How screen readers navigate data tables
28th of September 2020
- Code things
When a table is created using the appropriate HTML elements (or ARIA roles) screen readers can inform users about the characteristics of the table, and users have access to keyboard commands specifically for navigating tabular content.
For the purposes of this post I’m going to use NVDA. Jaws uses the same keyboard commands in this situation, which is useful because between them they represent more than 80% of the screen reader market on desktop/laptop devices. Check the documentation for VoiceOver and Narrator to find the corresponding keyboard commands for those screen readers.
One more thing before we get started; there is a difference between keyboard and screen reader navigation. Although most screen reader users use a keyboard not a mouse, they are not restricted to the same limited set of keyboard commands as other keyboard users. It also means that keyboard focus and screen reader focus are not the same thing.
Contrary to what you might have heard, you do not need to make each cell of a table focusable with a keyboard to aid navigation. If the cell contains a focusable and interactive element that’s OK, but if it contains non-interactive [...]