Understanding the Usages, Lifecycle, and Opportunities of Screen Readers' Plugins

Farhani Momotaz, Md Ehtesham-Ul-Haque, Syed Masum Billah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Screen reader plugins are small pieces of code that blind users can download and install to enhance the capabilities of their screen readers. This article aims to understand why blind users use these plugins, as well as how these plugins are developed, deployed, and maintained. To this end, we conducted an interview study with 14 blind users to gain individual perspectives and analyzed 2,000 online posts scraped from three plugin-related forums to gain the community perspective. Our study revealed that screen reader users rely on plugins for various reasons, such as to improve the usability of screen readers and application software, to make partially accessible applications accessible, and to receive custom auditory feedback. Furthermore, installing plugins is easy; uninstalling them is unlikely; and finding them online is ad hoc, challenging, and sometimes poses security threats. In addition, developing screen reader plugins is technically demanding; only a handful of people develop plugins. Unfortunately, most plugins do not receive updates once distributed and become obsolete. The lack of financial incentives plays in the slow growth of the plugin ecosystem. Further, we outlined the complex, tripartite collaboration among individual blind users, their online communities, and developer communities in creating a plugin. Additionally, we reported several phenomena within and between these communities that are likely to influence a plugin's development. Based on our findings, we recommend creating a community-driven repository for all plugins hosted on a peer-to-peer infrastructure, engaging third-party developers, and raising general awareness about the benefits and dangers of plugins. We believe our findings will inspire HCI researchers to embrace the plugin-based distribution model as an effective way to combat accessibility and usability problems in non-visual interaction and to investigate potential ways to improve the collaboration between blind users and developer communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number17
JournalACM Transactions on Accessible Computing
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 14 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Science Applications

Cite this