Screen Reader User Survey #2 Results


In October 2009, WebAIM conducted a survey of preferences of screen reader users. We received 665 valid responses to the screen reader user survey. This was a follow-up survey to a previous survey. Follow-up surveys were conducted in December 2010 and May 2012.

A few disclaimers and notices:

  • Totals may not equal 100% due to rounding.
  • Total responses (n) for each question may not equal 665 due to respondents not answering that particular question.
  • The sample was not controlled and may not represent all screen reader users.
  • Care should be taken in interpreting these results. Responses are based upon user experiences with web content that is generally inaccessible. We cannot help but wonder if responses may have been different if screen reader interactions with web content were typically very positive.
  • Data was analyzed using JMP Statistical Discovery Software version 8
  • We hope to conduct a survey of this nature again in the future. If you have recommendations or questions you would like asked, please let us know. Additional analysis of this data and details on the responses to open-ended questions will be available in the future.


Disability Reported

Pie chart showing reported disability

Do you use a screen reader due to a disability?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents

Screen Reader Proficiency

Pie Chart of Screen Reader Proficiency

Please rate your screen reader proficiency
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents

Those who use screen readers due to a disability report themselves as being much more proficient with screen readers. Those with disabilities were nearly 6 times more likely to report themselves as having advanced screen reader proficiency. While it is not surprising that those with disabilities are more proficient with a screen reader, it was surprising that very few (1.6%) of them consider themselves beginners, as opposed to 32.8% of those without a disability. This may indicate that most screen reader users are confident with their technology, or perhaps more likely, that this online survey was primarily accessed by those with higher screen reader proficiency.

Internet Proficiency

Pie Chart of Internet Proficiency

Please rate your proficiency using the Internet
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents

Those who use screen readers due to a disability reported slightly lower Internet proficiency than those without disabilities.

Primary Screen Reader

Primary Screen Reader

Which of the following is your primary screen reader?
Screen Reader# of Respondents% of Respondents
Window Eyes6810.4%
System Access or System Access To Go324.9%

There was no marked difference in primary screen reader use between respondents with and without disabilities; however, those without disabilities were more likely to use NVDA (10.2% of respondents) than those with disabilities (2.2%).

Screen Readers Commonly Used

Screen Readers Commonly Used

Which of the following screen readers do you commonly use? (select all that apply)
Screen Reader# of Respondents% of Respondents
Window Eyes15623.5%
System Access or System Access To Go14822.3%

49% of respondents commonly use more than one screen reader. 23% use more than two and 8% use more than three screen readers. System Access or SAToGo and NVDA are relatively commonly used (23% and 26%, respectively), yet are less common as a primary screen readers (5% and 3%).

When compared to the results from our previous survey, JAWS and Window Eyes use is almost identical, yet NVDA, Voice Over, and System Access usage increased tremendously.

Screen Reader Updates

Screen Reader Updates

Has your primary screen reader been updated in the last year?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents

The vast majority of respondents updated their primary screen reader within the previous year. This is slightly higher than the 75% who reported updating within a year in our previous survey. It's important to note, however, that a significant number of users may still be using screen readers that are several years old.

Reasons for Use

Reasons for Use

What is the main reason for using your primary screen reader?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Existing Comfort/Expertise27042.9%

Those with disabilities indicated "Existing Comfort/Expertise" nearly three times as often as those without disabilities. Those without disabilities favored availability (36% of respondents) over all other factors.

Screen Reader Learning

Chart showing how screen readers were learned

How did you learn to use your primary screen reader? (select all that apply)
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Informally, by asking friends, etc.21932.9%
Took a training course16124.2%

When comparing many of the other responses, there is very little difference in responses between those that were self-taught and those who took a training course.

How Obtained

Chart showing how screen readers were obtained

How did you obtain your primary screen reader?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
I bought it myself22334.7%
It was received through a government program14722.9%
It was provided to me by my employer11117.3%
I downloaded it free of charge from the Internet325.0%
It was provided to me by my school264.0%
I'm using a pirated version of a commercial screen reader253.9%
I'm using a trial version of a commercial screen reader162.5%

36.6% of those with disabilities purchased their own screen reader as compared to only 9.7% of those without disabilities. While those without disabilities were most likely to get their screen reader from their employers (43.5%), they very rarely received them from government or school programs. 30.9% of beginning screen reader users obtained free, pirated, or freely downloadable screen readers compared to only 8.4% of advanced users.


Chart showing browser usage

When using your primary screen reader, which browser do you use most often?
Browser# of Respondents% of Respondents
Firefox 3+12218.8%

Note: The survey question asked which browser was most often used with the primary screen reader, but did not ask for any browsers used. Compare these answers with results from our previous survey results, which report all web browsers used.

In line with the previous survey, those without disabilities were much more likely to use Firefox than those with disabilities (32% to 17%). The number of Safari and Opera users, as expected, are very similar to the VoiceOver users documented above (note that VoiceOver support for Opera is very new).

Free/Low-cost Screen Readers

Pie chart showing viability of free/low cost screen readers

Do you see free or low-cost screen readers (such as NVDA or VoiceOver) as currently being viable alternatives to commercial screen readers?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
I Don't Know21632.5%

Interestingly, only 242 (36.4%) of respondents reported using NVDA or VoiceOver, yet 47.9% of respondents indicate that such screen readers are viable alternatives to commercial screen readers. Advanced screen reader users were more likely to indicate that these are viable alternatives.

Mobile Screen Reader Usage

Chart showing mobile screen reader usage

Do you use a screen reader on a mobile phone or mobile handheld device?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents

To us, the fact that 53% of those with disabilities use a screen reader on a mobile device was one of the most surprising results of this survey. Only 8% of those without disabilities use a mobile screen reader. This underscores the importance of an increased focus on accessibility of mobile content and devices, and that evaluators and other accessibility specialists need to increase their usage and knowledge of mobile accessibility.

Not surprisingly, more proficient screen reader users were more likely to use a mobile screen reader (66% of advanced users to only 3% of beginners).

Javascript Disabled

Pie chart showing javascript disabled

Do you have javascript disabled in your web browser?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
I Don't Know8814.7%

This response may help strengthen the notion that scripted content must be made accessible. Many developers incorrectly believe that inaccessible scripting is permissible so long as it degrades gracefully or a non-scripted alternative is provided. The vast majority of screen reader respondents encounter scripted content.

Braille Output

Chart showing prevalence of braille output

Do you use braille output with your screen reader?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents

This does not necessarily suggest that 29.4% of respondents rely on Braille output, but only that they have access to it.

Images and Alternative Text

"Smiling Lady" Images

Chart showing preferred description for smiling lady images

Images are commonly used in web pages to visually convey a feeling or mood. For example, a photo of a smiling woman might be included to convey that the company is personable and friendly. How would you prefer this image be handled?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Described as "Photo of smiling lady"35657.1%
Described as "Smiling lady"12620.2%
Ignored entirely by my screen reader8012.8%
Described as "Our company is personable and friendly"629.9%

These responses should NOT be interpreted to suggest that all decorative images should be given alternative text or that the alt text for all photographs should begin with "Photo of...". Screen reader users prefer to have this "Smiling lady"-type image identified, even if the full content or meaning of the image cannot be conveyed. However, those without disabilities were three times more likely to prefer the image be ignored, suggesting that they view it as being decorative. This apparent disconnect between responses of those with disabilities and those without disabilities was found in a similar question on the previous survey. We cannot help but think that blind screen reader users might find their experiences less enjoyable if all such images, which are typically unidentified now, were suddenly identified to them. This underscores WebAIM's long held notion that providing proper, equivalent alternative text is the most difficult aspect of web accessibility. We will likely follow up on this issue in a future survey.

Complex Images

Some images, such as charts, diagrams, or comic strips, are too complex to describe in only a few words. If a long, detailed description of these images is available, how would you prefer to have it presented to you?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
As text on the web page, immediately following the image17828.4%
As optional text, available on the same page but only if I request it by following a link16726.6%
On a separate page, available by following a link12419.8%
As a very long description (alt text) on the image itself8914.2%
On a separate page, announced by and available to my screen reader579.1%
Ignored entirely by my screen reader121.9%

There is no clear consensus in these responses. However, the in-page options outweigh the options that place the longer description on another page. Interestingly, the option of placing the alternative on a separate page but having it announced by the screen reader, the current behavior of images with the longdesc attribute, was a very unpopular option, second only to being ignored entirely.

ARIA Landmarks

Chart showing usage of ARIA landmarks

ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) introduces something called landmarks. These provide quick access to page areas, such as navigation, search, and main content. Which of the following best describes your use of landmarks?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
I didn't know this functionality existed24042.1%
I sometimes use landmarks for navigation18332.1%
I use landmarks for navigation whenever they are present11720.5%
My screen reader does not support landmarks305.3%

With 42.1% of question respondents unaware of landmark functionality (95 respondents didn't even answer this question), this clearly suggests that additional training or dissemination about the utility of landmarks needs to occur.

Problematic Items

Most Problematic Items

The survey asked respondents to select their most, second most, and third most problematic items from a list. In giving each selected item a weighting, the following chart shows the amount of difficulty and frustration users encounter with each item.

Chart showing Most Problematic Items

Problematic items identified are, in order (most difficult/confusing first):

  1. CAPTCHA - images presenting text used to verify that you are a human user
  2. The presence of inaccessible Flash content
  3. Links or buttons that do not make sense
  4. Images with missing or improper descriptions (alt text)
  5. Complex or difficult forms
  6. Lack of keyboard accessibility
  7. Screens or parts of screens that change unexpectedly
  8. Missing or improper headings
  9. Too many links or navigation items
  10. Complex data tables
  11. Lack of "skip to main content" or "skip navigation" links
  12. Inaccessible or missing search functionality

The chart above shows a weighting of responses to three questions. When analyzing the single "Most Problematic Item" question, 28% of respondents listed CAPTCHA as the most problematic or confusing item encountered, with Flash (22%), Keyboard Accessibility (10%), and Ambiguous Links (10%) as other most problematic items.

It must be noted that Flash content, like most other items listed here, can be made accessible (at least for users on the Windows platform). In fact, Flash content can have other general accessibility issues listed (e.g., ambiguous links, difficult forms, missing alt text, etc.). While treated here as a distinct item, it's important to note that Flash is not inaccessible merely because it is present in a page, but because the Flash author has not implemented accessibility.

Least Problematic Items

Chart showing least problematic items

Of the items listed, which item causes the least amount of frustration or difficulty for you?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Lack of "skip to main content" or "skip navigation" links18531.3%
Images with missing or improper descriptions (alt text)9415.9%
Too many links or navigation items579.6%
Complex or difficult forms427.1%
Missing or improper headings396.6%
Links or buttons that do not make sense396.6%
Lack of keyboard accessibility294.9%
Inaccessible or missing search functionality284.7%
Complex data tables264.4%
Screens or parts of screens that change unexpectedly193.2%
CAPTCHA - images presenting text used to verify that you are a human user193.2%
The presence of inaccessible Flash content152.5%

This shouldn't be interpreted to suggest that "skip" links or alternative text (note that alternative text is the 4th most problematic feature above) can or should be omitted. This data likely indicates that screen reader users tend to find issues with these items less problematic than other things, or more likely, that they encounter these problems so frequently they have developed alternative mechanisms to bypass or remedy these difficulties.

The fact that missing skip links are identified as the least problematic accessibility issue in this list reaffirms our own feeling that skip links are much more valuable for sighted users that rely on a keyboard for navigation than for screen reader users who tend to navigate by headings (see below).

Web Accessibility Progress

Chart showing web accessibility progress

In general, which of the following best describes your feelings regarding the accessibility of web content over the previous year?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Web content has become more accessible28646.3%
Web content accessibility has not changed20633.3%
Web content has become less accessible12620.4%

Respondents generally think web accessibility has improved in the last year. Respondents with disabilities were less positive about progress than those without disabilities - they were 4 times more likely to indicate that web content accessibility has decreased in the previous year.

Impact on Accessibility

Chart showing impacts on accessibility

Which of the following do you think has a bigger impact on improvements to web accessibility?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Better (more accessible) web sites43168.6%
Better assistive technology19731.4%

Reasons for Inaccessibility

Chart showing reasons for inaccessibility

Which of the following do you think is the primary reason that many developers do not create accessible web sites?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Lack of awareness of web accessibility24238.0%
Lack of web accessibility skills or knowledge17627.6%
Fear that accessibility will hinder the look, feel, or functionality16425.7%
Lack of budget or resources to make it accessible558.6%

Respondents with disabilities were most likely to select "Lack of Awareness" as the primary reason developers do not create accessible web sites. However, respondents without disabilities favored "Lack of Knowledge" nearly twice as often as those with disabilities.

Social Media

Social Media Tools Frequently Used

Chart showing social media sites used

Which of the following social media sites or tools do you frequently use?
Social Media Tool# of Respondents% of Respondents

Interestingly, YouTube (perhaps the most visual of the tools listed) has the highest usage. People without disabilities were more likely to use all of the social media tools, with the exception of MySpace, which had a higher prevalence among those with disabilities (though the lowest usage overall).

Blog Accessibility

Chart showing blog accessibility

How accessible are blogs to you?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Very Accessible20944.8%
Somewhat Accessible22648.4%
Somewhat Inaccessible286.0%
Very Inaccessible40.9%

Of those who use blogs or are familiar with blog accessibility, nearly all (93.2%) report that they are very or somewhat accessible.

Facebook Accessibility

Chart showing Facebook accessibility

How accessible is FaceBook to you?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Very Accessible3610.0%
Somewhat Accessible17548.7%
Somewhat Inaccessible10027.9%
Very Inaccessible4813.4%

LinkedIn Accessibility

Chart showing LinkedIn accessibility

How accessible is LinkedIn to you?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Very Accessible169.8%
Somewhat Accessible4728.7%
Somewhat Inaccessible5030.5%
Very Inaccessible5131.1%

MySpace Accessibility

Chart showing MySpace accessibility

How accessible is MySpace to you?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Very Accessible4239.3%
Somewhat Accessible4945.8%
Somewhat Inaccessible1110.3%
Very Inaccessible54.7%

Twitter Accessibility

Chart showing Twitter accessibility

How accessible is Twitter to you?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Very Accessible17261.9%
Somewhat Accessible8129.1%
Somewhat Inaccessible145.0%
Very Inaccessible114.0%

We're confident that the high accessibility of Twitter is a result of accessible Twitter clients, particularly

YouTube Accessibility

Chart showing YouTube accessibility

How accessible is YouTube to you?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Very Accessible11126.1%
Somewhat Accessible22352.5%
Somewhat Inaccessible6114.4%
Very Inaccessible307.1%

Social Media Accessibility

Chart showing social media accessibility

In general, how accessible are social media web sites to you?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Very Accessible458.3%
Somewhat Accessible28552.7%
Somewhat Inaccessible10719.8%
Very Inaccessible254.6%
I Don't Know7914.6%

While social media tools and sites are generally considered to have good accessibility, the details above highlight that accessibility varies greatly across such tools.

Flash Accessibility

Chart showing reported Flash accessibility

When you encounter Flash content on web sites, how likely is it to be accessible to you?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Very Likely294.8%
Somewhat Likely16927.8%
Somewhat Unlikely16527.1%
Very Unlikely21635.5%
I Don't Know304.9%

It should be noted that while respondents indicate generally poor likelihood for Flash accessibility (62.6% say it is somewhat or very unlikely), there is no general baseline for comparison. In other words, there's no way of knowing how much more likely it is for Flash content to be inaccessible than non-Flash web content. Still, these results are very similar to our previous survey results which showed 71.5% of screen reader users reporting that Flash is difficult. As noted above, unlike graphical CAPTCHAs, Flash can be made fully accessible on certain platforms, but it remains an issue primarily because authors do not implement Flash accessibility.

Finding Information

Pie chart showing methods for finding information on a page

When trying to find information on a lengthy web page, which of the following are you most likely to do first?
Response# of Respondents% of Respondents
Navigate through the headings on the page32150.8%
Use the "Find" feature14522.9%
Navigate through the links of the page10216.1%
Read through the page6410.1%

These responses underscore our previous findings which indicate that a good heading structure is a very important aspect of web accessibility and usability.


The conclusion identified in the previous screen reader user survey, that there is no typical screen reader user, is solidified in the results of this survey. Perhaps most significant to us are the shifts we have seen in the mere 10 months between surveys - particularly in browser and screen reader usage, with a trend toward and increased favorability of free and low-cost screen readers. Some results solidified previous findings - that good heading structure is vital to accessibility, that Flash content continues to pose significant accessibility issues for screen reader users, and that images that convey content should be identified for users. It is also clear that the mobile web is a highly utilized resource by screen reader users, yet it is an area largely unnoticed by accessibility experts practitioners.

We hope that these results will provide insight to developers and cause us to rethink and better analyze development choices that we make for screen reader users. More analysis of the results will be provided in the near future.