When you’re building an accessible e-learning course, one requirement is that your content work on screen readers. (If you’re not familiar with screen readers, check out this article before continuing: Accessible E-Learning & Screen Readers: What You Need to Know.) 

If you’re using Articulate apps to build your course, you’re in luck! Rise 360 and Storyline 360 courses work automatically on a variety of screen readers

However, it’s still a good idea to test each new course you create. It’s always a good idea to test your e-learning courses in the same environment as your learners to ensure they’re getting a good experience. For accessible courses, this includes testing them out with a screen reader.

But if you’ve never used this kind of tool before, testing your course with one can be a challenge. After all, unlike your learners, you’re not used to screen readers, so you don’t know what to expect. 

That’s why we’ve got you covered! In this article, we’ll walk you through what to do, step by step. Here goes.

1. Get Comfortable with Your Screen Reader

Before you get started, it’s important to set aside some time to understand the technology and get familiar with the controls so you don’t feel confused and overwhelmed when you go to test your course. To get to know the screen reader your learners are using, follow these steps:

  1. Screen readers are software, so you can easily download and install one if it’s not already on your device. If you know which screen reader the majority of your learners use, grab that one. If not, head over to this article for more information on the most popular screen readers.
  2. Learn the basic keyboard shortcuts (for computers) or multitouch gestures (for touchscreen devices) for your screen reader. 
  3. Close your eyes and try “reading” something like a Wikipedia article just to get a feel for the experience.
  4. When you’re done, make note of anything that stood out to you. You might notice, for example:
    • How the screen reader often provides context for what it’s reading by saying whether it’s part of the site navigation, a heading, a list, a link, etc.
    • Some screen readers read punctuation out loud (dash, comma, etc.).
    • Some screen readers (like NVDA and JAWS) stop reading after 100 characters. If you’d like it to continue, you can customize this setting or use the down arrow to continue reading.

The big takeaway is to spend some time getting to know the screen reader your learners will be using. By testing out your course with the same screen reader your learners use, you’ll have a better feel for how it works and what your learners can expect.

2. Learn How Your Course Is Designed to Work with Screen Readers

For the most part, screen readers interact with e-learning course content the same way they do websites. However, depending on the authoring app you use to create your course, there might be some differences. If that’s the case, it’s important that you be aware of them so you know what to expect.

If you’re using Articulate apps, check out these articles for more information:

3. Review Your Course with a Screen Reader

Now that you’ve taken the screen reader your learners will be using for a trial run and you’ve read up on how your course content works with screen readers, you’re ready to test-drive your course.

First, make sure your screen reader is activated. Then, launch your course. From there, close your eyes and move through the course as a learner would—using the keyboard shortcuts or multitouch gestures. 

When you open your course, start by quickly going through all the content on the first slide. Screen reader users often move through the entire content of a page (or in this case, a slide) to get a feel for how it’s set up before deciding what to do. Test out this experience and see what it’s like. 

Then, start over and review the slide slowly, listening to the audio description for each item one by one. Continue moving through your course in this way, ensuring that you’re able to make it through from start to finish without getting stuck. As you go along, ask yourself the questions outlined in this article: A Checklist for QA Testing Courses with a Screen Reader.

If you run into technical difficulties, follow these troubleshooting steps:

  1. Check your screen reader’s user manual to ensure you’re using the keyboard commands correctly. 
  2. Review the information provided by your authoring app vendor about how content should behave and determine if what you’re seeing is expected or not. (See the article links in the previous section for Articulate apps.)
  3. Reach out to your authoring app vendor. If you created your course using Articulate apps, feel free to reach out to our support team. They’ll be happy to help you figure out what’s going on.

4. Ask a Screen Reader User to Review Your Course

Once you’ve reviewed your course with a screen reader and made any necessary adjustments, it’s a good idea to ask someone who’s familiar with screen readers to review your course as well. If there’s no one on the project team who fits the bill, try reaching out to professional accessibility testers. 

People who are accustomed to consuming content in this way are sure to give you helpful feedback about the experience. Ask them to make note of any areas where they felt lost, the navigation was confusing, or the content was hard to understand. 

The Bottom Line

Using a screen reader to access an e-learning course is a completely different experience than clicking through a course with your mouse and taking it in visually. The only way to ensure that the learning experience is a great one is to test it out for yourself. 

Looking for more tips on creating and testing your accessible courses? Check out these helpful resources:

Do you have any experience testing your e-learning courses on screen readers? We’d love to hear how it went. Let us know in the comments!

Want to try building an accessible e-learning course in Articulate apps, but don’t have Articulate 360? Start a free 30-day trial, and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments.

Lisa Spirko

Apologies for my bluntness, but why bother mentioning NVDA in this article? This implies that Storyline supports NVDA, when it certainly does not (https://articulate.com/support/article/Articulate-Storyline-and-Section-508-Accessibility). This lack of support is a serious problem because, despite JAWS being the "industry standard" screen reader, the reality is that most learners with vision problems probably use a free or low cost screen reader like NVDA. Because of the continual 508-related problems we have with Storyline, whether coupled with NVDA or not, we are unable to legally claim that we produce 508-compliant courses that meet the requirements of our contractual obligations. I know that I am not the only Storyline user who has complained about this. Articulate really needs to s... Expand

Nicole Legault
Lisa Spirko

Thank you, Nicole. We appreciate that Articulate is looking at ways to improve accessibility, and we hope that you guys will resolve these issues soon. Unfortunately, because the issues we're encountering on my team impact screen reader users and keyboard navigation users, we have decided that we can only work toward 508 compliance in our Storyline-developed courses for other disability groups, like learners who are hearing impaired, have cognitive disabilities, have low vision but use screen enlargers (not screen readers), and limited motor skills and use an adaptive mouse (not keyboards). We will need to be sure we have other 508-compliant deliverables in place for learners who use screen readers or navigate only with a keyboard until Articulate resolves these issues or until we find ... Expand

Lisa Spirko

Our department is fortunate in that we offer many different types of deliverables, not just online courses. We are taking an approach of making our deliverables as a collection (not individually) compliant for 508/accessibility ("there's something for everyone"). In our view, it would be very difficult or impossible to make each of our deliverables accessible for every possible type of disability, especially our online courses and webinars. Therefore, we are striving to make our online courses compliant for hearing impaired and people with color blindness or low vision who do NOT use screen readers or rely on keyboard navigation (i.e. compliant color contrast, closed captions, transcripts). Those learners who use screen readers and keyboard navigation--who can't take our courses because of... Expand

Darla Woodworth

From what I have read on Articulate's community forums (and other sites) is that NVDA does "everything" that JAWS does. I support Lisa's request in asking Articulate to support the use of NVDA as a choice for developers and learners. I think NVDA is used more than JAWS for a variety of reasons, one of which that hasn't been mentioned is that NVDA lets developers read what is being read by the screen reader - helping us (okay, me) with my limited speed listening capabilities. I guess I am asking Articulate (and the staff that answer questions on the forum) to quit dismissing NVDA as an alternative - making it sound like NVDA isn't a quality product and JAWS is our only answer. Nicole, thanks for working on this tough issue. I am surprised and pleased that you listed NVDA as ... Expand

Nicole Legault

Hi all, We’ve been working hard on the accessibility features in Rise. And our ultimate goal is to be Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliant. We’ve built Rise to follow Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) standards for common navigation features, such as buttons, links, and forms. For custom features that aren’t covered by ARIA, such as interactive markers and sorting activities, we’ve focused on making the custom keyboard navigation feel natural and intuitive. We do not yet provide full keyboard navigation support for learners who require a screen reader, but we are actively working on this. You can always keep up to date on the latest Rise features on the What’s New page. As part of our plan to get Rise to be WCAG compliant, we’re also hiring a 3rd pa... Expand

Michelle Kenoyer

Hi Nicole, Apologies for commenting on this article a couple of years late, but I'm curious to learn more about the specifics of testing a Storyline 360 course with a screen-reading tool such as NVDA. I don't have access to the JAWS screen reader, so NVDA is all i have for testing. Your article is very well-done, but is more of a "why it's necessary" than a true "How-to" for using a screen reader to test specific items in a Storyline course with a screen reader. Do you have some best practices that Storyline designers and testers could use/look for specifically (in addition to the usual things like tab order, alt text, etc.)? My team and I have found a reference guide of NVDA keyboard navigation shortcuts (https://dequeuniversity.com/screenreaders/nvda-keyboard-shortcuts#nvda-nvda_sh... Expand

Diarmaid Collins
instructional design
Grace O
Lisa Spirko

Hi Grace! I just have a question, as I have been testing Storyline thoroughly these past several weeks, and I'm not having any of the issues you're describing. When you try to read a slide of content with a screen reader, what keys on the keyboard are you using? I ask because if you're trying to use the Tab key instead of the arrow keys, you won't be able to read the written content or alt text on the screen. I didn't learn this until very recently, but screen readers like NVDA have two modes: NVDA calls them focus mode and browse (reading) mode. (I'm not sure what JAWS calls them, but they're the same functionality and use the same keyboard keys.) Focus mode involves the Tab key and jumps only to interactive elements, such as buttons, hyperlinks, and objects with interactive trig... Expand

Grace O
Lisa Spirko

Hm, that's strange.... These things being read but should not be are on the content slide? Keep in mind that screen readers read all sorts of other things programmed into the content on the web browser window, and it uses terminology that might sound unfamiliar, such as "landmark" and "clickable frame." These are things that might sound extraneous to us, but a screen reader user should be familiar with, and they might rely on that information to orient them on the screen, etc. I didn't learn any of this or become comfortable with screen readers until I started testing our LMS for accessibility. I agree, some folks in Storyline support don't seem to be as well-versed with screen reader technology or accessibility as they should be. This WebAIM article on NVDA bells and whistles... Expand

Lisa Spirko