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How Do I Test Website in A Screen Reader?

The best way to understand the experience of visiting your site with a screen reader is to try it out for yourself; however, the most popular and well-known screen reader in use today, JAWS, is expensive (though a demonstration version exists that will run for 40 minutes) and entails a steep learning curve. What other options do web developers have to test their sites in a screen reader?

The free Firefox extension, Fire Vox, can give you an excellent impression of the way a site sounds when it’s read through a screen reader, and is available as a download for those running Firefox on Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux.

Download Fire Vox from the author, Charles L. Chen’s web site, and follow the installation instructions for your operating system. The brief tutorial offered on the site will help you start using Fire Vox.

While trying out a screen reader is a great way to gain a feel for the experience a visually impaired user has online, it’s impossible for those of us with good vision to really understand the experience, or even, with the limited use of screen readers in site testing, to become as adept with the software as those who rely on it to use the Web.

So unless you have time to learn to use the software properly, testing sites with a screen reader should be seen as an activity to help you gain insight into these users’ experiences, rather than as a true test of your site’s screen reader compatibility.

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