Screen Reader testing for free?

An email recieved by the WaSP Accessibility Task Force:

I am an Intermediate skilled Website Developer who is seeking out information on doing what I can to make my websites as completely accessible as possible.

I’ve begun searching and reading articles regarding this. The thought occurred to me that it would be great to have these different “reader” software so that I could test my websites once they were reasonably finished. Then I realized the software I wanted is probably quite expensive.

So another thought occurred. What if there are disabled active volunteers who would be willing to review your website with their software? Obviously, it would be a request after one is confident that they have done everything they could rather than while the website is being built.

So I’m hoping this has already been thought of. I would appreciate any response regarding this idea and how practical or valid it would be.

I have to say that, personally, I do not know of anyone who is willing to do this for free and I’m not sure if that’s a reasonable thing to expect, to be honest (given that the software is expensive to buy and it must be more difficult for a blind person to seek gainful employment than a sighted web developer). I don’t mean for this to come across in a harsh way - it’s admirable that the sender wanted to check that the sites are accessible beyond running the pages through an automated validator.

I know that there is the Usability Exchange, which puts developers/companies in touch with disabled end users for this kind of thing, but it’s not a cheap service. So, is there something in between? Or do you know someone who’d be willing to run a few tests as requested in this email? Add comments and I’ll pass ‘em on.

Filed under: Accessibility
Posted by Ian on Thursday, September 14, 2006

8 Comments

  1. So says Adrian Higginbotham

    There are dozens nae hundreds of Email lists of and for VI tech users out there who often receive and respond to requests such as this. just try searching yahoogroups or freelists. the problems with such an approach other than those which Ian points out are many. You as a dev have very little knowledge about the quality of the feedback you receive, you will probably only get help from those who have time to give thus you might conclude that they are toward the lower end of the skillset of AT users. Unless you ask structured questions (and most don’t) all you get back is a flood of personal preferences, not constructive feedback. Sure you can get something for nothing but like most thngs in life you get what you pay for.

    Added September 15, 2006 at 9:26 am

  2. So says Mike Stone

    You can test JAWS for free. Their demo program runs for 40 minutes on_each_boot of Windows (at least, mine does). See http://www.freedomscientific.com/fs_products/software_jaws70fea.asp for more information.

    Added September 15, 2006 at 1:42 pm

  3. So says Gerard Blake

    Thunder is a free screen reader.

    http://www.screenreader.net/

    Added September 17, 2006 at 7:59 am

  4. So says Blair

    You might also want to check out Fangs. It’s not a reader, per-se, but it emulates one by outputting what a typical screen-reader might “say” into a text format. Check it:

    http://www.standards-schmandards.com/index.php?show/fangs

    Added September 22, 2006 at 2:36 pm

  5. So says Gaspar

    You can check http://www.delorie.com/web/lynxview.html emulate the lynx reader, u can download a copy and install on your server and run it from there.
    Or can create a file called delorie.htm on ur server and and usi from http://www.delorie.com

    Added October 4, 2006 at 10:43 am

  6. So says Adrian Higginbotham

    Personally I never recommend anyone to try testing a site with a screenreader product unless they are already a confident screenreader user. you simply don’t use the tool in the same way, for example, VI users tend not to sit back and listen to an entire page read, reacting only by jabbing at the keyboard when they hear for instance the name of a Link they want to follow, which is typicly the way the in experienced user tends to approach things. this method can work to prove that the screenreader can cope with the technology, but tells you little about whether the user can. note also that demo versions are always the latest release whereas many paid-up users are using older releases. Yes thunder is a freeware screenreader and is quite good however it only works in the WEBBIE Browser http://www.webbie.org.uk so mightn’t be up to a test job. System Access http://www.freedom.info is another low cost solution. Although it costs $500 in its own right you can subscribe to the Freedombox network for around $20 a month which includes free use of SA even when not connecting to the network. free 30 day demo available, and SA retains some functionality after the trial period ends.

    Added October 6, 2006 at 11:53 am

  7. So says Adam Perry

    I’ve been using FireVox [ http://www.firevox.clcworld.net/ ] a free Open Source extension for Firefox, as a Screen Reader for test purposes. I’ve also tried IBM Home Page Reader and JAWS. So far I have found that Home Page Reader is terrible at supporting so called “AJAX” web applications, while JAWS and Firevox are much better.

    I have no problems with my sight, however, and I am sure Adrians comments are correct: a Visually Impaired (VI?) person will use the screen reader in a very different way.

    Nevertheless I found using a screen reader helped to identify areas of HTML which require improvement (inadequate or missing ALT, TITLE and SUMMARY attributes, for instance).

    Added October 24, 2006 at 9:53 pm

  8. So says yan kit chan

    I have found NVDA to be pretty decent as a free screnreader.
    anyway, I am totally blind myself and I do use the internet extensively - work and even playing games. if there is anything that needs testing (and does not take tooooo much time) I am happy to do it.

    Added March 19, 2007 at 6:06 pm

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