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How to get more and (less) out of aria

Article Content
  • How using a screen reader can help with getting the right level of aria.
  • How to download a screen reader on Windows, Apple and Linux.
  • The one keyboard shortcut you need to remember for using NVDA.
  • Why using a screen reader allows you to empathise with your audience.

Using aria can be complicated (as covered in this article on aria basics here). It can be difficult to know if you are using aria too much or too little, and there can be conflicting advice online about when and where it’s appropriate to use Aria. So, how do you improve the efficiency with which you use aria?

To improve your use of aria, testing with the screen reader is an incredibly useful tool. This is because using the screen reader allows you to experience your website from the perspective of those who use this tool to navigate your content. You can hear what they are hearing when using the screen reader. This will let you hear if you’ve gone slightly overboard using aria, and the amount of information could overwhelm the user. Alternatively, you can also hear if you need to use Aria more frequently if there are parts of the website where you need more information. For example, maybe you have forgotten to add “aria-label primary” if you have two navigation elements.

This process is beneficial for testing the length and the language used within aria labels and aria described by and labelled by. There is nothing as efficient for evaluating whether the wording for your aria is accurate, not too wordy and explains the component accurately than hearing it out loud. (Just as your target audience would). You will be able to hear if something doesn’t quite sound right. Similarly, navigating the website with a screen reader will give you an idea of how smoothly you can navigate the content. You will find if you have added too many aria labels that, the website will be too cumbersome and time-consuming to navigate efficiently. You will also experience first-hand what information overload can be like for screen reader users when aria has been overused. (screen readers are also useful for testing alt tags, you can read about how to write efficient alt tags here)

How to use a screen reader

Windows

On Windows, I would recommend downloading the free screen reader NDVA.( You can download NVDA here) It is one of the most widely used screen readers and is relatively easy to use. After downloading this screen reader, I recommend looking online for different keyboard shortcuts. (link to screen reader shortcuts available here) The main one you will want to remember is the keyboard shortcut “insert Q”. This will enable you to exit the screen reader, stopping you from getting stuck in an endless loop where the screen reader keeps reading out content.

There is also the option of downloading the screen reader Jaws, but this is very expensive unless you can get your company, university, or school to fund this. (You can download Jaws here)

Apple

On Apple, you can use their built-in screen reader software called voice-over. (You can find out more about Voice-Over here)

Linux

On Linux, there is a screen reader user called Orca that you can use. (You can download Orca here)I have not used this screen reader, so I can’t attest to its quality. I would highly recommend, if you are developing websites, to at least have one device running Windows or Apple, otherwise, you’re missing out on testing for the majority of the market.

As a beginner, using aria correctly can take a long time. Testing with a screen reader can help enormously to improve your use of it. It prevents aria from being an abstract concept and enables you to hear it live in action. This is an excellent way of putting yourself directly in the shoes of a screen reader user, helping you to understand how they navigate a website. Empathising with screen reader users directly will improve your skill as an accessible developer and designer.

Summary

As a beginner, using aria correctly can take a long time. Testing with a screen reader can help enormously to improve your use of it. It prevents aria from being an abstract concept and enables you to hear it live in action. This is an excellent way of putting yourself directly in the shoes of a screen reader user, helping you to understand how they navigate a website. Empathising with screen reader users directly will improve your skill as an accessible developer and designer.

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