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RE: accessible form feedback


From: Paul Bohman
Date: Mar 7, 2003 3:35PM

John Foliot said:

... Not all users know how to make multiple selections from a drop down box,
and not all OSes/User Agents support this functionality anyway. This is NOT
a good thing, and should be avoided at all costs, especially when "mission

My response:

You're right. I appreciate your comments. In my comments I focused more on
whether the form was created according to the standards, and did not mention
the usability implications.

This dilemma is a good example of the nuances of accessibility that are easy
to overlook. List boxes are not "wrong." They are part of the specification,
and they do work in technologies that support the specification. The problem
is threefold: 1. The specification itself is inadequate, 2. The
implementation is not ideal, and 3. Not everyone knows how to make it work.

These types of lists were not built to be friendly to people who use the
keyboard. Interestingly enough, I've heard similar complaints from screen
reader users about checkboxes and radio buttons. However, the idea of being
able to select multiple items from a list is a basic and fundamental
concept. Some types of interaction are nearly impossible if there is not
some way to select multiple items from a list, whether it be in a list box
or in checkbox format.

Overall, I would say that the checkbox format has fewer usability problems,
though some people do find them difficult to use. If labels are not applied
to every checkbox option, and/or if there is not a fieldset (with a
corresponding legend tag) around the checkbox options, it can be very
difficult to understand the context of the checkbox options when using a
screen reader.

Even though list boxes are a legitimate part of the HTML specification, and
even though the theory behind them is not so bad, the implementation leaves
a lot to be desired.

What to do then?

I would say that checkboxes are a safer option in general, and they will be
more accessible to more people. Wrap you checkboxes in a fieldset and
legend, then give each checkbox a proper label.

Paul Bohman
Technology Coordinator
WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
Center for Persons with Disabilities
Utah State University

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