Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

3 Myths of Ajax and Accessibility

Category: Accessibility, Articles

Joe Walker of DWR has written a piece on 3 Myths of Ajax and Accessibility. It stemmed from “quite a few ideas and bits of policy writing about accessiblity that could probably do with some updating.”

Myth 1: Accessibility is a single issue

One of the problems with accessibility as a single concept is that it lumps together issues that are sometimes fairly unrelated. Blind people have different accessibility requirements from partially sighted people, or those with motor impairment. People with slow modems need different things from those on corporate networks with strict security. We need to think about separate requirements, … separately.

Myth 2: All accessibility issues must be fixed

Our attitudes to these disabilities should also vary between accessibility issues. We can’t ignore blind people from a moral or legal standpoint. Do we ignore someone that really likes his or her copy of Netscape 3 and doesn’t want to upgrade? Now it’s a business decision, not a moral or legal one. There are many issues like text-mode browsers and small screens that accessibility books handle. We don’t always need to address them all.

Myth 3: JavaScript won’t work with screen readers

Screen readers mostly work by plugging into IE or Firefox and reading what’s on the screen. It doesn’t matter how it got there. More advanced ones actually let you fire off onmouseover and onclick events using the keyboard and will inform the listener that there is an action worth considering. That’s more feedback than sighted users get sometimes. Screen readers do have a problem with content that’s generated at a point on the screen that has already been read. This is where Ajax may have the biggest issue with accessibilty, and something that we need to be aware of.

Posted by Dion Almaer at 12:57 pm
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I agree with Matthias

Comment by linb — March 14, 2006

Myth 1.
I agree, and it sounds good in theory, however, try it in practice. 508 and W3C compliance is a real pain in the behind if you live in the real world where there is one set of requirements with compliance being tossed on top of it as an afterthought.

Myth 2.
You can usually get away with saying that it works well with one reader on one browser so you provide a solution, however, it better work. Try working with a state government that has a department for disabilities with people in management positions using your product that are themselves visually impaired. In the real world if your product is for general consumption across an enterprise you will run into legal issues, especially if it is the govt or a public agency.

Myth 3
Sure it actually interprets a screen with javascript pretty elegantly, however, adapting your ui and code to work well with a reader is a challenge. If you haven’t yet played with a screen reader with dhtml or ajax its a real treat. The reader will get lost and does not deal with dynamic tabular data at all.

Comment by David — March 16, 2006

I agree with all of the comments made thus far. As a web developer, one of the things I have learned in working with one of my clients, a large organization for the blind and visually impaired, is that there is a major difference between “accessibility� and “usability�. Just because your page or application passes all W3C and 508 checkpoints for accessibility does not mean that you have created something usable for screen reader users.

With the advent of more dynamic UI’s made possible with AJAX, we not only have to consider accessibility but best practices for usability (e.g. – where and how we display notifications on the page, etc.). I feel these questions are a lot to consider for a single developer working on an application. My hope is to see an update of recommendations from the W3C with AJAX in mind and the developers of the major AJAX libraries and frameworks incorporate these recommendations and output code that is both accessible and usable. (I know. Dare to dream. ;)

As for screen readers, there are not that many players in the market. The largest are Freedom Scientific JAWS and Access Ingenuity Window-Eyes. (I know Apple is also working on their own code for integration within OS X.) I am wondering how these companies are addressing AJAX interaction within their applications and if there is any cooperation between them, browser makers, and the W3C on standards? It’s a large subject. It would be great to see a series on Ajaxian on what work is being done in these areas.

Comment by Brian McNitt — March 16, 2006

I have one thing to say: What about an AJAX SCREEN READER?

Comment by Phil — September 12, 2006

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