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I'm currently part of a team that develops a complex web application for a German customer (sorry, cannot say anything about the project). We would like "to be a good citizen" and develop the application with accessibility in mind. We are now faced with the following problems:

  1. If we follow the rules at http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/quickref/, they are contradicting sometimes the specification the customer has written. How should we deal with that?
  2. By using the "new technologies" (like AJAX and replacing part of the DOM), it is not easy to check if we follow the rules. Eg. when I click on one of the tabs, part of the content will be replaced. When I look at the source (Firefox 3.6.10), there is no change at all. So how do you check if you follow the rules correctly?

I hope that the question is appropriate to this site ...

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5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

When designing accessible sites, I tend to shy away from using AJAX and modifying the DOM too much as it makes things, as you said, a lot harder. So where possible, try to use standard HTML documents with minimal interactivity - it'll make your job a lot easier, and it'll make the lives of those using screen-readers etc. easier.

Another thing you can do is make your application work well entirely without javascript, and then enrich things in places where it adds usefulness. Tabs are a good example: first, build each tab so that the content of the tab is loaded in a new page when the tab is clicked. Then use unobtrusive javascript to "enrich" the tab's onclick event so that it fetches the content of the referenced page and loads it using AJAX, for instance. You'll now have accessible tabs which still behave the way you want them. You could also create accessibility settings in the app that control how these tabs behave.

Oh, and remember to make sure you don't break the back button!

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Having everything work without javascript may not be good enough. The WebAIM screen reader survey suggests that most people have javascript enabled: webaim.org/projects/screenreadersurvey3/#javascript So even if your tabs work without javascript, adding it may still make your site inaccessible by changing content out from under people without loading a new page. –  Pam G Dec 2 '11 at 23:43
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If the specifications contradict the customer's specifications, I would take it up with the customer - explain why accessibility is important, show the trend in the world, mention that for government sites in the US it's enforced by law and most importantly - come up with an alternative solution that will do the job.

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SEO can also be a good "cheap" argument for accessibility in some cases ;) –  Rahul Oct 11 '10 at 8:29
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I like your answer as well, but I can only mark one answer as "the right one". So I will vote you up, when I have enough points earned :-) –  mliebelt Oct 14 '10 at 9:54
    
@mliebelt - thanks :) –  Dan Barak Oct 14 '10 at 19:17
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This is an old question but it popped to the top so here's an answer. Well, not so much an answer but some key points that don't seem entirely addressed in the other answers:

  • Accessibility guidelines are just that--guidelines. Beware of them becoming out of date, lacking particular context, and recommending things that don't play nicely with accessibility software
  • Part of accessibility needs to fall on the browser and assistance device/software manufacturers. I know this isn't entirely fair to the end user, but for standards and best practices to work, the device and software manufacturers need to follow them as much as the web developers do (I've always loathed JAWS for it's lack of being up to date in this regard)
  • JavaScript is part of the web now. It's perfectly acceptable to require it. Up-to-date assistive software and devices should be able to handle it (granted, they may not). Even the W3C is aware of this and this is where the ARIA attributes are something to look into: http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/aria
  • always human test your solutions. Following specs, standards, and guidelines is good, but won't get you all the way there. In the end, each product has to be analyzed on its own.
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During the designing steps you are able to consider the accessibility issues in your website no matter the kind of information that you website will have. When you follow the accessibility rules you are not only considering impaired people... you are taking into account the whole universe of users who can find useful information in your new website.

The most easiest approach is to build your application in ajax as you said, and at the same time to be assure that you website can work without javascript. For instance, using the xhtml tags (links) can help you to make your entire website available without javascript and also the screen readers or voice browser will work in your website.

An illustration for this tags can be:

< a id=\"item_menu_15\" href="?module=rapido&amp;mitem=15"
onclick="cargar_modulo('publi_cont',
'comp=articulos&amp;tipo=2&amp;id=18&amp;modv=',
'Loading...',15,this,0);return false;" >

Where:

id=dom_id (a dom Object)

href= should contain the direct link to the current content that you want to display

onclick= should contain the function that you use to build the ajax interaction and give the parameters that you need like the publi_cont(dom_id - for the container) and url/parameters (comp=articulos&amp;tipo=2&amp;id=18&amp;modv=) that you want to visualize inside the container, etc.

Remember that the information to display either using ajax or not(direct link) should be the same. Then all users not matter the accessibility stuff can see the website in the same way. So, you dont need to build different versions of your website depends of impaired people. You should considered the accessibility rules for your website from the beginning of your design procedures and then the usability also could be increased because your target users are more than without considering accessibility rules. Of course depends of the functionalities that the customer need, but you can explain that it could be a good idea to increase your target group considering the accessibility issues because the usability can also increase.

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You wrote:

1.If we follow the rules at http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/quickref/, they are contradicting sometimes the specification the customer has written. How should we deal with that?

As someone told already the best thing is: tell to your customer there are some contractories and that it is better follow the standard. and you wrote also:

2.By using the "new technologies" (like AJAX and replacing part of the DOM), it is not easy to check if we follow the rules. Eg. when I click on one of the tabs, part of the content will be replaced. When I look at the source (Firefox 3.6.10), there is no change at all. So how do you check if you follow the rules correctly?

If for you is very important I suggest to you to ask to some blinds to try your web site. Some times the tools that check the accessibility aren't the best choice!

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I agree that user testing is the ultimate way to determine the accessibility of a site. Though note visual impairments are but only one type of hurdle users may have to deal with. –  DA01 Dec 2 '11 at 20:01
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