Is Opera 9 the “most accessible browser on the market”?

The final version of Opera 9 web browser is now available at opera.com. This version is a sleek, minimalist, and fun browser. It has a very polished Macesque look. Unfortunately it may still be inaccessible to some users.

At first glance Opera looks very simple and straight forward. Basic navigational buttons, an address field, a search field, and a few other buttons are initially the only visible controls. However, poke around for a few minutes and you will discover that you can expose a very diverse work space with many buttons, frames, and floating widgets, offering a variety tools from email to “to do” lists to games. This scalability makes Opera a very powerful one-stop tool.

Opera has made much progress with standards compliance. Opera 9 passes the Acid2 CSS test, the first Windows-based browser to do so. This relieves pressure on developers in addressing Opera’s past implementation problems when developing standards-based web sites. Now they are free to concentrate efforts elsewhere. This is a huge step and shows that Opera cares about standards.

In the realm of accessibility Opera has in some ways led the pack. Opera offers zoom and user style sheet features which enable users to easily personalize their browsing experience. However, Opera 9 still does not expose browser content to the most commonly used screen readers (Jaws and Window Eyes). Opera does claim to have screen reader support but they do not specify which screen readers receive that support. Accessibility is one of the few areas where Opera has been both way ahead and far behind.

A page titled “Accessibility in Opera” on Opera’s site is the first result when Googling “opera accessibility”. Here Opera states:

“At Opera we strive to offer a better Internet experience for all, regardless of device, platform, or visual or mobile impairment. As a result, the Opera browser is the most accessible browser on the market today.”

Whoa! This is a very bold claim. Many people (including me) will see screen reader access a minimal requirement for claiming basic accessibility, let alone stating you are the MOST accessible. For now Opera is only partially accessible.

Of course screen reader use is only one aspect of accessibility. Many other users interact with browsers through the keyboard. Opera uses a different technique of keyboard navigation than most other browsers. IE and Firefox, for example, use the “Tab” key to navigate from link to link and through form elements. Opera uses the “Tab” key to navigate form elements, but uses the “Q” and “A” keys to navigate through links. This causes problems in some cases. For example, while reading about menus in Opera’s help files I got stuck on a page that contained only one form field. All I could do is type “Q” and “A” in the form field; “Tab” took me nowhere. I had a similar problem in one of the widgets.

Despite these accessibility issues, Opera 9 is a very good browser. Overall I was pleasantly surprised. Opera 9 deserves a lot of praise. However, the “most accessible browser” claim is inaccurate. Opera should correct the statement, for the time being, and work on making it a reality. Perhaps now that Opera is again a real contender in the browser war, full accessibility will become a higher priority.

Also see: CNET editors’ review

Comments

  1. Paul Bohman

    You wrote:
    “Opera uses the “Tab” key to navigate form elements, but uses the “Q” and “A” keys to navigate through links. This causes problems in some cases. For example, while reading about menus in Opera’s help files I got stuck on a page that contained only one form field. All I could do is type “Q” and “A” in the form field; “Tab” took me nowhere.”

    My comment:
    The particular page you were on isn’t quite a fair test because that form element doesn’t really do anything. You can’t submit it. On most real forms, you can tab to the submit button, then start using the “a” and “q” keys. You could also use the keyboard short cut CMD + L (on a Mac) to go to the address bar, then start using the “a” and “q” keys, or you could use the arrow keys, or any of the other keyboard shortcuts to get where you need to go. You don’t really get stuck unless you don’t know the keyboard shortcuts… and that’s a real concern, but at the same time, Opera offers far more flexibility for keyboard users than any other browser.

    In terms of accessibility to screen readers, I haven’t spent the time to test it, so I can’t verify their overall claim, but their keyboard accessibility is far and above the most versatile and complete.

  2. Shane Anderson

    Paul wrote:

    The particular page you were on isn’t quite a fair test because that form element doesn’t really do anything. You can’t submit it. On most real forms, you can tab to the submit button, then start using the “a” and “q” keys.

    My response:

    It is true that the example is unique (and ironic that it appears on Opera’s own web site), but the problem is not unique. There are more and more forms lacking an input tag method for submiting forms, using instead a link around an image of a button to trigger an AJAX event or other javascript event. This is the case on at least one Opera widget and perhaps others.

    I predict that Opera’s non-typical method for keyboard navigation will become a cussing point for developers creating cross browser AJAX applications that are keyboard accessible.

  3. Brian

    Opera 9 fails in one significant area, just as Opera 8 did.

    Under Windows 95 it refuses to connect to the internet, even when the connection is already open. Despite that versions 8 and 9 have been advertised as running under all versions of Windows from 9x onwards.

    The help files in Opera help do not contain a fix either.

    Brian

  4. francesco Grossi

    hi and sorry…:-/ but i’m italian people e don’t say english
    Opera [i'm low-vision]is beatiful.
    E I looking for other surfer about my opinion.
    Feature 9/10
    ciao, from Florence
    francesco AKA zoneX