Some words are spelled the same but have different meanings and pronunciation. The pronunciation is what may allow the reader to understand which meaning is intended. This occurs in East Asian languages, Hebrew, Arabic, English and other Western European languages.
Sometimes, the context of a sentence or phrase is not enough to work out how a word should be pronounced. When a screen reader comes across such a word, it may mispronounce the word and prevent the user from getting the right meaning.
Note: it does not matter that the text content wasn't written for the purpose of being read aloud — the fact is it will be read aloud to people by screen readers.
A mechanism is available for identifying specific pronunciation of words where meaning of the words, in context, is ambiguous without knowing the pronunciation. (Level AAA)
It thus becomes part of the job of the content writer, editor or manager to ensure that the needs of the screen reader — and thereby the needs of the screen reader user — are met by providing guidance on how certain words should be pronounced.
The distinctly positive aspect to this is that by resolving any confusion about pronunciation for screen readers, you are almost certainly resolving similar confusion in the perceptions of many of your content users, whether they have a disability or not. As is often the case, enhancing accessibility means improving usability.
Provide an explanation
For words that depend on correct pronunciation in order to convey the right meaning, provide an explanation or guide to the pronunciation.
This can take the form of a parenthetical comment, a link to a footnote or a link to a glossary of pronunciation.
The train stops in Bologna (bol-ON-ya).
The train stops in Bologna.1
The train stops in Bologna.
In the case of the third option, the link could be to a glossary page purpose-built for that website or webpage, or to a commonly accepted, publicly available source of guidance on pronunciation.
Provide a sound file
Another option is to link candidate words to a sound file that gives an example of the correct pronunciation.
This approach is often used to add accessibility to CAPTCHAs, allowing the user to hover over or click a button to be given a spoken rendition of the word.
Use the ruby element
Ruby characters are annotations that can be placed above or next to words to provide guidance on the pronunciation of certain sets of characters. This is a fairly common practice with the presentation of Japanese and other East Asian languages.
<p>Many people refer to the guidelines as <ruby><rb>WCAG</rb> <rp>(</rp><rt>WIK-kag</rt><rp>)</rp></ruby>.</p>
<ruby> element tells the browser that the enclosed text is Ruby annotated. The
<rb> tag identifies the base text to be annotated. The
<rp> tags identify the parentheses that are placed around the text annotation in the
<rt> tag in browsers that do not support Ruby annotation.
In browsers that support Ruby annotation, such as Google Chrome, our sentence looks like this:
In browsers that do not support Ruby annotation, the sentence is rendered as:
Use diacritical marks
Diacritical marks are symbols added to letters to indicate pronunciation. These include the symbols used in European languages such as acute accents, umlauts and cedillas, as well as Hawaiian okina and kahako, and a range of marks used in Arabic.
Screen readers will take note of diacritical marks as long as the word or phrase in question is marked up properly with the appropriate language attribute.
The following text will be read out by a screen reader with the appropriate pronunciation:
<code><span <strong>lang="fr"</strong>>Il y avait un manège à la fête.</span></code>
Some languages use so many diacritical marks that it may be wiser to turn some off. It is a requirement of Success Criterion 3.1.6 that diacritical marks can be turned off. For example, when presenting text in Hawai'ian, it should be possible for the reader to see the text displayed with all diacritics, only with okina or with no diacritics displayed at all.
You should consult with your developer on the best way to allow a user to turn diacritical marks on and off.
Within the terms of this guide, the primary reason for indicating pronunciation is to make text content accessible to people with disabilities who might not understand the meaning and intent of the content if information about pronunciation is not provided. It is not intended as a guide to pronunciation for people who are not familiar with the language of the content.