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A screen reader user’s weird tricks to make accessible websites. Number four will shock you!

On Friday, Vadim and I published episode 19 of our podcast, The F-word, with Léonie Watson as a special guest. Léonie is a web standards mover and shaker, a business owner, a total grooving cat, and also a screen reader user.

Leonie, Vadim and me on video chat. We're smiling. Although perhaps Vadim is snarling.

Some of her top tips for making sites accessible:

HTML5 introduced a whole bunch of elements nav, main, header, footer, aside and such. And from a screen reader user point of view these were one of the most amazing strides forward I can remember coming across.

So use them! Here’s my article on the practical value of semantic HTML to get you going.

Should you have very terse, or detailed descriptive alternate text for images? Léonie says,

Not everybody wants to listen to that detail, but you don’t have to listen to it. If it’s there, you can skip past it, or you can stop and listen to it. If somebody decides not to put it there, that choice has gone right out of my hands.


should you be using ARIA at all? Because from experience the answer is almost always probably not. I’ve probably seen more websites brought down by using ARIA than I have made better for it. To be honest that’s probably one of the biggest accessibility problems I come across … you’ve got to use it sparingly and thoughtfully.

(This isn’t to say that ARIA is always bad. The W3C Using ARIA spec’s first rule of ARIA is “If you can use a native HTML element or attribute with the semantics and behavior you require already built in, instead of re-purposing an element and adding an ARIA role, state or property to make it accessible, then do so“.)

What’s the biggest accessibility bang for the buck a developer can achieve?

start off with just good quality code. That’s by far and away the best thing you could do for accessibility, especially screen reader accessibility. Screen readers are absolutely dependent on plain old semantic HTML. Divs and spans are our absolute worst thing you can do to us because they’re meaningless.

There you are! Use the right HTML elements for the job. There’s loads more nuance and InfoNuggetz™ in the podcast transcript.

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One Response to “ A screen reader user’s weird tricks to make accessible websites. Number four will shock you! ”

Comment by doodle jump

is it necessary to use ARIA? Reason being, I’ve learned the hard way that the answer is nearly never likely not. More websites have been negatively affected by ARIA than positively affected by it. If I’m being really honest, that’s among the most significant accessibility issues I encounter… Use it with caution and consideration.

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