Are you still using Internet Explorer (IE) as your sole Windows 10 Web browser? If so, then you are likely also discovering that a growing number of websites just aren't working properly with your favorite screen reader. It's not just screen reader users that are having trouble keeping up. Fewer pages are rendering properly for sighted users, as well. As a matter of fact, Microsoft, the developer of IE has been advising users for years to forgo that browser in favor of other browsers. The most popular of these is Google Chrome. In the March 2020 issue of AccessWorld we reviewed an excellent text and audio tutorial for Chrome, which took an extensive look at using this popular Web browser with JAWS and NVDA. There are two other major accessible Web browsers: Mozilla Firefox and the new Microsoft Edge, which is slated to replace IE at some point. It looks like IE will be available, though not featured, in versions of Windows 10 for the indefinite future, but it's performance will continue to degrade. Consequently, if your only Web browser is still IE, it's time to start previewing, evaluating, and using other Web browsers. After all, it's easier to learn something new when you can instead of when you have to.
So, which non-IE browser is best for running with a screen reader? Let me answer that question with a resounding "it depends."
Chrome, Firefox, and the new Microsoft Edge each have strong points, weaknesses, and accessibility issues. As happens with competing screen readers, each of these browsers vies to be the first to add new features and enhancements, each of which may not play well with your screen reader of choice. Consequently, just as it's wise to become familiar with the basics of at least two of the big three screen readers JAWS, NVDA and Microsoft Narrator—these days it's becoming equally critical to be able to use multiple browsers.
To that end, let's take a look at a new Carroll Center offering, When One Web Browser Is Not Enough: A Guide for Windows Screen Reader Users, penned by Assistive Technology Instructor David Kingsbury.
Kingsbury's book takes a detailed look at the four major Web browsers: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, IE, and the New Microsoft Edge. By "new" we mean the second release. The initial release of Edge came with Windows 10. It was, shall we say, less than successful. It also had some profound accessibility issues. In January of 2020 Microsoft released a completely revamped Windows 10 browser, but kept the name Edge. This new incarnation is based on the Chromium open-source project. Chromium also forms the basis of Google Chrome, so the new Edge acts and responds similarly to Chrome. Meanwhile, Mozilla Firefox has charted a different course, featuring enhanced privacy. This is logical. Google and Microsoft are in the business of collecting and compiling user data, where Mozilla is not.
Productivity! Productivity! Productivity!
As with most mainstream apps paired with a screen reader, to become productive, the novice user must learn twice as much. The first thing to master is the Web browser itself, but you will also need to learn the commands that will enable your screen reader to interact with the browser and voice the app's menus and data. Happily, as Kingsbury states, "Once you are familiar with web navigation with one browser, the learning curve is not steep for becoming comfortable with the others. Most of the navigation keys and shortcuts are identical between browsers when using JAWS, NVDA, and Narrator."
All of the mentioned browsers use the Tab key to accessibly move from link to link, for example, and each of the screen readers uses the quick navigation key H to navigate heading by heading through webpages. The program methods the various browsers and screen readers use to accomplish these tasks can vary, however--resulting in uneven levels of response and accessibility. Encounter an access roadblock with a particular webpage/screen reader combination? The chances are good to excellent that swapping out your browser, screen reader, or browser/reader combination will ease you through the bypass. Which is the whole point of this book: becoming sufficiently familiar with multiple browsers and screen readers so you can pick and choose as needed.
When One Browser Is Not Enough begins with an overview of the various browsers and screen readers, how their popularity has waxed and waned over the years into the current status where Chrome reigns supreme with both sighted and blind users. Meanwhile, NVDA has pulled well ahead of JAWS as the screen reader of choice. The author follows up with a chapter entitled "What is Accessibility?" where he dives into an extensive discussion of the World Wide Web Consortium and their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, more commonly known as WCAG. I think much of this detailed material would have been better presented in an appendix. It's pretty meaty stuff, and considering the next chapter discusses "Entering and Exiting Screen Reader Programs," we must assume at least part of the market for this book is the newly blind individual who is just beginning their screen reader journey. Such users will want to get started browsing from the get-go.
Veteran screen reader and browser users may wish to skim Chapter 3, "Keystrokes for Reading and Navigating Web Content Pages," and jump directly to Chapter 4: "Menu Overviews and Switching Between Browsers." For experienced users this chapter is the very heart of the book. Kingsbury himself states that most of the browser and screen reader commands to navigate and speak Web content are similar from combination to combination of browsers and readers. The most noticeable differences are within the menu structures and other command locations and hotkey sequences. Here I agree wholeheartedly. Until recently I rarely used the new Edge, mostly because I am already comfortable on how to find, say, Internet Options in IE and the extensions list in Chrome. It was easier to "go with what I know." If you find your browser use similarly constrained, this chapter will definitely help widen your Web knowhow.
Beginning with menu navigation, When One Browser Is Not Enough goes on to describe the various ways the four browsers handle features such as favorites/bookmarks, downloads, reader views, password saving, browsing history, extensions/add-ons, and more. In short, everything the user needs to know to switch effortlessly back and forth between each browser as needed. Most of these sections include separate subsections offering tips for each of the main screen readers. Kingsbury states that whenever you have an accessibility glitch with a website, your first move should be to unload your screen reader and try another. If that doesn't work, switch browsers to see if one of your screen readers works better with it. Again, it's best to learn these new skills when you can, not when you have to, especially if your job or classwork depend on it.
The Bottom Line
This book is well-organized overall, and the author does an excellent job of taking you through some fairly complex concepts. I was particularly heartened to see sections devoted to JAWS Flexible Web and NVDA's Document Formatting and Browse Mode Dialog boxes, topics that are not often covered, despite their usefulness.
Beginner screen access users will benefit greatly from this book if for no other reason than they will learn from the start not to rely on a single browser or screen reader. Experienced screen access users may also mine a useful nugget or two about their favorite browser/reader combination. Even better, the book may prove to be just the impetus these users need to broaden their browser and screen reader horizons.
When One Web Browser Is Not Enough: A Guide for Windows Screen Reader Users,,101 pages, available in MS Word and BRF formats for $20.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
- Listen up! A Review of When Your Ears Can't Help You See: Strategies for Blind or Low Vision Individuals with Hearing Loss, by Deborah Kendrick by Bill Holton
- A Review of Format Your Word Documents with JAWS and NVDA: A Guide for Students and Professionals, by David Kingsbury by Bill Holton
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