WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

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RE: Opening New Windows


From: Karl Groves
Date: Nov 7, 2003 1:03PM

Unfortunately, I think that the conversation has degenerated in the same manner that too many accessibility discussions do: Reducing "accessibility" to "design for those with screen readers".
In addition, there's the "what I like.." factor that hobbles general usability.

In the first case, we must remember that accessible design is, at its root, "design for all". Not just the blind. Not just low vision. But even the WebAIM site itself points out the types of special needs to consider:
Visual: blindness, low vision, color-blindness
Hearing: deafness
Motor: inability to use a mouse, slow response time, limited fine motor control
Cognitive: learning disabilities, distractibility, inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information

In addition to these 4 types of special needs, is the possibility for a combination of special needs, and/or the range of severities of those needs.

The question then is NOT, "Does opening new windows present problems for the *blind*?", but rather "Is opening a new window accessible to all users?"

"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect" - Tim Berners Lee

Next is the "what I like..." factor.
Accessibility is a subset of the general quest for Usability. While one user may appreciate a new window, the prevailing wisdom is that new windows are bad.
"Opening up new browser windows is like a vacuum cleaner sales person who starts a visit by emptying an ash tray on the customer's carpet. Don't pollute my screen with any more windows, thanks (particularly since current operating systems have miserable window management). If I want a new window, I will open it myself!"
"Designers open new browser windows on the theory that it keeps users on their site. But even disregarding the user-hostile message implied in taking over the user's machine, the strategy is self-defeating since it disables the Back button which is the normal way users return to previous sites. Users often don't notice that a new window has opened, especially if they are using a small monitor where the windows are maximized to fill up the screen. So a user who tries to return to the origin will be confused by a grayed out Back button." - Jakob Nielsen (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/990530.html)

For those who are Nielsen haters, overwhelming data from other sources indicated these same sentiments including one study from NIH that discussed a new window that said "User feedback about this window was overwhelmingly negative".

During July '03, we had a survey on our site which allowed user comments at the end. One of the most frequent complaints: "Stop opening so many new windows!"

So, the greater issue is that new windows are not only a potential accessibility problem, but also an ease-of-use problem that takes away the power of the user over their browsing experience. It may be your website, but it is their computer. Leave the user in control of it.

Karl L. Groves, Certified Master CIW Designer
E-Commerce Manager
NASA Federal Credit Union
500 Prince Georges Blvd.
Upper Marlboro, MD 20774

301-249-1800 ext.497
Fax: 301-390-4531

Opinions expressed in this e-mail represent only myself and are not in any way to be taken as the words or opinions of my employer.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Stephanie Sullivan [mailto: <EMAIL REMOVED> ]
> Sent: Friday, November 07, 2003 1:34 PM
> Subject: Re: Opening New Windows
> on 11/7/03 1:12 PM, Sachin Pavitran at <EMAIL REMOVED>
> profoundly spewed
> forth their very articulate thoughts:
> > When it comes down to my personal preference, I
> > would love to have new windows open for the reasons and
> choices mentioned
> > above to keep track of where I am on the internet.
> I, for one, really appreciate your perspective in this
> Sachin... It's always
> good to hear from someone that uses the technology that we
> try to support.
> :) Thank you!
> Stephanie Sullivan
> Contributing Author .: "Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 2004 Magic"
> :. New Riders
> CommunityMX Team Member :: http://www.communitymx.com
> Technical Editor .: "DreamweaverMX Killer Tips" :. New Riders
> VioletSky Design :: http://www.violetsky.net