Writing Content for Screen Readers

General Writing Guidelines

Acronyms:

  • Whenever possible try and steer away from using acronyms and symbols. Screen readers try to pronounce acronyms, if there are sufficient vowels/consonants to be pronounceable. Otherwise, they will try to spell out the letters.

  • Spell out “CA” as “California”. Screen readers will read out CA as “KA”

  • Spell out “BR” as “Bedroom”. 

  • Spell out months, instead of “Dec.” say “December”

  • Instead of “$75,000/year” say “$75,000 per year”

  • Instead of “1-3 people” say “1 to 3 people”

  • Instead of “9:00am - 12:00pm”  say “9:00am to 12:00pm”

  • Instead of “(415) 444-8989” say “415-444-8989”

Links:

  • Ensure that all links are informative, and meaningful when read out of context. Link text should be a meaningful representation of the link target. 

  • Screen-reader users may be unable to easily access contextual information related to a link.  

  • Single word links represent small targets for persons who have difficulty controlling a pointing device due to motor impairments. Placing long lists of text-based links close together in rows or columns increases the probability of a mouse error. 

  • Avoid the use of single word links (“Here”, “More”, “Go”).   Links should be clear, descriptive and able to stand alone.  

  • Avoid enclosing text links in brackets, braces, parentheses. 

  • Avoid “Click Here”  

Non-Compliant Link Examples

Compliant Link Examples

Contact the County Clerk 

Contact the County Clerk

Click here to visit the Mayor’s website

Visit the Mayor’s website

How Screen Readers Read Content in General

  • Screen readers pause for:

    • periods

    • semi-colons

    • commas

    • question marks

    • exclamation points

    • paragraph endings

  • Screen readers read letters out loud as you type them, but say “star” or “asterisk” for password fields.

  • Screen readers announce the page title (the <title> element in the HTML markup) when first loading a web page.

  • Screen readers will read the alternative text of images, if alt text is present. JAWS precedes the alternative text with the word “graphic.” If the image is a link, JAWS precedes the alternative text with “graphic link."

  • Screen readers ignore images without alternative text and say nothing, but users can set their preferences to read the file name.

  • If an image without alternative text is a link, screen readers will generally read the link destination (the href attribute in the HTML markup) or may read the image file name.

  • Screen readers announce headings and identify the heading level. NVDA and JAWS, for example, precede <h1> headings with “heading level 1.”

  • Some screen readers announce the number of links on a page as soon as the page finishes loading in the browser.

  • JAWS says “same page link” if the link destination is on the same page as the link itself and “visited link” for links that have been previously accessed.

  • Screen readers in table navigation mode inform the user how many rows and columns are in a data table.

  • Users can navigate in any direction from cell to cell in table navigation mode. If the table is marked up correctly, the screen reader will read the column and/or row heading as the user enters each new cell.

  • Screen readers inform users when they have entered into a form. Users have the option to enter form navigation mode.

  • Screen readers can be thrown off by homographs. For example, the word read can be pronounced “reed” or “red,” depending on the context: “I’m going to read the newspaper” vs. “I already read the newspaper.” A sentence such as “I read the newspaper every day” is ambiguous to all readers—humans and screen readers alike. The word content is another example: “I feel content” (meaning satisfied, with the emphasis on the second syllable [con-TENT]) vs. “sf.org has some really awesome content” (meaning the subject matter, with the emphasis on the first syllable [CON-tent]).

  • Screen readers may or may not read out punctuation, depending on the user’s verbosity setting. Ensure that your intended meaning will be conveyed in either case. To appreciate the value of punctuation, consider these sentences:

    • Let’s eat, grandpa!

    • I’d like to thank my parents, the mayor, and the president.

    • He finds inspiration in cooking, his children, and his cat.