How to make arbitrary text selections in a screen reader render visually

Hung, Jonathan jhung at
Wed Feb 1 16:22:06 UTC 2017

Hi everyone,

In many of our designs (i.e. Metadata authoring, My Lifelong Learning, UI Options, and OER Authoring Tool) we have a feature which allows a user to select any arbitrary text and “do something with it”. This can take many forms such as:

* Selecting text to make an annotation
* Selecting text to perform some formatting (i.e. make it bold, or insert a link)
* Mark a section that has a footnote or citation

A tricky implementation issue has been brought up by our friends at<>:

If a user is using a screen reader and keyboard to interact with the website content, how do you get the interactions with the AT’s screen buffer to render visually? The issue here is that screen readers that use Virtual Buffers (like NVDA and JAWS), the user interacts with the buffer and nothing in the browser is affected. This is unfortunate for a screen reader user who has vision as they do not get any visual cues.

How would one implement a selection feature such that a user of a screen reader (with a virtual buffer) can make selections, and for the selections in the virtual buffer to appear visually in the browser? Is this even a good approach, or is there another way?

Thoughts and suggestions appreciated.

- Jon.

Jonathan Hung, Inclusive Designer
Email: jhung at<mailto:jhung at>
OCAD University
Inclusive Design Research Centre
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