Do you test for screen reader compatibility?

Recently a customer emailed me with the following question:

Do you check for JAWS and NVDA screen reader support as part of your audit? We have a customer asking specifically about those.

I want to share my response here:

The short answer is: “Yes and no”.

First, the “Yes” answer: Our testing methodology involves performing around 270 distinct checks for each component in the audit.  Those checks, housed in, are aimed at determining the conformance against the WCAG standard and also includes a number of items we call “AUX” (Accessible User Experience).  The ultimate goal of our methodology is to achieve complete coverage toward a holistic approach to accessibility.  So, in this regard, we’re ensuring that the product is accessible to JAWS, NVDA, and other assistive technologies as part of this holistic approach.

Now, for the “No” answer: An array of assistive technologies are used in our testing process. However, we do not check for specific compatibility with any assistive technology. The WCAG standard is purposefully agnostic when it comes to platform concerns. Additionally, a focus on screen reader compatibility places an inordinately high emphasis on users who are blind, whereas WCAG is about ensuring access to a far broader audience of users than just those who are blind.

I know you already know the above, but here’s the practical takeaway: The other problem with focusing on specific screen readers is that it leaves you at the mercy of whatever bugs or compatibility issues exist for that screen reader.  All software has bugs and screen readers are no different, as you can see from this list of JAWS bugs. So we’d rather spend our time testing your product’s adherence to accessibility best practices than chasing platform compatibility issues.

It doesn’t make sense to spend the time (and your money) determining if your software works with each screen reader on each browser and operating system when that leaves us likely to find bugs that exist outside of your software, whereas our methodology lets us focus on your software directly.

When we find an issue in an audit, we’ll always provide remediation guidance that steers clear of known bugs in assistive technologies (to the extent that we can). Further, our overall goal is to guide you to the best solutions that will deliver the best accessibility outcome.

I’ll let you decide how to reply to your customer, but you should feel comfortable informing them that, yes, our methodology includes testing with JAWS and NVDA. But that testing isn’t focused on compatibility.

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