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Re: Hidden Frames and Screen Readers


From: Terence de Giere
Date: Feb 22, 2003 8:40PM

Are you referring to frames that are just visibly not perceived in a
graphical browser? It is possible to hide HTML elements with CSS, but
this function does not appear to be supported by assistive technology or
browsers for non visual browsing. Screen readers and audio browsers will
read out those elements. Any frames in the code will be recognized by
technology that can process the frameset and frame elements. Even
visually some browsers, like Opera, will allow a user to highlight the
active frame with a visual border, regardless of what the designer of
the site tries to do to make them unnoticeable. All the current frameset
DTDs are based on HTML 4.0, and there is no way to hide them if 508
compliance is required because it is necessary to title each frame to
help identify its content. As an interim solution you could title the
frame to indicate it has no content, although this is a usability mess.
Technologies that do not read the title may read the name attribute
instead, so that should be human readable as well. Perhaps you could
also provide an explanation of the frame layout to the users of
assistive technology so they can quickly learn what must be skipped over.

My feeling is although frames are supported by current assistive
technologies, they are difficult for non visual browsing however
successful and useful they may be in normal vision situations. Even if
the frame is given a null or blank space as a title, their existence
will probably still be spoken out in some way.

What is missing is the ability of non visual processing of framed pages
in assistive technology to make the frames appear seamless as if the
presentation is one page, as can often be done visually with HTML in a
graphical browser. The best solution is to get rid of frames, and if
frames must be used, use only the number required, the fewer the better.

With modern browsers and CSS, we are just about the point where CSS can
create non framed pages that behave similarly to framed pages (with
scrolling content and non scrolling menus, or menus with a scroll bar if
the menu is long, etc.) but it is still quirky enough that is doesn't
work well cross browser, especially in Internet Explorer which has the
major share of all users. Also this CSS does not work in older browsers
like Netscape 4.x.

If the framesets are nested, this is an added complexity. If they are
not, and the HTML code is consistent, it might be possible to do an
application wide search and replace, removing the unwanted frames and
adjusting the size and attributes of the remaining frames, although
probably at the cost of visual format.

If there are non visual and low vision users on the forum, perhaps they
could express their like or dislike of framed sites, and what sort of
impediments they experience when navigating framed sites. For example,
does it take longer to get oriented, or more likely to get lost in the
site? That input might influence an eventual fuller redesign of the
applications. Getting some feed back from real users would be
invaluable. A usability test with screen reader users would be ideal.
Users, such as myself, who use a screen reader or other technology to
check pages for compliance do not necessarily go at a page like a user
who absolutely must rely on this technology, we tend to be less
accomplished because we do not use it all the time, and have to passably
use a number of different technologies, but never have time to learn to
the depth a user that must rely on it has. How many sighted web
developers use screen readers wearing a blindfold, and unplug their
mouse as well? Remember it is possible to design 508 compliant sites
that are unusable for both normal users, and especially unusable for
users that experience sensory impediments and need to use assistive

Terence de Giere


Josh Richards wrote:

I work for a small, 508 compliant distance learning company. We've been
striving to improve our product for use with screen readers, but one
unfortunate annoyance is our use of hidden frames in the product.

Removing these frames would require a lot of work, so I would love to
know if there are any tips for hiding frames from screen readers. The
goal is to reduce the amount of non-essential information read aloud to
the users so they can focus more on what is important.

Does anyone know if there are certain doctypes or custom tags that can
be used to indicate "hidden" information to screen readers?


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