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Re: Accessibility of complex HTML forms


From: Terence de Giere
Date: Jun 26, 2003 9:02AM

Candance Egan wrote:

Having done quite a bit of research into making accessible HTML
forms, I
feel quite confident in regards to simple forms but I am not so sure in
regards to complex forms...

An added note to Jukka's response regarding DHTML. Because some browsers
do not support client-side scripting server-side processing of the form
is essential. On the fly changes in a page generally cannot be read by
screen readers, although recently some technology like IBM Home Page
Reader has been able to extract certain information from JavaScript such
as links embedded in JavaScripted drop down menus. Clear instructions
about what to fill in or not fill in could help a lot as Jukka
mentioned. You could also use a modal approach to form filling with a
long form, using multiple pages, with the information appearing on
subsequent pages dependent on what is filled in on the previous pages.
This requires a server-side application.

The form should always work if the user turns off scripting in his/her
browser, or is filling in the form with a non-scripted browser like the
Lynx text browser. There should be no content or essential functionality
in the form other than trivial format that requires scripting. Client
side scripting can be added to augment the function of the form for the
typical user (for example, validating a particular field with immediate
feedback for an error, rather than waiting for a return page after
submission to report the error) but the server side process must always
back it up when it is unavailable.

Complex client-side scripting also increases the chance that users with
older browsers might have compatibility problems with the script. Long
scripts on the web page also increase download time, especially for
modem users, and long download times reduce usability.

By the way, one of the few free sites that has global web statistics
from a large number of sites has shown an interesting change, but it is
too early to tell if it a trend. Client-side JavaScript being
unavailable, that is not detected, over the past several years had
declined to a fairly steady 10 percent of users, that is, one out of ten
users would not be able to run scripting on a web page, down from 20 to
30 percent some years ago. In the past several months the number of hits
where JavaScript has not been detected has increased to 13 to 14
percent. I am not sure what this means - it might mean small device
users are accessing the web more, but I have no information beyond the
change in the statistic. It might be just normal fluctuations. The
sample was from about 300,000,000 visitors per month.

In many ways accessibility is a very simple model of web interaction. If
we go back about 10 years, most of the requirements for an accessible
web page were in place, and technically the web then was pretty
accessible because it was mostly text based. It is all the technology of
graphical browsers, client-side scripting, embedded applications, etc.,
that have been developed since then, along with the creative use of HTML
to create a graphical interfaces that has reduced accessibility. We need
to find creative ways to use these newer additions to enhance users'
experience and usability of a site without undercutting the basic simple
underlying structure that has made the web so universal.

Terence de Giere

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