I always was under the impression that if I add emphasis to a piece of text in HTML by adding an
em or a
strong element, this emphasis would also be indicated to screen reader users in some way. For example, by a change of the tone of voice, much like if you are reading a text out aloud and add emphasis to a certain word by speaking slightly louder.
It turns out that this is not the case at all. As Steve Faulkner recently documented (again), none of the most commonly used screen readers like VoiceOver, JAWS, or NVDA convey the text semantics of those elements to users. And they also don’t expose
strong element role semantics in the accessibility tree.
At first, I was kind of disappointed to hear that. Isn’t emphasis an important part of the design? Isn’t this the reason we are writing semantic HTML in the first place? But honestly, the explanation as to why NVDA, which supported it for a while, even removed support again reads more than plausible:
Does this mean that you don’t need to use semantic elements to convey emphasis? Of course not. You never know where the semantics still matter. And it is also just the right way to indicate emphasis in HTML for the majority of users. But it is nevertheless interesting and important to know that screen readers don’t care by default.