Preliminary Information: Understanding Screen Readers

Screen Reader Basics:

  • A screen reader reads text.
  • The text is read top to bottom.
  • This is a great way to read short articles or letters.
  • It is not so great for reading an 80-page manual or finding a particular product in a catalog.


Click here to see how a screen reader reads a short document 

Visual elements

  • Most people do not read a long document from top to bottom.
  • Visual elements are meant to make reading easier.
  • Larger fonts draw the eye to a heading or subheading.
  • Lists and columns break down content.
  • Graphics help understanding and enhance the meaning of your text.


Challenges for screen readers

  • How does a screen reader indicate text used for emphasis, such as print that is larger and bold?
  • When reading columns, how does a screen reader know to read all of the contents of the first column before reading the contents of the second one?
  • What does a screen reader do when it sees a graphic?


Most important accessibility principle

When creating documents, one of the most important accessibility principles is that we have a choice: We can format a document so it is styled only by visual appearance, or we can format it by applying underlying code that enables a screen reader to read the document too. Assistive technology uses the underlying instructions to interpret content.

When a document is created with accessibility in mind, the screen reader can indicate and easily navigate to visual elements, such as headings, lists, and graphics.


Go to Concept 1: Creating Logically Structured Headings

Go Back to Introduction: Three Useful MS Word Accessibility Concepts You Can Start Using Today