Test with assistive technology
It is good to do some testing with assistive technology (AT), but it takes considerable experience for a sighted user to use a screen reader like a blind user would. Because of the nature of vision related disabilities there is considerable variation even within the blind and low vision community.
Job Access With Speech (JAWS) is a common screen reader tool that enables people with visual impairments to read digital content, either by text-to-speech or Braille display. However, JAWS is not free. Use of Microsoft's Narrator is increasing, but still trails behind other screen readers. Few governments are using NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA), even though it is a free, open source solution that is nearly as popular with the blind community. All Apple products come with VoiceOver which is another powerful screen reader. Android comes with the open source TalkBack screen reader.
There are a range of other assistive technologies which are available to support other disabilities. We often overlook voice control, with tools like Dragon Naturally Speaking, Windows Speech and Apple's Voice Control. There is a range of disabilities where motion for the user is severely limited and where simple switches need to be employed to navigate the website. Probably the most famous switch user was Stephen Hawking used a handheld switch early in his life, but then moved to a cheek switch when he lost control of his hands.
Whatever software you choose, it is always good practice to support the latest two major releases of assistive technology to allow for late adopters, and to test with actual blind users. It takes considerable effort for a sighted user to learn to use a screen reader how a blind user does., and simply being able to use one of these assistive technology tools may not be the best way to evaluate if a page is accessible.
- Ensure your team has access to a desktop screen reader in Windows and Apple as well as a mobile one.
- Test navigating the website with voice control (speech to text).
- Ensure that you have access to the latest version of the assistive technology.
- Does your team have the deep knowledge that is required to understand how a blind user actually understands the page?
- Is user testing done with people who are completely blind, partially sighted, and who become blind as adults? Screen reader users have a lot of flexibility.