YUI Theater — Doug Geoffray: “From the Mouth of a Screenreader”

By YUI TeamMarch 28th, 2007

Doug Geoffray of GW Micro presents 'From the Mouth of a Screenreader' at the Yahoo! FrontEnd Engineering Summit in March, 2007

We held our annual internal frontend engineering conference at Yahoo! earlier this month, and one of our invited guests was Doug Geoffray of GW Micro. Doug came by to teach Yahoo! frontend engineers about the history and current state of screen-reader support in software, including the nature of the current challenges we face developing screen-reader-accessible dynamic web pages. While this talk is historically comprehensive and covers a lot of ground related to how screen readers have evolved on the desktop, the context is important for us on the frontend as we begin to confront the same challenges that desktop software developers have been addressing for many years.

And Doug, of course, has been there all along, developing some of the earliest voiced applications for the Macintosh in the early 1980s and eventually founding GW Micro and becoming one of the most important guiding figures of the accessible software industry. (A few years ago, AFB AccessWorld did a profile of Doug with some nice detail about his background; please refer to that document for a more complete version of his biography.) Of late, Doug been a touchstone for us at YUI in the research and development of our Menu Control, a project that is helping us to lay a foundation for what is possible in terms of DHTML accessibility as YUI evolves. (Slides are available from a talk given by Doug and YUI Menu Control author Todd Kloots, “Designing RIA Accessibility: A YUI Menu Case Study.”.

Doug was kind enough to allow the YUI Theater team to record his talk, and we’re excited to share that with you here. The talk is divided into two parts (Part One, Part Two), with some excellent discussion about screen readers and web browsers in the second half of Part Two. Part One is embedded below:

Note: A downloadable and iPod-compatible MPEG version of this video is available for download. The .m4v file format we’ve used for this video (and many others in the YUI Theater) signifies that it is an MPEG-4 file with video; if you’re not downloading to view on an iPod, and/or are using a system that doesn’t recognize the .m4v extension, try renaming the file to .mp4.


  1. [...] YUI Theater — Doug Geoffray: “From the Mouth of a Screenreader” » Yahoo! User Interface Blog (tags: accessibility video webdev) [...]

  2. Hi:

    Listened to it all and can appreciate the problems screen readers have, but still came away with no clue as to how a web developer can make a site more accessible.

    Thanks anyway.


  3. [...] YUI Theater — Doug Geoffray: “From the Mouth of a Screenreader” [...]

  4. Thank you for the excellent screen readers demonstrations. I watched the part one video, and now this one. Excellent job!

    So, lets go ahead, to make the web accessible for all!

  5. Though the accessibility efforts here are appreciated, we also need to get down to the fundamentals, such as Yahoo! making their visual only CAPTCHA accessible! Please, everyone, sign the following petition:

  6. [...] From the Mouth of a Screenreader covers a lot of ground related to how screen readers have evolved on the desktop Share and Enjoy:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

  7. Justin Harford said:
    December 11, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    I am a blind user who just watched this. Was curious what people outside of the blind community were saying about accessibility and screen readers.

    I noticed the first comment before I watched the half on web accessibility. Not sure why he was refusing to explain what a web developer could do to make a screenreader access a page.

    As far as web access goes, it is all in the coding of html. I warn you that I don’t really know html, but I am familiar with markup from my use of LaTeX. Tagging an html document with headings I think it might be, etc, is really all a developer needs to know. I expect that web developers are familiar enough with html to know about tags.

    Anyway, you need not concern yourself with what the screenreader is doing. Don’t worry about DOMs, or MSAA or any of that. It’s all in the code.

    Web building software like dreamweaver or iWeb does not put tags in the actual code. Thus, websites made by such means may not work as smoothly if the creater did not manually go into the code to insert the html tags.

    I would also like to note that apple do have a legitimate screen reader, but apple accessibility, at least in terms of system accessibility, is different and better because they have a stronger means of making developers comply with Apple Active Accessibility standards.

    LOL. Of course the blind civil rights machine is fueled by companies like his. So, I won’t say too much more about the economic motivations behind his comments on VoiceOver.


  8. [...] The scrollability feature, which was too fragile in previous releases, warranted a markup overhaul to give DataTable a more solid foundation to support fixed-header scrolling plus horizontal scrolling. Our challenge was to achieve a stable xy-scrolling mechanism while remaining accessible to screenreaders. (Screenreader software, which assists blind or partially sighted users, is good at handling <table> elements and their contents; it doesn’t do well with tabular data that’s marked up in other ways [such as in <div>s]. For a general introduction to screenreaders, check out this YUI Theater video.) [...]