Using Watchtower Online Library with a Screenreader

This post is to update a previous post on using wol.jw.org (Watchtower Online Library) with screenreaders. I promised I would update my blog when changes to the site were made. I apologize for being slow to do so. I also apologize if this post is either unclear or unhelpful to you because I am not familiar enough with the specific access technology you use.

Screenreader accessibility has been greatly improved. The site is now completely functional when using a browser and a screenreader that support ARIA markup. ARIA stands for Access Rich Internet Application, and is an addition to HTML that provides useful information to screenreaders when non-standard or entirely visual elements are used.
If that definition does nothing for you, don’t worry. I probably explained it badly, and it isn’t necessary to understand what ARIA is to take advantage of it.

At the top of the page there are links that are formatted as menu items. On mobile browsers these links do not show any text labels, but now they are perfectly accessible to screenreader users, because they are invisibly labeled with ARIA. Because they are marked as menu items with ARIA they behave somewhat differently with different browsers and screenreaders.

With the NVDA screenreader the menu items are not viewed as links at all, so it is necessary to use Insert-Space to leave browse mode in order to interact with them. Browse mode will actually be off when you first load the page, but you will be stuck in the search edit field. It’s not possible to tab out of it, so you must enable browse mode to escape, and then reenable it to interact with the site’s navigation menu. Pressing enter on the menu links will work after that. You will also want to stay out of browse mode when navigating the lists of publications and each publication’s table of contents. Once you have selected an article/chapter/lesson you should return to browse mode in order to read it. Most of the time you can find the main content of the page by pressing D (the NVDA hotkey for landmarks). For me, NVDA’s behavior has been somewhat inconsistent.

With JAWS it is not necessary to force forms mode on, because the menu items are seen by JAWS as both links and form items. If you have auto-forms mode enabled you will probably get stuck in the search edit box every time the page loads. Just press escape and then arrow away from it. It’s annoying that tab doesn’t let you move on, but it’s manageable. Once you have selected a section of the site to view you can use the ; (semicolon) hotkey to move to the main content of the page. Semicolon is the JAWS hotkey for moving through ARIA landmarks and certain HTML5 elements such as article.

When the Watchtower Online Library was first created it caused some problems with screenreaders because of the way that the navigation links are formatted. Each link is actually a list within a list that can take up more than 1 line. JAWS really did not work well with that, and NVDA didn’t deal with it perfectly either. JAWS couldn’t seem to tell where one link ended and the next started, so it was extremely unreliable to navigate the links to get to the information you wanted to read. If you have an older version of JAWS you may still experience that problem. If you do you should navigate by using the links list feature by pressing Insert-F7. All the links on the page will be found and presented in a list that you can navigate by using either your arrows or by pressing the first letter of the link’s label.
For anyone using a recent and ARIA enabled screenreader and browser combination navigating those links will no longer be a problem. They have been marked with a tag that says that their formatting is just for visual presentation and is not something the screenreader need deal with or share with it’s user. What a relief! :-)

Reference and scripture links within all publications and search results display a ToolTip-like pop-up when mouse users hover their mouse over the link.
It is not possible to use this functionality with JAWS. Control-Insert-Enter, which is the MouseOver hotkey, does not result in the referenced content
being read.

Activating these links does open the referenced publication to the correct section, but it will be necessary to search for the referenced scripture or
paragraph containing the relevant text. The numbered links at the top of each Bible chapter do not correctly cause the JAWS virtual cursor to jump to
that verse.

The relevant paragraph(s) or verse(s) are highlighted in a different color for sighted users. By default this highlighting is of no use to screen reader
users, but the JAWS Skim Reading tool can be used to find and read the highlighted text.

Note: At the time of posting this blog the color of the reference links in Internet Explorer was maroon on white. Unfortunately JAWS 14.0.1823 has a strange bug that causes it to switch maroon to red4 which although possibly similar in appearance, is not at all the same thing according to software, so the skim reading rule does not work. I have reported the bug to Freedom Scientific.
The solution is to use Firefox which displays the reference links as purple4 on black, which works just fine.
Download Firefox

Directions for using the JAWS skim reading tool

  1. Activate a reference link by pressing enter on it.
  2. Find the text that was referenced by the link by whatever manual means you usually use.
  3. When the JAWS virtual cursor is placed on part of that referenced text you’ve located, press Insert-5 to hear the text and background color of the
    highlighted text.
  4. Press Insert-Control-DownArrow to activate the JAWS Skim Reading utility. You can also access it by picking it from the JAWS utilities list available
    with Insert-F2.
  5. For the control prompt “Use Rule Type:” select the radio button that says “Attributes and color rules apply for reading.”
    Note: if you’ve used the skim reading tool before you will need to press Shift-Tab to get to this control.
  6. Tab to the control that prompts Text Color. Start typing the name of the color you discovered for the highlighted text in step 3. When you’ve gotten
    close to the correct color, alphabetically speaking, press DownArrow until you find the exact color.
  7. The Next control is for background color. You may not need to specify the background color, but you can do so just in case. Use the same method as
    in the previous step.
  8. Jump to the next relevant control, Speak Unit, using Alt-U. I chose line, but you might want to experiment.
  9. Press Alt-S to have JAWS start reading the matching text in the current document. Press Alt-Y to have JAWS put all matching text in the results viewer.
  10. Next time you want to use this rule on a document or web page press Control-Shift-Insert-DownArrow and pick it from the rules history list, then
    press Alt-Y to view the results. If you press Control-Insert-DownArrow at any time JAWS will skim read the current document using the last rule you chose.

Using http://jw.org with JAWS or NVDA

The main http://jw.org site is quite screen reader friendly, but here are a few tips.

Headings are our best friends. They will get you just about anywhere you want to go on each page.

The site uses some convenient HTML5 tags. With an up-to-date version of JAWS and Firefox or Internet Explorer you can take advantage of these semantic HTML5 tags by pressing the Quick-Nav hotkey for landmarks ; (semicolon).

When you press enter on a scripture reference link on jw.org a pop-up will appear, and JAWS may say application mode. If this happens just press Shift-Tab to deactivate application mode and read the scripture.
If JAWS doesn’t say application mode, you can just read the scripture with your arrow keys.
NVDA will conveniently read the scripture aloud, but any attempts to read the pop-up with your arrow keys will result in disaster of the focus loss variety.
With either screen reader pressing enter on the close button will close The pop-up, and recently a fantastic change was made that causes focus to be returned to the activating link so that you do not loose your place in the article when you read a scripture.

The flash at the top of each article will almost always play the MP3 of the article in the browser when you press enter on the accessible play button.
You must have show flash enabled in JAWS settings in order to see the site’s embedded flash player.
NVDA will say embedded object where the flash player appears on the page, but you may have some difficulty activating it.

You will find download links for many publications on the site. The PDF versions of publications you can download are not at all nice to use with screen readers. They contain the publications text, but are not properly tagged for readability. There is also some strange issue that causes spaces to be missing in many places. This makes understanding what’s read aloud very difficult. Also, with Adobe Acrobat reader and JAWS almost every word is on a separate line.

The EPUB versions of publications are very nice. They don’t allow heading navigation for subheadings within articles, but they are otherwise structured
very conveniently.