Web 2.0 & Accessibility for Disabled Users
By Kath Moonan, AbilityNet
Web 2.0 has become one of the buzzwords within the internet community. In this article we examine what Web 2.0 is and what implications it might have for disabled people who use the Web, particularly the use of Ajax for interactive web pages.
What is Web 2.0?
The term Web 2.0 refers to a second generation of services available on the World Wide Web that lets people collaborate and share information online. Web 2.0 gives users an experience closer to desktop applications such as Word, Outlook and Excel.
Web technologies have evolved over timed and can be categorised as follows:
- Web 1.0 static web pages with information on
- Web 1.5 Content Management System (CMS) driven websites that allow users to manipulate information
- Web 2.0 fully responsive web applications that mimic desktop programs – and also allow users to store and share information across the network
Examples of Web 2.0 applications that are relevant to the voluntary sector include:
- Wikis – websites which allow users to add and edit data – Wikipedia.org is the most well known.
- RSS (Really Simple Syndication) – a way of sharing information across websites for example, news feeds.
- Blogs – online diaries
- Social Networks – such as MySpace and LinkedIn
- Project Management – time and resource management tools such as Basecamp
Issues for disabled people
There are a number of accessibility issues with Web 2.0 applications that can cause problems for disabled web users. This is primarily because many of the first generation Web 2.0 tools have been built without much thought for web accessibility. For example a key problem area is Ajax which can causes issues for screen reader users.
The kinds of problems disabled people might face include:
- Inaccessible login boxes or security tests with no alternatives such as audio.
- Inaccessible WYSIWYG editors that are not compatible with assistive technologies or only work with a mouse or pointing device instead of just the keyboard which makes it impossible for some users to create or edit text
- Inaccessible interfaces which are dependent on drag and drop (interaction with a mouse or pointing device) with no alternative keyboard option.
- Screen reader users are not alerted when content has changed dynamically without the page refreshing (specifically Ajax)
- Inaccessible content users have created, such as:
- Content is created without semantic code – which gives non visual information about the content, which is especially useful for screen reader users
- Images are included without alt text
- Styles and designs are selected which are difficult or impossible to read
- Rich media is included without captions or alternatives
- Inaccessible controls on audio or video players that are not compatible with assistive technologies or are reliant on using a mouse or pointing device
- Users not being alerted to accessibility issues when inputting content
An accessible web 2.0 application
If you are considering using a web 2.0 application for your staff, volunteers or users, the accessibility of the product should be examined very carefully.
As most web applications allow content authoring they come under ATAG (Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines) as well as WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) guidelines.
ATAG key checkpoints include:
- Support accessible authoring practices
- Generate standard mark-up
- Support the creation of accessible content
- Provide ways of checking and correcting inaccessible content
- Integrate accessibility solutions into the overall “look and feel”
- Promote accessibility in help and documentation
- Ensure that the authoring tool is accessible to authors with disabilities
Use these guidelines to assess the accessibility of the applications you look at before buying or implementing them.
Technical Issues with Ajax
Known Accessibility Problems
What can be done to solve these problems?
It is hoped that both browser and screen reader manufacturers will work towards solutions for these issues by detecting when a page has been updated via an Ajax call. In the meantime there are a number of techniques that developers can use, but it must be said that at present there is no clear and simple solution, so at the moment use Web 2.0 techniques sparingly.
Ajax Accessibility Good Practice
Follow the "HIJAX" principles. This is based on the idea of progressive enhancement in much the same way as CSS in that the Ajax functions should form an additional and optional layer on top of the HTML mark-up :
- Build a traditional website that uses hyper links and forms to pass information to the server. The server returns whole new pages with each request.
- Use Alerts where appropriate. Make it possible to receive an alert when information is updated. This may not be possible depending on the complexity of your form but will help a screen reader user a lot. Alert boxes are read by the screen reader and are usually displayed together with a sound. The checkbox should be displayed so it is clear that it is not part of the original form.
- Use the Role attribute. Although not supported by all screen readers, this is a W3C recommendation that describes the role(s) the current element plays in the context of the document. For example <div role="main"> defines the main content of a document and <ul role="navigation"> defines the page navigation links. Roles are especially useful when the html does not support all the semantics that you need. When a role is used the semantics and behaviour of the element are overridden by the role behaviour.
Examples of bad Ajax Accessibility
- Site that is reliant on Ajax to function and provide no alternative.
- Those that use inline scripting for example, code written directly into an onChange event.
- Those that rely on mouse actions and have no keyboard alternative.
So what’s important?
Follow the WCAG. It’s all there. See Joe Clarke’s talk on Ajax for a nice wrap up of the specific guidelines associated with scripting.
Web 2.0 and Ajax
Published: 22nd January 2007 Reviewed: 19th August 2009
Copyright © 2007 Kath Moonan, AbilityNet