return carriage, the lat tag of picture and practically any written text for the user. Some screen readers work with their own touchpad instead of the regular keyboard, and many use the keypad for user commands, making them difficult to use with a typical laptop keyboard.
To demonstrate the importance of accessibility and following the guidelines of section 508 for visually impaired internet users, I asked for an example of a web page which doesn't follow any guidelines. She refered me to the home page of jjill which is a nationwide retailler of women's clothing. Since there is no alt tag for any of the images, Jaws can only read the top row without giving any useful information for blind people.
Blindness or poor vision affects 3.3 million Americans age 40 and above, according to the National Institutes of Health and since many seniors have poor eyesight, memory problems, hand tremors or other age-related disorders; a good screen reader enables them to use the vast amount of information in cyberspace.
Screen readers are used primarily by the visually impaired. These are people with a physical disability that prevents them from seeing the information on the screen. This disability could be total blindness, but it could also be physical problems such as cataracts, which gives the impression of haze, or Macular Degeneration, in which the center of one's field of vision appears to be distorted or is blacked out. Primarily it is a tool for those who are able to operate a computer but unable to visually comprehend the material on the screen and need to have that information available in audio format. These people need to have text on the screen read to them and also need audio feedback to let them know if they have selected the appropriate command.
Screen readers can also be useful for people who can see, but do not necessarily comprehend visual information well. One such disability is dyslexia, a learning disability in which people often find it difficult to read and write. Another such disability is aphasia, an inability to use or comprehend words, usually acquired as a result of a stroke or other brain injury. In both cases, when the ability to comprehend written communication is impaired, a screen reader can translate that input into spoken language, which may be more easily comprehended. In addition, people can listen and read simultaneous, and the dual modes of input can help people who have difficulty comprehending written language alone.
After watching the program, I realized the correlation between usability and the screen reader software. If web designers embrace the guidelines in section 508 and use appropriate tags such as alt and header, it will make their site more usable and accessible. By the same token it will be less problematic and confusing and allows the users to navigate the content of their sites. It would be even more useful to reduce the amount of text on each page and use concise instructions and links. Incorporating such changes helps both younger and older users which make them universally useful.