Opera doesn’t work with screen readers – does it matter?

One thing that should be obvious to anybody who has read my recent posts Rough Guide: browsers, operating systems and screen reader support and a Brief history of browser accessibility support or looked at HTML5Accessibility.com is that the Opera browser does not have practical support for screen readers. Of the big 5 browsers, it is the only one that does not work well with screen reading software on at least one platform.

The question is, does it matter?

  • There are already browsers available that provide good access for screen reader users.
  • Does the Opera browser offer any unique features that would be valuable to users who are also screen reader users?
  • Does the Opera browser offer any unique features that would be valuable to users of other assistive technology (screen magnfiers for example) that they cannot currently access, because of Opera’s lack of accessibility API support?
  • Does Opera the company have any duty to ensure assistive technology users can use its software?
  • Does it make good business sense for Opera to make its products accessible to screen reader users? The apparent answer is that those who make such decisions have not thought it so for the past 15 years.

Note: This is not in any way an attempt at Opera bashing. I like the Opera browser, it’s my browser of choice on iPhone. I like the people who I know that work for Opera, I am just writing down some thoughts and hopefully other people will chime in on the question “does it matter” as it’s one I ask myself and keep coming back to particularly since publishing Freedom of Choice last year.

Categories: Development

About Steve Faulkner

Steve is the Chief Accessibility Officer at TPGi. He joined TPGi in 2006 and was previously a Senior Web Accessibility Consultant at vision australia. Steve is a member of several groups, including the W3C Web Platforms Working Group and the W3C ARIA Working Group. He is an editor of several specifications at the W3C including ARIA in HTML and HTML Accessibility API Mappings 1.0. He also develops and maintains HTML5accessibility and the JAWS bug tracker/standards support.


From my insider’s viewpoint: Yes, it matters. Opera’s raison d’être is software diversity and choice. Of course we should include users that happen to use screen readers.

The reality check is that developer time is always a limited resource and there’s a pressure to innovate UI-wise on mass market features that will justify version upgrades, get new users interested and keep old users coming back for more. Screen reader compatibility is not such a feature :-/ but we should get better at baking accessibility into feature development tasks even if the business case for it isn’t that strong.

Steve Faulkner says:

Comment by Norman Robinson on G+

No. I guess not. But it was also one reason we didn’t test sites using Opera in the federal government review of public websites. I guess that it doesn’t t matter to them if we use Opera or not.

Steve Faulkner says:

hi Hallvord, thanks for the comments.

The reality check is that developer time is always a limited resource and there’s a pressure to innovate UI-wise on mass market features that will justify version upgrades

I would suggest that Opera support for assistive technology has not been a priority as the business case, for Opera, has not been there. We (TPG) find a big driver for accessibility support implementation for many of our customers is Section 508 and associated US Government laws, as this directly impinges on a company’s business interests in selling into the US federal government market (biggest software buyer in the world), as well as many state governments and NGO’s such as educational institutions. I think this has been and continues to affect the priorities of other browser vendors, excepting Mozilla for whom I believe the primary motivator is the desire to do the right thing. But Mozilla are a special case as they are a mission driven rather than a profit driven organisation. This is not to say that other vendors don’t want to do the right thing, but it helps justify the costs and resources in supporting accessibility, if there is a tangible $$ return on investment.

What Opera appears to lack is a (public) accessibility strategy, unless I have missed something? Opera also does not appear to have a dedicated person or accessibility team, although they do have a lot of talented people involved who are passionate about accessibility.

Steve Faulkner says:

In an offline conversation with a friend it was suggested that Opera’s lack of movement on screen reader support may be due to a tight financial position putting pressure on resources. I then had a look at the latest Opera financial reports and it does not appear to be the case. disclaimer: I am no financial analyst. It should also be noted that the Opera browser has many usability/accessibility features that aid other user groups.

Deborah says:

When I started using Opera back in the stone ages, it was the most accessible from a hands-free perspective. Over time Firefox has gotten astronomically better, and Opera just hasn’t. I know people at Opera who do care passionately about accessibility, and yet somehow that hasn’t translated into Opera’s accessibility improving.

Steve Faulkner says:

It’s an unfortunate trend for Opera, hopefully they will have the good sense to turn it around.

the business case, for Opera, has not been there

I guess I can’t argue with that since the powers that be have developed the business to this day without building on earlier Opera versions’ accessibility strengths..

excepting Mozilla for whom I believe the primary motivator is the desire to do the right thing

One of the truly unique qualities of the web is that it works best when all actors desire to do the right thing. It seems to be one of the few systems humanity has built that is founded on collaboration to the point where it embodies a sort of technological idealism 🙂 – which, incidentally, is in itself a warm and fuzzy reason for improving accessibility.

I think improved development processes may help us do the right thing on accessibility too, and I hope the internal accessibility advocates @Opera will get better at identifying the opportunities for pushing baked-in a11y. Timing is a hard problem, even for slow processes like software development.

Here’s a “manual pingback”: this post is mentioned in passing in the new blog post CodeMirror’s autocomplete broken by Opera keyboard accessibility feature. 🙂

Accessibility API support in a browser benefits more than blind users. However, Opera’s main revenue comes from set top boxes in the far east – India, etc. In fact chaals at Opera once told me that they are the market leader there for set top box browsers. However, going forward I see the browser of choice on these devices being Webkit based, unless something changes, which will continue to erode their market share.

It is hard for them to justify the investment.

Relgorka Shantilla says:

It would probably be easier for Opera to allow an extension that can interact with the existing Voice libraries. Such an extension would need several sensitive permissions, but it wouldn’t need external communication rights (because all libs etc are in the program).

Would it be possible for an extension to have such elevated page access if it did not request network access rights? Especially if it tied into Opera’s existing VoiceXML support, right?

Though it would be really great to have a voice-based “find in page”…

I am a visually challenged software developer from India. I have been using Windows for a long time now. There, I was quite satisfied with Internet Explorer (V6 back then) as a web browser. But, when I started my career in web development, I started to realise that IE has got a lot of problems rendering html pages with minor issues. Since then, I have liked firefox more than IE. So far, introduction of Safari, Opera, etc has hardly mattered. I did try my hands on Opera once being a web developer. It was required as I had to test my pages in that as well. But my JAWS screen reader seemed to crash as soon as I tried to use Opera. Hence I gave it up.

Steve Faulkner says:

hi Relgorka,
I suggest providing yet another alternative interface to access content is not the best way to go. If opera is going to devote resources, putting them into the support of exisiting AT is the way to go.