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Re: Accessibility of complex HTML forms


From: Terence de Giere
Date: Jun 26, 2003 11:07PM

JavaScript and Forms.

It is not a given that a user will have JavaScript disabled.
Accessibility guidelines for user agents (browsers) require the
implementation of a way to turn off scripting, because some kinds of
scripts can impair the experience of a page with assistive technologies.
So the user has a choice. Some recent browsers are making such controls
more visible rather than buried deep in application menus. Scripting
might be turned off for security reasons as well. In any case expect
newer browsers to implement more user controls that can override not
only the designer's format, but the developers client-side functionality
as well.

An accessible form should be tested with a number of technologies with
scripting on and off to discover just what problems it might create. For
example a script that places the cursor in the first form field on page
load might disorient a screen reader user because the reader will start
reading the page from the form field. The user might hear "text" as the
first thing on the page, and then the material following, missing any
instructions that might precede the form element. A user using an older
audio browser that did not support scripting would not have this problem
with the page, but they might hear "unsupported script" as the page
reads and wonder what it does if that information is not included. And
of course if other scripts are on the page, they won't run. Conditional
document.write statements are a problem.

I often turn off scripting because I just turn it off, no other reason.
If a page is important to me and appears to be missing something, I
might turn it on and see what happens. I usually also disable plug ins,
so I don't see Flash ads which are common now. This speeds up download
times. At the very least I disable pop-up windows except those that are
initiated by clicking on a link. Most non sighted users these days will
be using a screen reader with Internet Explorer, so probably scripting
will be on, but some will be using other technology. Server side
scripting is not a problem, because the result depends on technology
that the developer and site manager can control. Server side
applications are the fail safe method for accessibility.

Another potential factor with complex forms are inviduals with cognitive
disabilities, or reading problems. A simpler set of smaller pages they
can handle one at a time and then proceed to the next might work better,
breaking the task into smaller discrete steps rather than one big long
task. This might also reduce the potential for server time outs -- a
disabled user can take three to five times longer to get through
material than a typical user, and more frequent submissions can reduce
the possibility.

You just don't know what a user will do, or what capabilities his
browser has until he connects with your site. And even then you may not
know. You may know if they are using a text browser or an audio browser,
but you won't know if they are using a screen reader because the HTTP
header will just show the browser, not the assistive technology being
used with it. If something is too difficult for them to figure out or it
doesn't work, they will just leave the site. If they are really annoyed
and the laws of the land allow it, they can take legal action.

Terence de Giere

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