The accessibility of Google Chrome

Google Chrome has taken a striking lead in popularity, but is this reflective of how people with disabilities view the browser? Media Access Australia’s Matthew Putland investigates.

Web Browsers are responsible for rendering websites in the best way they can, in both presentation and functionality. Most common browsers nowadays often achieve the same functionality and look of a webpage, even if a browser may have a very different backend than another. However, Assistive Technology (AT) such as screen readers, magnifiers and high contrast modes, add another layer of complexity in how a browser presents a webpage, and this can lead to some significant differences for people with disabilities.

The browser choice for an everyday user is often a trivial one. Due to its lightning fast speeds, Google Chrome has become the most popular screen reader currently available, to such an extent that Chrome has a 56.2% market share lead over the next most popular web browser, Mozilla Firefox. Many of Media Access Australia’s clients ask specifically for Google Chrome to be included in website accessibility audits since the browser is so popular, which is very understandable due to its strong lead.

People with disabilities however have their own subjective preferences, and do not favour Google Chrome on a desktop at all. According to the browser section of WebAIM’s accessibility survey, we saw that only 6.3% of respondents use Google Chrome the most. The more traditional web browsers of Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox take a much stronger lead in the disability community, with 34.9% and 30.1% respectively. The article also mentions screen reader and browser combinations, which state that JAWS and Windows-Eyes screen readers are most used with Internet Explorer, and the NVDA screen reader is mostly used with Mozilla Firefox.

If Google Chrome has taken such a huge leap in web browser market share, why hasn’t this been reflected in the disability community? Here’s why…

1. Google Chrome is problematic for low-vision users

Google Chrome does not natively support high contrast mode on Windows. This is a massive setback for low-vision users, who would love the speed of Google Chrome but simply cannot due to its inability to render websites in a high contrast colour scheme. While there are a few plugins available for Chrome that can enable a high contrast mode, they typically do not work as well as the Windows equivalent and is an extra barrier for entry for those low-vision users trying to use Chrome.

Google Chrome also has a few stylistic choices that can be problematic for both people with low-vision and individuals with mobility impairments. The Focus indicator in Google Chrome uses a Blue box, rather than the “Marching ant” style dotted box seen in other browsers, which more often than not causes unique 2.4.7 Focus Visible issues in Google Chrome as the focus indicator is just not as visible.

2. Screen readers just tend to not work as well with Chrome

Five years ago it was laughable for a screen reader user to attempt using Chrome at all to interact with the web. Screen readers are often slow to change and did not fully support the browser, and the browser contained gaps that did not support the AT. Currently, the browser is far more proficient with popular AT such as JAWS 17 and NVDA, but reportedly still doesn’t work quite as well as the slower Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers. The general consensus is that JAWS screen reader is meant to be used with Internet Explorer, and NVDA is meant to be used with Mozilla Firefox. While I personally know a few screen reader users that have jumped ship to Google Chrome as their main browser, they always have Mozilla Firefox or Internet explorer as their backup when things go awry.

3. Once something works, why change it?

Many people simply stick to what they know and understand. When they find something that works for them, they tend to stick to it for as long as possible. To jump to a different browser can become a large learning process for many users, and can be especially difficult for people with disabilities. In some cases, buying a new licence of JAWS can also become a financial barrier, causing people with disabilities to remain on outdated technology.

The Future for Google Chrome

Google Chrome is a web browser that shows no signs of slowing in popularity. Eventually, people with disabilities may eventually decide to make the switch, which has already started occurring. More organisations are implementing Chrome as the default browser throughout the business, which would potentially force some people with disabilities to switch without an alternative being available. Google Chrome also has a strong showing on Android devices, as Google’s Talkback screen reader works well with the browser. For now, though, most people with disabilities are still sticking with Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari as their preferred choices on a desktop.

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