Sunday, September 11th, 2005

Accessible Speaking Forms

Category: Accessibility

Bob Easton has summarized research on how to build the best accessible speaking forms.

The best practices are simple. Use the structural elements we’ve been given. Legends and labels are structural elements; highly recommended. Title attributes are very poor substitutes. The only reason to use them is as redundant information in the hopes that older screen readers will speak them. However, don’t depend on titles alone. Group like items together with a fieldset and then use the fieldset’s legend to add supplemental instruction for that group of controls. Use real labels on every control to insure their meaning is obvious. Just because the legend says, “update month and year,” we shouldn’t assume the first control is actually the month. Label it! Avoid hiding labels. Any innovative designer should be able to create a form that uses legends and labels with no need to hide either, and the W3C should ditch their example of hiding labels.

If there is no other choice than to hide labels, use the techniques we know work universally well: offtop and offleft. Do not use display:none; It is unreliable and inconsistently implemented in screen readers. Do not use nosize as it fails in the latest version of a popular screen reader. You can also check other techniques that we have previously tested.

Now, let’s add some style. Cameron Adams, the “Man in Blue” has already done a very fine article on Accessible, stylish form layout. He builds on the original article with a set of form templates which show you six different ways to layout a form. Very nice work indeed.

Lastly, try the fieldset and legend test case in screen readers and let us know what you hear. It might also be fun to point your screen readers at Cameron’s form templates.

As we build Ajaxian applications, we have to keep thinking about how we be inclusive and accessible.

Posted by Dion Almaer at 2:40 pm
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3.2 rating from 6 votes

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Bob also has an article about why captcha’s are completely inaccessible and should be avoided.

Comment by Bob Easton — September 16, 2005

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