An Event Apart: Accessibility Beyond Compliance

by Luke Wroblewski August 20, 2008

Derek Featherstone’s Accessibility Beyond Compliance talk at An Event Apart in San Francisco proposed ways that dynamic Web technologies can be used to enhance the accessibility of Web applications instead of degrading it.

  • Accessibility needs to be about more than just complying with a checklist. How can we make sure people with disabilities get a rich experience?
  • Progressive Enhancement: start with HTML, add in presentation with CSS, add behavior with javascript. This approach gives people with disabilities an experience (they can complete a task) but they don’t get a great experience because we “degrade” things for them.
  • Bad accessibility design may not show up on a checklist. When watch people interact with sites, you often uncover many non-obvious issues.
  • Ajax can be a huge benefit to accessibility instead of a problem. If we are able to improve efficiency of most users two-fold, have the opportunity to make the experience for disabled users ten-fold better.
  • A small usability barrier could become a big one for a person with a disability. Often cannot recover as quickly because they are missing the bigger context.
  • If we manage the “focus” of next steps and stops of dynamic (especially in-line actions) better, we can help people stay in context.
  • Positioning feedback where people’s focus is helps minimize steps required to access it via the keyboard.
  • Consider placing subsequent actions near where a person’s focus is.
  • After a successful inline task completion, set the focus to a success message to let people know something happened.
  • Voice recognition software can highlight links and buttons. Marking key actions in this way helps people access them quickly. Otherwise people need to zoom into portions of the screen using tedious grid controls. Utilize appropriate HTML elements for actions.
  • Flickr uses an alternative interface to provide access to controls for editing image titles, tags, etc.
  • If you build interfaces to flex, this allows people to solve their own problems. One user with problems accessing certain controls, created a style sheet that made all radio buttons and checkboxes bigger.
  • Include error and advisory messages as close to the field as possible so people can locate them. Can embed help text in LABEL field and use CSS to move it over to the right. Changes in labels made by javascript can be picked up by a screen reader.
  • Rescue points: if put people in wrong place on interface can have rescue points that orient people to where they are.