Monday March 19, 2007

Why Screen Readers Don’t Support Aural CSS

By Colin Lieberman

In theory, aural style sheets are cool; lots of us have been excited about them for a long time. But screen readers don’t support them, so they’re useless.

In a recent email conversation with some good folks at Freedom Scientific (the makers of JAWS for Windows), I learned why: we (web developers) probably couldn’t apply them well.

Users of screen readers have specific needs, and those of us with a demo version of JAWS we run in 40–minute chunks to test our work don’t really understand what it is to use a screen reader for every interaction with a computer.

This reasoning is fair.

There may be support for aural style sheets in the future, but as a user configurable option (which likely would not be the default for the same reasons given above).


This discussion came about in part because a lot of people are getting excited about the future of HTML, so the current state of standards and implementation is something we need to take stock of.

Freedom Scientific say they’re in touch with the Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI–ARIA) effort. That’s great, but I have some concerns, not the least of which that ARIA seems to be entrenched in XHTML. Take live regions for example: they’re really neat, but rely on XML name spaces. Life needn’t be this complicated — let’s just implement those attributes in HTML.

In a perfect world, the HTML working group will have a good read of the ARIA documents, and bring those ideas into the future of markup.


  1. Sorry but I disagree with your statement that Freedom Scientific reasoning is fair.

    I see JAWS as any other type of html interpreter (a.k.a. browser). It is the responsibility of the interpreter to correctly follow the standards, not to tell us what we can and cannot use because in their opinion we might use it wrong.

    I might use divs wrong but it doesn’t mean we would accept an interpreter not supporting them.

    A standard is out there to control speech in the html interpreter, Freedom Scientific should support that standard and not limit what tools we have to communicate with the user.

    Vincen Collins    Jul 20, 03:28 PM    #
  2. I also disagree strongly. Users of graphical browsers also have specific needs but no one is suggesting that Firefox or Internet Explorer shouldn’t standard CSS for that reason. What Freedom Scientific are suggesting isn’t a reason – it’s an excuse. And not a very good one at that.

    Mel Pedley    Mar 18, 07:37 AM    #
  3. As for the quote ”...we run in 40–minute chunks to test our work…”

    Using JAWS in demo mode for testing purposes is an infraction of the Freedom Scientific terms of use license when downloading the demo version of JAWS. Hope you didn’t mention it to the good folks at Freedom!

    — Terrill Bennett    Jun 12, 05:09 AM    #
  4. If any solution is available for this purpose then please let me know about that.i got stuck in this issue and not getting any meaningful solution.

    — Daljeet    Nov 17, 05:29 AM    #
  5. I would assume that any Web Developers taking the time to write Aural Stylesheets would do so sensibly & probably bring benefit to the webpage for users of screenreaders.

    If people found sites to be worse with the Aural CSS they could always turn it off — in the same way users can turn off visual stylesheets in regular browsers — but at least they would have the choice.

    At the moment, the likes of JAWS is making the choice for them & impeding the development generally into this area.

    — Dave    Jan 8, 11:12 AM    #
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