An exploratory study of screen-reader users navigating the web
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Researchers have learned much about how sighted individuals seek information on Web sites - for example, users follow "information scent" as they move from page to page, and individual differences may impact successful information seeking on the Web. While it is possible that individuals with disabilities, especially those with severe visual impairments, perform information-seeking activities in a similar manner, little is known about how individuals who use screen readers to navigate actually seek information on the Web. In this study, we used both qualitative and quantitative measures to investigate the Web navigation techniques of four screen-reader users and how a user’s experience affects these navigation techniques and his or her ability to successfully complete an information-finding task. We compared metrics for between-page and within-page navigation to studies of sighted users. We also considered how a Web site’s compliance with Section 508 guidelines affects the overall information-finding experience of a visually-impaired individual. We discovered that among the four individuals in this study, user experience was not necessarily indicative of a successful information-finding experience. As individuals, the participants' navigation techniques varied widely; as a group, they generally searched more frequently and used the back button less frequently than has been reported for sighted individuals. Screen-reader users in this study followed a more flimsy, linear navigation style and generally used scrolling actions rather than searching actions. When using a Web site that has a Section 508 compliant home page, we found that the screen-reader users in this study completed information-finding tasks significantly more quickly, used significantly fewer actions, and reported a more satisfying information-finding experience. They were also more successful at finding the information goal and encountered fewer impasses. Using both quantitative and qualitative measures was critical in this study. The quantitative metrics allowed us to compare values and the qualitative data provided additional insight into individual differences as well as allowing a deeper understanding of the quantitative data. The information from this study contributes to the growing body of research knowledge about screen-reader users. It also contributes a new understanding of screen-reader users that can be used by the worldwide community of Web developers, designers, and users.