AJAX and Accessibility Question

15 Nov 2007 - 12:28pm
6 years ago
6 replies
570 reads
Wunderlich, Judith
2006

I have a question and would love to get everyone¹s take on it. Does the use
of AJAX make a site more or less accessible in terms of users with
disabilities?

Regards,

Judi Wunderlich
Director of Recruiting
A Q U E N T
401 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 2910
Chicago, IL 60610
Phone: 312 913 0550

Comments

15 Nov 2007 - 1:13pm
Joseph Selbie
2007

"I have a question and would love to get everyone¹s take on it. Does the
use
of AJAX make a site more or less accessible in terms of users with
disabilities?"

In and of itself AJAX doesn't make your site more or less accessible, as
with most things, it depends on how you use it. So you can't make a blanket
statement that AJAX isn't as accessible as other approaches.

However, having said that, chances are that what you will want to do with
AJAX will end up making it harder for a person using a "reader" (such as
JAWS) to navigate through your site -- and probably impossible.

The key is how much javascript you use and how you use it. JAWS does read
some javascript -- and interprets what it means to the user verbally so they
can make a decision what to do to find things in your site. But JAWS is not
able to successfully interpret all javascript. Drag and drop for example is
beyond JAWS, as are other complex interactions. For example, where
javascript is used to call up more data (such as in an i-frame) JAWS simply
may not be able to tell the user how to access the information.

I recommend, if you or your clients are needing to become more compliant
with accessibility requirements, that you acquaint yourselves with JAWS and
other readers for the visually impaired. It is similar to learning the
limitation of a browser. There are simply things you cannot do if your users
were going to have to view your site through IE 4. The same holds true for
the readers. You have to get to know them and work creatively within their
capabilities.

Joseph Selbie
Founder, CEO Tristream
Web Application Design
http://www.tristream.com

15 Nov 2007 - 7:19pm
Max Goodberg
2007

I agree. It depends on how AJAX is used throughout the site. A
complicated Flash-esque slideshow may not translate very well whereas
a real time price adjustment shouldn't be a problem.

Best to know your audience and their limitations and try not to out
run them. Something to keep in mind as well is audience age. As a
generalization (certainly not always true), the older the user the
less "savvy" they may be and the more they would appreciate a more
"standard" approach to design.

Simple and clean gets the job done right most times...

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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16 Nov 2007 - 2:37am
Björn Simonson
2007

I'm currently working on a project with very high accessibility
requirements. We use AJAX (and regular JS) a lot but also make sure
there is always a functioning non-JS fall-back solution.

That way we can make a state-of-the-art site that has a very high
accessibility.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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16 Nov 2007 - 3:19am
lisa herrod
2007

Hi Judi,

It really depends on the implementation. More often than not, Ajax is less
accessible for some users, particularly users of assistive technology
devices such as screen readers. However, for some users with cognitive
impairments, the use of Ajax can actually enhance the accessibility (user
experience) of a site.

Look for articles on 'unobtrusive Javascript' and 'progressive enhancement'.
Jeremy Keith has coined a term Hijax to describe the process of developing
unobtrusive Javascript, which degrades gracefully when Javascript is
disabled.

I'm not a Javascript expert by any means though, so perhaps you might search
those terms.

For others who are developing Ajax based sites, the following links might
also be of use:

Juicy Studio has just posted an article that discusses a Javascript
framework for enhancing the accessibility of AJAX / "web 2.0" based
websites: AxsJAX or 'Access JAX'.

http://juicystudio.com/article/axsjax-framework-aria.php

The Ajaxian site also has a section on Accessibility which might also be
useful:

http://ajaxian.com/by/topic/accessibility/

All the best,

Lisa

--
Lisa Herrod
Web Usability: User Experience Research, Consulting and Training

Business: http://www.Scenarioseven.com.au
Blog: http://www.Scenariogirl.com

On Thu, 15 Nov 2007 23:37:24, Björn Simonson <bjorn.simonson at creuna.se>
wrote:
>
> I'm currently working on a project with very high accessibility
> requirements. We use AJAX (and regular JS) a lot but also make sure
> there is always a functioning non-JS fall-back solution.
>
> That way we can make a state-of-the-art site that has a very high
> accessibility.
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://gamma.ixda.org/discuss?post=22629
>
>
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16 Nov 2007 - 10:41am
Derek Featherstone
2007

Sorry - just realized now that I sent my reply to Judi, but intended
on posting it to the list:

Derek.

************Ah, a subject near and dear to my heart :)

On Nov 15, 2007 12:28 PM, Wunderlich, Judi <jwunderlich at aquent.com>
wrote:
> I have a question and would love to get everyones take on it. Does
> the use of AJAX make a site more or less accessible in terms of users
> with disabilities?

The answer, of course, is yes, the use of Ajax makes a site more or
less accessible to users with disabilities. It really depends on what
you're trying to do, and how you do it that determines if the end
result is an accessibility benefit or nightmare.

Joseph already responded with a few ideas, so I'll expand on them, or
add my take to them:

"chances are that what you will want to do with AJAX will end up
making it harder for a person using a "reader" (such as JAWS) to
navigate through your site -- and probably impossible."

We definitely must ask the question "what should we be using Ajax for
in the first place?" Is it because it makes the interface easier to
use, or is it just because we can use Ajax? This is impossible to
answer without context, so I won't dwell on it, but asking that
question is critical for any use of Ajax, not just as it relates to
accessibility.

I don't agree with the "probably impossible" assessment that Joseph
provides, though. Nothing personal, but in my experience and my
opinion, this isn't the case. It comes down to implementation and
planning correctly. Done correctly, it can actually make it *more*
accessible and easier to use for someone using a screen reader.

"JAWS is not able to successfully interpret all javascript. Drag and
drop for example is beyond JAWS, as are other complex interactions"

Right - this is not an Ajax/JavaScript problem or a JAWS problem, it
is a keyboard problem. Generally speaking, any screen reader user
won't be able to use drag and drop in their operating system either.
However, at the operating system level, they have alternative
mechanisms for accomplishing the same tasks -- all of the
actions/operations are found in menus and are easy to access with a
screen reader. The drag and drop issue goes away if it isn't your only
mechanism. Other people might
have greater difficulty with drag and drop - people with
mobility/dexterity impairments may well prefer "click and stick" to
drag and drop, and a screen reader user would need to use another mechanism.

"For example, where javascript is used to call up more data (such as
in an i-frame) JAWS simply may not be able to tell the user how to
access the information."

This is quite true - it really does depend on how the page is updated
with the new information/data. However, this is mostly an
implementation issue. And, in some ways - it isn't the responsibility
of JAWS to tell the user how to access the information. It is the
responsibility of the developer to ensure that they are: 1) updating
the page in a way that is technically correct, and 2) providing
cues/clues that something has been updated.

"I recommend, if you or your clients are needing to become more
compliant with accessibility requirements, that you acquaint
yourselves with JAWS and other readers for the visually impaired."

I'll be honest - I recommend that you don't. Acquainting yourself with
JAWS and other screen readers isn't the way to go. Acquaint yourself
with how people use them by watching them in their environment is much
much better. If you simply download or purchase a screen reader and
try to use it, you'll find that it is difficult, learning how to use
the screen reader is difficult, and nothing more than an approximation
of how a screen reader might sound at a very technical level. It does
not
give you any sense of how people actually use them, interact with web
applications and sites, and can easily lead to a false sense of
security.

Hope this helps... Derek.

Derek Featherstone
work: http://furtherahead.com
blog: http://boxofchocolates.ca
learn: http://north08.webdirections.org

27 Nov 2007 - 3:17pm
Liam McGee
2007

I heartily endorse Derek's comments. Note also that there should be
an update to the W3C's WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative -
Accessible Rich Internet Applications) suite coming soon.
http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/aria

ARIA support is a little vague at the moment - Opera and Firefox are
both committed to supporting it (Firefox 3 will do so), and I
understand that Microsoft are making noises about doing so, although
I'm unsure in what and how extensively.

Regards

L.

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