How well do screen readers support Web accessibility guidelines?

A screen reader is software that presents graphics and text as speech. A screen reader is used to verbalize, or "speak," everything on the computer screen including names and descriptions of control buttons, menus, text, and punctuation.

Screen readers are a form of assistive technology that are potentially useful to people who are blind, visually impaired, or have learning disabilities. Screen readers may also be helpful for those who are non-native English speakers or for any other reason have difficulty reading information on the computer. In many cases, screen readers are used in conjunction with other assistive technology, such as screen magnifiers.

A person's choice of screen reader is dictated by many factors, including platform, cost, and the setting such as schools or employment. Choosing a screen reader is a very personal choice and usually the individual has strong preferences. Wikipedia offers a comprehensive comparison chart of screen readers available.

Businesses considering an accommodation or learning more about assistive technology do not need to be disability experts. It is less important to know all technology options available or how an impairment was acquired than it is to know what abilities a person has and what tasks he or she needs to perform the job tasks. People who use screen readers are usually well versed with their technology needs.

The following are organizations that have extensive information on assistive technology including screen readers.

ABLEDATA provides objective information about assistive technology products and rehabilitation equipment available from domestic and international sources. They are not a reseller, but offer extensive product reviews.
Ability Hub
Ability Hub directs you to adaptive equipment and alternative methods available for accessing computers.
Assistive Tech
Assistive technology and disability-related information. Searchable database helps target solutions, determine costs and find vendors of AT products for people with disabilities, family members, service providers, educators and employers.