Tuesday, May 17th, 2005

Accessible Ajax: Not leaving people behind

Category: Accessibility

Michael Moncur wrote about Ajax and excluded users, replying to our blog on the issues of having JavaScript enabled.

My concern is not with users who turn off JavaScript (as we said), but we DO see the issue of leaving a group of people behind.

It is already hard for people with special needs to browse the web. The screen scraping tools that read off sites can do well, especially if we do a good job following the standards, but with Ajax are all bets off?.

The problem is that you end up with choices:

  • Have one version of a site which uses small pieces of Ajax which can failback gracefully
  • Have two versions of a site. One that goes nuts with Ajax willy nilly, and another which is more “standard”

When will owners want to have two versions of a site? Chances are many people will not be able to justify the cost, and there is no government around to mandate equal opportunity on the web. That is the fear. That we will leave a group of people behind.

We have to try to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Posted by Dion Almaer at 9:20 am
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Well, people are always being “left behind” — some cannot comprehend any message, whether due to injury or genetics, for instance. That doesn’t mean that nothing should be done for others.

When you say “accessibility” here, then which meaning are you intending? For years this has meant “those with differences in sensory or motor capabilities”, but over the last year I’ve heard “accessibility” used in discussions with the meaning “an app which works in my current browser”. But from the example you cited it sounds like “accessibility” here means “works without JavaScript”. Can you confirm the desired definition of “accessibility” here…?

And on the flip side, I’m curious what types of applications you’re visualizing in this discussion… at first I thought you were thinking about some type of database-fed site, where the HTML page on the server never contains the key text, but then I wondered if you were thinking of hiding certain page text in JavaScript… I’m not sure what is being pictured there.

Maybe we could break out these concerns into specific groups of people and how they’re affected, so that we’re all talking about the same things in these “accessibility” discussions…?

Comment by John Dowdell — May 17, 2005

The irony of course is that 70% of the ‘oh look at this cool example’ articles posted here don’t work on some browser or the other (usually safari).

Comment by Hani Suleiman — May 17, 2005

I don’t understand the two choices. I mean, I guess they’re options, but if you’re going to write a butt load of Ajax, you can do that on any version of a site and still allow it to be usable to anyone — disabled or not. If they disable JavaScript, the site will still work, it just won’t be enhanced. What’s so hard about having a ton of Ajax _and_ degrading gracefully?

Comment by Jonathan Fenocchi — May 18, 2005

Thanks for sharing this thought, I’ve been carrying it around with me for quite a while as well, looking at very impressive Ajax examples that don’t stand the many limitations that accessibility comes along with.

Degrading gracefully is, in my opinion, clearly the better option, as this is what, in many aspects, accessibility is about.

Jonathan, the problem usually comes with the money, that’s my experience at least. Clients don’t really want to pay for backwards compatibility, but expect sites to work in sometimes very peculiar browsers.Many can’t comprehend that certain things don’t work in all browsers, and that examples they bring along will not work on text-only browsers and the like (I’m talking functionality here, not graphic gimmicks). I had more than one situation, where the icing on the cake had to be removed, as it wasn’t working on… you choose it, IE5.0, MacIE, Safari, Opera.

Same as what happened with other buzzword-technologies, I feel that it will be used first and then understood, and exactly that will be reflected by new sites using ajax out there. But hey, we shouldn’t stop trying.

Comment by Matthias Willerich — May 23, 2005

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