How To Navigate Tidbits Using A Screen Reader. Tidbits Reader Feedback Plus Publisher Rant Answers The Question: 'Do Users of Screen Reader Technology Read Advertisements?'
Author: Aaron Di Blasi, Publisher, Top Tech Tidbits
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Update: This article was updated with a more current version on March 3rd 2022. Review it here.
If you are a Top Tech Tidbits Sponsor, past or present, you have likely asked the question, "Do users of screen reader technology read advertisements?"
The answer is a resounding yes. Not just any advertisements of course. Assistive Technology users have the very same desires as sighted users where advertisements are concerned. They want them to be relevant, current and useful.
A discount of 15% off an item at the time you're purchasing it can be a really useful advertisement, if you actually plan to buy the item. Perhaps not so much if you don't. But many of us still shop this way, by simply monitoring the advertisements week to week.
Tidbits readers are no different. They look for deals, specials, event announcements, job opportunities and any and everything else that might appear as a Sponsor Classified Advertisement within the Top Tech Tidbits newsletter. And this is precisely why we limit Classified Advertisements to Sponsors only. So that readers can be assured that the short advertisements that they receive each week will be relevant, current and useful.
As the Publisher of Top Tech Tidbits I converse (generally via email) with several readers each week. I make time for this because reader feedback is so valuable. They say that sometimes, in order to be successful, all you have to do is listen. And this could not be more true here.
In addition to providing readers with weekly advertisements that are relevant, current and useful, those ads also need to be delivered in a manner that makes them easy to navigate and easy to review, specifically for screen reader users.
Many readers have written in asking us to make small tweaks to the code of the newsletter so that all sections, advertisements in particular, were more easy to navigate and quickly review.
Most recently I conversed with Tidbits reader Matthew Bullis, an iPhone user for 10 years and a JAWS user for 25 who teaches technology to adults at a local blindness center. Matthew's feedback around the Classified Advertisements section of Tidbits in particular led us to our most recent code version for the newsletter. Thank you Matthew. It is readers like yourself that make Tidbits better for everyone.
We have tested and implemented so many of these recommendations now that I believe we are approaching the most optimal way to present both news and advertisements to screen reader users, whether within an email or online. And the solution is as ancient and simple as it is important to remember.
Each issue (or document) must utilize a tested and verified hierarchical headings scheme throughout the document. That's it. Seems simple enough. But creating and maintaining a verified hierarchical headings scheme in a document that can contain up to a hundred headings filled with categorized information each week requires both verification and testing. And that's why few mainstream publications implement them. Because they require extra work. Extra work that, from their perspective, their sighted audience will likely never see.
Since their inception HTML heading tags have always appeared visually different from other tags. Initially, this is how sighted users would identify them. H1 was bigger than H2 which was bigger than H3, etc. But as HTML moved to CSS for visual manipulation many (bad) developers ceased using heading tags altogether. And in turn used them badly whenever they did use them. And that is because many (bad) developers do not know (or perhaps care, hence the bad moniker) that HTML heading tags such as H1, H2, H3, H4, H5 and H6 can serve as an alternate means of navigation for screen reader users. If you'd like more information on how to create a hierarchical headings scheme that is WCAG compliant, this article from TPGi is a great resource.
If implemented properly a hierarchical headings scheme can provide a means of navigation that, frankly, makes navigating and reading the document even faster for a screen reader user than it would be for a sighted reader. How so? Because sighted readers must scroll. But screen reader users can navigate the document in many other ways if the document has been properly marked up using a hierarchical headings scheme.
Don't believe me? If you're a screen reader user try it out for yourself.
If you're using NVDA, use INS+F7 to display the heading list and the link list. Then use H and SHIFT+H to jump to the next title or the previous title (H1 to H6 title tags).
If you're using JAWS, use INS+F6 to display the heading list and INS+F7 to display the link list.
Now just load up the most recent issue of Top Tech Tidbits in your email client or in your browser from https://www.toptechtidbits.com/#most-recent-issues and use the following hierarchical headings scheme to navigate:
➜ H1 is the title of the newsletter. There is only one H1 per newsletter.
➜ H2 is the issue's featured advertisement. There is only one H2 per newsletter.
➜ H3 headings are used to represent the newsletter greeting "Dear Tidbits Subscriber," and every subsequent section title thereafter. Currently these sections are presented within the newsletter in the following order: Press Releases and Other News, Featured Podcast Episodes, Featured Webinars and Training Courses, Directories, Buy, Sell or Trade, Sponsor Classified Ads, Supporters and Subscription Information.
➜ H4 headings are used to represent individual news items within the newsletter (such as Tidbits) as well as any child headings required by an H3 section title.
➜ H5 headings are used to represent any child headings required by an H4 heading.
➜ H6 headings are used to represent any child headings required by an H5 heading.
And that's it. Do you have any suggestions, recommendations or considerations that we did not include here? If you do, please share them with us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much for reading!
Aaron Di Blasi, PMP (2006 - Present)
Publisher, Top Tech Tidbits for Thursday
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