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The Nuances in Screen Reader vs. Keyboard Testing and Why It Matters

taught by: Derek Jackson

Session Summary

While keyboard and screen reader testing may seem interchangeable, they work with distinct and separate areas of technology to interact with the browser. This session delves into the the worlds of keyboard and screen reader testing to make it clear what we are really looking for in these types of testing to enable more comprehensive and effective testing approaches.


There is often confusion surrounding the distinction between keyboard and screen reader testing when we do manual testing. While the keyboard plays a role in both keyboard and screen reader testing, in reality, we are testing two very distinct ways that assistive technology can interact with content in a browser. This presentation will examine the unique aspects of each type of testing and why we want to keep them separate. To fully understand these distinctions, it is important to understand the technology that these devices rely on. In this presentation, we will look at the ways the keyboard alone works with a browser and how it works when we use the keyboard with a screen reader. These are two different ways of “talking” with the browser and understanding the ways that keyboards and screen readers work will help us avoid confusion in the testing we do. In addition to understanding these different technologies, it is important to connect them to the users that rely on them. So we must go beyond the keyboard and connect the screen reader and keyboard testing we do to the users and assistive technology affected by these two different testing methods. This is not just a pedantic issue for technology but has the potential to impact real people if we are not clear about what and why we are testing. From this presentation, attendees will gain a deeper understanding of the nuances of keyboard and screen reader testing, why they are distinct methods of testing, and the users we are thinking about when testing with these two different methods. While both types of testing involve the keyboard, they each have their own specific focus. Understanding these differences will enable us to make better-informed decisions so we are better equipped to perform thorough and effective accessibility testing, ultimately making the user experience more equitable.

Practical Skills

  • Understand the technical distinction between screen reader testing and keyboard testing.
  • Identify how testing relates to different types of assistive technology people rely on.
  • Improve understanding of testing results and their impact on users.