The impact of web 2.0 and/or AJAX-based web applications – from the point of view of a blind user, not a standardista (for a change).Skip to comment form
Just a ‘micro-posting’ from me on the topic of Ajax and Accessibility. With the recent research presented by fully-sighted gurus James Edwards and Joe Clark, many of us have been enlightened once more to the need for creating accessible web applications in the face of new techniques that update page content without a page refresh. This quote, from an article in Computerworld, really brought home the impact of not paying heed to to this and just how confusing some of the new web applications can be for blind users. Note that the person quoted is blind and emphasis added is mine:
“It’s very, very, very scary,” said Jeff Bishop, an application systems analyst at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Before, so what? You had a missing [alternative-text] tag, but at least you knew there was an image. You could click on it, and maybe you could figure out what it was. Now, you don’t even know where to click. You don’t know how to interact.”
That’s a pretty strong statement, but you cannot argue with it really – this is a blind user saying what he thnks of the whole web 2.0/ajax implication for him as a user. A strong case, surely, for the assistive technology vendors to start seriously addressing this issue, no?
- #1 On May 10th, 2006 7:51 am Dan Champion replied:
An equally strong case, surely, for those writing the web 2.0/ajax applications to start addressing the issue too? Creating an application that you know is inaccessible and then claiming that the lack of AT support is the root of the problem is a serious cop-out.
Vendors and developers both have a role to play in this, and both need to act responsibly while the nuts and bolts of stable, accessible ajax applications are established. A standard for ajax/whatever needs to be produced and widely adopted before we can expect AT vendors to invest in supporting it fully. In the meantime the responsibility falls squarely on developers to make sure that they accommodate users of ATs.
- #2 On May 10th, 2006 8:03 am WaSP Member lloydi replied:
Dan – I completely agree that there is a strong responsibility placed on the developer too. However, the reason I focused on this aspect – the AT responsibility – was simply because I feel that we’ve covered the developer angle a bit more in the past and just wanted to highlight the AT side a little more (but certainly not at the expense of the developer’s role). At the then end of the day, though, there will be numerous developers out there who do not hand-code, do not necessarily get standards but will use a tool to generate such techniques (for example, using Visual Studio.net to do this kind of thing) and I believe the numbers of this type of developer using that type of tool for that type of effect will only increase. Hence, the AT vendors need to react. Heck, with so many web pages adopting such techniques it’s in their competitive interest to get this right – the first AT vendor to support whizzy web 2.0 type stuff (and I hate that term, but you know what I mean by it!) will have a great selling point.
The ATF’s stated aims include liaising with vendors to get them up to speed on this and encourage them to support these types of interactions, and we’ll be touching base with a number of them very soon with some proposals.
- #3 On May 10th, 2006 8:14 am Jesse replied:
It is about time to get on the adaptive technology vendors case… From what Joe and James have posted I get the feeling there is little a web developer can do but offer alternate web pages for those with screen readers and such. Sure AJAX is new so give them a year to offer something or maybe Google can diversify to screen reading technology? Maybe a plug-in for Firefox just so their Google apps are accessible? Surely they must be capable of figuring that one out…
- #4 On May 10th, 2006 9:28 am Dan Champion replied:
Thanks Ian, I just wanted to make it clear that blaming the AT vendors for not supporting something doesn’t provide a blanket excuse for poor accessibility in applications however “cutting edge” the technology/techniques they might use.
Good luck with your dealings the vendors, personally I hope that what will emerge in the not too distant future is some agreement about standard interactions which will be supported by their products and which we can start to use with some confidence.
- #5 On May 10th, 2006 11:33 am Bruce Lawson’s personal site : Ajax, accessibility and assistive technology replied:
[...] In a comment on the WaSP site, Dan Champion writes, A standard for ajax/whatever needs to be produced and widely adopted before we can expect AT vendors to invest in supporting it fully. In the meantime the responsibility falls squarely on developers to make sure that they accommodate users of ATs. (Source) [...]
- #6 On May 10th, 2006 2:16 pm Steve Tucker replied:
Just as the push for accessibility finally seems to have reached the much overdue level where disabled users such as the blind are able to surf unhindered, another hurdle in the form of Ajax approaches to get in the way once more. I do not personally have a problem with Ajax techniques, nor the changing of web pages without page refresh. However, like everything else, it is how we adopt and employ this new technology in practice. Lets hope we learn from our non-standard mistakes of yesteryear and put a set of guidelines in place early, before bad habits are made…
- #7 On May 10th, 2006 5:50 pm Lachlan Hunt replied:
I absolutely agree. While web developers do have a resoponsibility to ensure they create accessible pages, there really does need to be significantly more effort from the UA vendors to make tools that actually work.
AT vendors need to make sure they’re tools work with not only scripted applications, but support proper semantic markup better (e.g. most don’t support implicit association with form controls nested within label elements, and still require the for attribute) and don’t choke on CSS designed and written for screen media (e.g. display: none; and visibility: hidden; are effectively unusable because of them, that’s why we need to hack it with the off-left technique).
- #8 On May 10th, 2006 8:12 pm Rob Sutherland replied:
I agree that the Web has to be accessible. It must. But it isn’t scary because people don’t “know how to interact with it”
Come on, when the Web was created no one knew what a hyperlink was they had to learn. Imagine that. Was the Web scary? no. Was it new and different? yes.
While Google Calendar – a very ajax web app – isn’t the most accessible system – probably not accessible at all. But it wasn’t scary when I used it. Did I have to adjust to it? Sure. Is it perfect? Nope.
But it isn’t scary.
Does everything have to be accessible? Is that an absolute requirement? A blind person will never be able to drive a car.
- #9 On May 11th, 2006 2:52 am Ton v. Lankveld replied:
Rob – Yes, the Web has to be accessible. If you know how, it is easy. Just spend 3 – 5% extra time on it.
If it was that easy to change a car so that a blind person could drive, there would be a law in now time.
To make your sites accessible is not only the right thing to do, it is also the proffessional thing to do.
- #10 On May 11th, 2006 2:55 am bruce replied:
“A blind person will never be able to drive a car”. Absolutely true. But a false analogy. Do you believe that blind people should be banned from getting on buses and trains?
- #11 On May 11th, 2006 4:08 am Robin Massart replied:
In fact HTML is an inherently accessible medium. The problem with accessibility is the poor markup quality of most web sites and the fact that it took a good ten years to figure out what sort of medium the web actually is. This is something most graphic designers couldn’t get their heads round. In a sense they hijacked the web for their own needs.
Most professional web designers now know how to seperate content from design. But the problem is that most web pages are by hobbyists or office admins with no formal training. These users shouldn’t have to care about accessibility and valid markup. The tools they use should take care of this for them. Sadly they don’t. For me this is the real problem with accessibility at the moment.
AJAX is simply muddying the waters again. For apps such as Google maps or calendaring there is a clear case for AJAX. For a bog standard website – forget it.
- #12 On May 12th, 2006 1:32 pm Jim Mannion replied:
In response to “A blind person will never be able to drive a car”. Yes this is true and I agree with the person that asked the question “should blind people be banned from public transportation?” I would also like to add that blowing off the issue as blind people will never be able to do certain things as a general excuse is extremely inconsiderat and selfish at the very least. If you as the author of this comment were to so unfortunately lose your vision tomorrow would you still be able to honestly be able to support such a selfish inconsiderate point of view? I truely think it is a constructive question. The web is a way of interacting with the world’s welth of information and services. Accessing this technology can make the difference in being educated, being employable, and much more. For technological means for this to be accessible not to be explored and utilized just because the people in a position to do that are not impacted by it so they don’t care is a completely inconsiderate and self centered mind set and who knows, possibly people thinking they are not impacted so who cares may find themselves in very different circumstances some day. I do not wish it on anyone, but does anyone really know what their future holds? I truely hope the matter will be addressed and not blown off because people don’t see a reason to care.
- #13 On May 24th, 2006 1:31 am Bruce Lawson’s personal site : Ajax, accessibility and assistive technology replied:
[...] In a comment on a WaSP post calling for vendors to support Ajax, Dan Champion writes, A standard for ajax/whatever needs to be produced and widely adopted before we can expect AT vendors to invest in supporting it fully. In the meantime the responsibility falls squarely on developers to make sure that they accommodate users of ATs. (Source) [...]
- #14 On August 22nd, 2006 1:35 am John, web developer replied:
I hope that the legislative system can answer all the questions about the rights of the blind. And we’ll just have to follow. Cause if we start debating and trying to figure out which’s the right attitude we won’t have time for our main job.
- #15 On December 20th, 2006 3:29 pm Joppe Houpt replied:
Agree with you.
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