Why screen reader accessibility matters

September 15, 2023

Blog Featured Image with text overlay. Image has a headshot of Rob Stemple and text overlay that says "why screen reader accessibility matters".


Screen reader accessibility isn't as common as you would think on the internet. Especially for people like Rob, when they are trying to use the platform behind the scenes and not just to consume content, but to create it.

After doing an agency newsletter for many years, as well as writing a weekly column for a newspaper for 15 years, I decided to turn my attention to free-lance writing. As a grandpa now, I liked the idea of writing on my own schedule so I would be free to spend time with my grandchildren whenever they were available. I’m a blind computer user. I’ve used a screen reader since 1990, back in the days of DOS, so I planned to do most of my writing on-line.

I successfully landed a contract doing 2 columns a month for Muscular Dystrophy News: a publication of BioNews. BioNews uses Word Press as their main platform for writers to submit articles for publication. The folks at BioNews were patient as I worked through the accessibility challenges, I found using the platform. Word Press is accessible, although not always easy for a blind writer. There have also been issues that crop up occasionally when Word Press did an update to the platform. This would cause problems with the log-in screen until the folks at BioNews made a couple changes. They’ve been great about doing this quickly. I’ve been writing for them for 7 months now. It’s working well.

Writing for BioNews has its limitations. I can only submit 2 columns per month. In addition, the columns must be focused on muscular dystrophy. I have FSH muscular dystrophy. I enjoy writing for BioNews, but felt I needed additional writing opportunities. I have some knowledge, experience, and hopefully a little wisdom that I would like to share that isn’t related to my muscular dystrophy experience.

With the encouragement of a nephew who earns some extra money writing for another platform, I went to the website he uses and signed up as a member. I was hesitant when I determined that it would cost $5 a month for a membership, but my nephew said it would be worth it, so I forged ahead.

At first glance it seemed like this company’s submission platform was going to be accessible. Sadly, that first impression was wrong. After adding a title in the field that my screen reader read as the title field, adding my article in the text field for that purpose, adding a photo and some key words for search purposes, I hit the publish button. That’s when things went south. The “preview” screen had the title and also included the key words field. The body of my article wasn’t there, but I wasn’t concerned. Sometimes things aren’t quite as they appear when you can only “see” one line at a time with a screen reader. There are also often entire sections of the screen that you can’t navigate to with the screen reader.

I clicked the “publish now” button and got a “success” response. Sadly, the only thing that was actually published, however, was the title. There was no other content.

I used sighted help and eventually got my introductory column up on the platform. I’ve done a subsequent story, but, again, had to use sighted help.

I contacted our local blindness organization and connected with their assistive technology instructor to try to figure out how I could submit stories on the platform independently. With some sighted help, he was able to figure out that there was a title field at the top of the page. We were unable to actually get to this field with a screen reader. We were totally stuck, so I submitted a ticket to the platform’s IT department. I received their automated reply. I also received an e-mail response from a tech support person that they would look into the problem and get back to me. It’s been over a week now. I haven’t heard a word.

I was hoping that writing for this platform would be the outlet and source of extra income I was looking for. It seemed promising, but I think this platform has probably lost a writer and I’ll need to keep looking for a company that’s taken the time to make sure they’re accessible.


*Shawna here – if you’re interested in supporting Rob and his continued writing, you can leave him a tip by going to our PayPal donation page. 100% of funds sent will go to Rob. This is on top of what he gets from us at S. Barnes Designs for website accessibility work when it comes in. We thank you for your support!



Written By Shawna Barnes

Shawna is the graphic and website designer at S. Barnes Designs. She studied graphic design after her medical retirement from the Army in 2011 and has been designing websites since 2016. She lives in northwestern Wisconsin with her husband, two dogs, and a cat.

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