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Thread: State Abbreviations in Dropdown - Permitted?

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From: james.kalbach@lexisnexis.com
Date: Fri, Dec 02 2005 7:40AM
Subject: State Abbreviations in Dropdown - Permitted?
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Hello,



I have a situation where the US postal code state abbreviations (e.g. AK,
NJ, SC, etc.) are to appear in a dropdown menu. Neither the acronym tag not
the abbreviation tag can be used within a pick list.



Has anyone ever had this situation? Can this be done or must the names be
written out in full? Would the abbreviations be understandable anyway? Any
work-arounds you can think of?



Thanks

Jim



Ps - I searched the archive but didn't see anything regarding this specific
situation.






From: Andrew Kirkpatrick
Date: Fri, Dec 02 2005 9:00AM
Subject: RE: State Abbreviations in Dropdown - Permitted?
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> No, they aren't. Billions of people never heard of them. Even
> though the page is presumably meant for US residents
> primarily, the potential users might be immigrants, refugees,
> or other people who do not know the customary abbreviations
> used in the US. This would be serious discrimination.

I think that "serious discrimination" is a stretch. The page is
probably in English (we'll put aside whether that is a more or less
serious issue for now) so the user needs to have a basic understanding
of the language. They get to a drop down list that is probably preceded
by "state:". I would think that it's pretty clear that these 2-letter
codes clearly must represent the list of states in the US since the user
is typing in a US mailing address.

The mapping between the codes and the state names is readily available
and in U.S. English are very common usage. Someone outside the country
or new to the country may not have heard of "Rhode Island" or "RI", but
if one wants to send mail there it is not unreasonable to expect that
they will learn this. We also expect that the user puts in a zip code,
for which there is no expanded version - is that also serious
discrimination?

> On the other hand, a dropdown menu with 50 options is a
> serious obstacle for many reasons. Would you like to hear 49
> abbreviations read for you before finally reaching your
> state? Moreover, such menus cause severe technical
> complications in many browsers, and they aren't good for
> useability, since the user typically needs to scroll down and
> make a selection in a clumsy way.

I find that they are highly usable. I don't listen to 49 options, I
type "m" to get to the m's and then move to MA. If I want to scan the
list I can use pageup/down to page through the list. If I am looking
for Zaire in a list of countries I can hit 'end' to move to the bottom
of the list.

What technical complications do you mean?

Lists are also good for users who are bad spellers or who have mobility
impairments - they can save typing (although not much in a list of state
abbreviations) and ensure accuracy.

> If you expect the abbreviations to be known, use a text input
> field instead. It's faster and simpler to type "MA" than the
> find "MA" in a long list.

I don't agree. "M" happens to be one of the more common state letters.
Want Montana? Hit "m" a few times until montana appears.

Of course, the reason to use the list is for accuracy of data. You've
never seen a page return an error saying "sorry, you entered a state
that doesn't exist" when there is a dropdown, right?

> Even if you don't expect them to be known, and you shouldn't,
> you can use a text input field. You could allow both
> abbreviations and names.

Sure. I don't personally find this very compelling of a case, but
that's me.

> In any case, include (before the field) a link to an
> accessible page that lists the states and their
> abbreviations. (Preferably, that page should contain nothing
> but the list or table, with minimal metadata; even
> http://www.usps.com/ncsc/lookups/abbr_state.txt
> might do.)

A fine idea.

> > The question I'd think about is what order to put the state
> > abbreviations.
>
> That won't be a problem if you use text input. The linked
> page that lists the abbreviations should apparently be
> alphabetic by name.

But it is a detail that is dealt with because people do, and will
continue to, use drop downs for simple predictable data.

> The objection that the user can enter anything in a text
> input field is actually an argument in favor of the method.
> It makes it clear that the user input must be checked
> server-side; using a dropdown, it is too easy to forget such
> elementary security issues.

I think that you're mixing the issues here. We should not use drop
downs because we're more likely to remember to think about security if
forced to use straight text inputs? I think that a developer is either
going to attend to security or they won't, without regard to the control
type.

AWK




From: Jukka K. Korpela
Date: Fri, Dec 02 2005 10:20AM
Subject: RE: State Abbreviations in Dropdown - Permitted?
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On Fri, 2 Dec 2005, Andrew Kirkpatrick wrote:

> Unless you're coming up with your own state abbreviations, you're safe.
> Use the abbreviations - they are well known enough.

No, they aren't. Billions of people never heard of them. Even though the
page is presumably meant for US residents primarily, the potential users
might be immigrants, refugees, or other people who do not know the
customary abbreviations used in the US. This would be serious
discrimination.

On the other hand, a dropdown menu with 50 options is a serious obstacle
for many reasons. Would you like to hear 49 abbreviations read for you
before finally reaching your state? Moreover, such menus cause severe
technical complications in many browsers, and they aren't good for
useability, since the user typically needs to scroll down and make a
selection in a clumsy way.

If you expect the abbreviations to be known, use a text input field
instead. It's faster and simpler to type "MA" than the find "MA" in a long
list.

Even if you don't expect them to be known, and you shouldn't, you can use
a text input field. You could allow both abbreviations and names.
In any case, include (before the field) a link to an accessible page that
lists the states and their abbreviations. (Preferably, that page should
contain nothing but the list or table, with minimal metadata; even
http://www.usps.com/ncsc/lookups/abbr_state.txt
might do.)

> The question I'd think about is what order to put the state
> abbreviations.

That won't be a problem if you use text input. The linked page that lists
the abbreviations should apparently be alphabetic by name.

The objection that the user can enter anything in a text input field
is actually an argument in favor of the method. It makes it clear that
the user input must be checked server-side; using a dropdown, it is too
easy to forget such elementary security issues.

--
Jukka "Yucca" Korpela, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/





From: Jukka K. Korpela
Date: Fri, Dec 02 2005 3:00PM
Subject: RE: State Abbreviations in Dropdown - Permitted?
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On Fri, 2 Dec 2005, Andrew Kirkpatrick wrote:

> What technical complications do you mean?

Do you mean that you never heard of the problems with select menus that
have dozens of options?

--
Jukka "Yucca" Korpela, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/





From: Andrew Kirkpatrick
Date: Fri, Dec 02 2005 9:00PM
Subject: RE: State Abbreviations in Dropdown - Permitted?
← Previous message | Next message →


> What technical complications do you mean?

Do you mean that you never heard of the problems with select menus that
have dozens of options?

Enlighten me.



From: Helen A
Date: Sat, Dec 03 2005 3:00AM
Subject: RE: State Abbreviations in Dropdown - Permitted?
← Previous message | Next message →

At 13:17 02/12/2005, Andrew wrote, replying to Jukka:
> > No, they aren't. Billions of people never heard of them. Even
> > though the page is presumably meant for US residents
> > primarily, the potential users might be immigrants, refugees,
> > or other people who do not know the customary abbreviations
> > used in the US. This would be serious discrimination.
>
>I think that "serious discrimination" is a stretch. The page is
>probably in English (we'll put aside whether that is a more or less
>serious issue for now) so the user needs to have a basic understanding
>of the language. They get to a drop down list that is probably preceded
>by "state:". I would think that it's pretty clear that these 2-letter
>codes clearly must represent the list of states in the US since the user
>is typing in a US mailing address.

I'm with Jukka on this one. Faced with a list of state abbreviations
I have to make educated guesses for most of them!

>The mapping between the codes and the state names is readily available
>and in U.S. English are very common usage. Someone outside the country
>or new to the country may not have heard of "Rhode Island" or "RI", but
>if one wants to send mail there it is not unreasonable to expect that
>they will learn this. We also expect that the user puts in a zip code,
>for which there is no expanded version - is that also serious
>discrimination?
> > On the other hand, a dropdown menu with 50 options is a
> > serious obstacle for many reasons. Would you like to hear 49
> > abbreviations read for you before finally reaching your
> > state? Moreover, such menus cause severe technical
> > complications in many browsers, and they aren't good for
> > useability, since the user typically needs to scroll down and
> > make a selection in a clumsy way.
>I find that they are highly usable. I don't listen to 49 options, I
>type "m" to get to the m's and then move to MA. If I want to scan the
>list I can use pageup/down to page through the list. If I am looking
>for Zaire in a list of countries I can hit 'end' to move to the bottom
>of the list.
>What technical complications do you mean?

This assumes everyone knows the shortcuts *you* are so familiar with, Andrew.

In addition, I, as someone who has indifferent and varying motor
control, find long drop-down lists can be a big nuisance on days when
my muscles do what they want to, not what I want them to. Give me a
text box every time!

>Lists are also good for users who are bad spellers or who have mobility
>impairments - they can save typing (although not much in a list of state
>abbreviations) and ensure accuracy.

See above - I disagree on a purely personal level.

<rest of message snipped>

Helen





From: Patrick H. Lauke
Date: Sat, Dec 03 2005 9:00AM
Subject: Re: State Abbreviations in Dropdown - Permitted?
← Previous message | Next message →

Helen A wrote:
> At 13:17 02/12/2005, Andrew wrote, replying to Jukka:

>> I find that they are highly usable. I don't listen to 49 options, I
>> type "m" to get to the m's and then move to MA. If I want to scan the
>> list I can use pageup/down to page through the list. If I am looking
>> for Zaire in a list of countries I can hit 'end' to move to the bottom
>> of the list.
>> What technical complications do you mean?
>
>
> This assumes everyone knows the shortcuts *you* are so familiar with,
> Andrew.

And we're back on the eternal topic of user education. What good is it
if browsers or AT offer useful functionality if the users are not aware
of them? And whose responsibility is it to make sure users *are*
educated? I for one would really welcome it if browsers, on first
install/use, would give a short tour of some of the useful features
(including thing like "text too small? resize it with this built-in
feature" ... that last one also coupled with having a text size widget
appear by default in the browser's toolbar, but that's another matter).

Sorry, my latest pet peeve / rant.

--
Patrick H. Lauke
___________
re

From: Andrew Kirkpatrick
Date: Sat, Dec 03 2005 11:40AM
Subject: RE: State Abbreviations in Dropdown - Permitted?
← Previous message | Next message →

At 13:17 02/12/2005, Andrew wrote, replying to Jukka:
> > No, they aren't. Billions of people never heard of them. Even
> > though the page is presumably meant for US residents
> > primarily, the potential users might be immigrants, refugees,
> > or other people who do not know the customary abbreviations
> > used in the US. This would be serious discrimination.
>
>I think that "serious discrimination" is a stretch. The page is
>probably in English (we'll put aside whether that is a more or less
>serious issue for now) so the user needs to have a basic understanding
>of the language. They get to a drop down list that is probably preceded
>by "state:". I would think that it's pretty clear that these 2-letter
>codes clearly must represent the list of states in the US since the user
>is typing in a US mailing address.

I'm with Jukka on this one. Faced with a list of state abbreviations
I have to make educated guesses for most of them!

>The mapping between the codes and the state names is readily available
>and in U.S. English are very common usage. Someone outside the country
>or new to the country may not have heard of "Rhode Island" or "RI", but
>if one wants to send mail there it is not unreasonable to expect that
>they will learn this. We also expect that the user puts in a zip code,
>for which there is no expanded version - is that also serious
>discrimination?
> > On the other hand, a dropdown menu with 50 options is a
> > serious obstacle for many reasons. Would you like to hear 49
> > abbreviations read for you before finally reaching your
> > state? Moreover, such menus cause severe technical
> > complications in many browsers, and they aren't good for
> > useability, since the user typically needs to scroll down and
> > make a selection in a clumsy way.
>I find that they are highly usable. I don't listen to 49 options, I
>type "m" to get to the m's and then move to MA. If I want to scan the
>list I can use pageup/down to page through the list. If I am looking
>for Zaire in a list of countries I can hit 'end' to move to the bottom
>of the list.
>What technical complications do you mean?

This assumes everyone knows the shortcuts *you* are so familiar with, Andrew.

In addition, I, as someone who has indifferent and varying motor
control, find long drop-down lists can be a big nuisance on days when
my muscles do what they want to, not what I want them to. Give me a
text box every time!

>Lists are also good for users who are bad spellers or who have mobility
>impairments - they can save typing (although not much in a list of state
>abbreviations) and ensure accuracy.

See above - I disagree on a purely personal level.

<rest of message snipped>

Helen








From: Rimantas Liubertas
Date: Sat, Dec 03 2005 12:20PM
Subject: Re: State Abbreviations in Dropdown - Permitted?
← Previous message | Next message →

<...>
> In addition, I, as someone who has indifferent and varying motor
> control, find long drop-down lists can be a big nuisance on days when
> my muscles do what they want to, not what I want them to. Give me a
> text box every time!
<...>

Seth Godin rises interesting point in his "Big Red Fez" book, namely,
if someone is filling a form, he keeps both hands on the keyboard, and
drop downs are usually operated with mouse, so selecting item from drop
down requires additional action.

Quote:
=====
"You type your name. Your street address. Your city. Then,
suddenly, there's a pull-down menu asking you to choose
your state. And finally, another menu for the country. You
have to scroll through Afghanistan, Lichtenstein, Oman --
but don't get to Zanzibar, that's too far--and then you see
United States. Hey, even if United States is at the top of
the list, it's till a few extra seconds for no reason at all.
Why not just ask the person to type NY and US?
Because the engineers love using pull-down menus!
Take them out. Make it easy for the user and a little harder
for the database"
=== end of quote===

I may happen to know more keyboard shortcuts than
99.9% of web users, but I still operate drop-downs with
a mouse (sometimes it is just difficult to get to the right
dropdown using keyboard, because of illogical tabbing order).

Regards,
Rimantas
--
http://rimantas.com/




From: Patrick H. Lauke
Date: Sat, Dec 03 2005 2:20PM
Subject: Re: State Abbreviations in Dropdown - Permitted?
← Previous message | Next message →

Rimantas Liubertas wrote:

> Seth Godin rises interesting point in his "Big Red Fez" book, namely,
> if someone is filling a form, he keeps both hands on the keyboard, and
> drop downs are usually operated with mouse, so selecting item from drop
> down requires additional action.

ALT + cursor down to open up the menu, first letter to get to the right
place within the list of options, and a few cursor up/down movements to
find the right one.

> Why not just ask the person to type NY and US?
> Because the engineers love using pull-down menus!

Possibly a simplistic view. Sure, for US 2 letter state abbreviations
it's perhaps not an issue, but when you have more than a handful of
options that could be typed in any number of ways (not just uppercase,
lowercase etc which can be handled fairly easily, but things where some
users may put two words in a different order, etc) you end up having to
implement something akin to a natural language parser, which can end up
being a non-trivial programming task.

> (sometimes it is just difficult to get to the right
> dropdown using keyboard, because of illogical tabbing order).

That's a completely separate issue and not pertinent to this discussion,
though.

--
Patrick H. Lauke
___________
re

From: james.kalbach@lexisnexis.com
Date: Mon, Dec 05 2005 3:40AM
Subject: RE: State Abbreviations in Dropdown - Permitted?
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Hi all,

Thanks for this great input. Just to clarify the situation a little more:

- The product is a limited access platform for legal research. Users must
register first to log on and it is a fee service.
- The target group is necessarily limited to the US legal market.
- Users are typically US lawyers and their assistants. Anyone using the
product outside the US must necessarily be familiar with US law. (NOTE:
legal information is riddled with abbreviations, e.g. "NY State Code.")
- Users are not entering information for an address; they are selecting
jurisdictions by which to filter a search.
- The dropdown option in question occurs after users have already selected a
jurisdiction (by state) on another page. Here, the state names are written
out in full. It's only later in the workflow that we need to represent their
multiple jurisdiction selections in a dropdown. This is typically only 2-3
selections, so the dropdown item would have something like "CT, NJ, NY"
only.

Our legal department is of the impression that this would cause
accessibility issues. They've also lumped expansion of abbreviations into
Section 508 checkpoint (a). I'm thinking this isn't so problematic, but am
unsure.

So, the real question is, would a screen reader read the above example as
"ckt, enj, nigh"? If so, would this be a problem, or would a US lawyer know
what this refers to given the context? Keep in mind they've already selected
the full state name previous and the dropdown will have an explicit label,
like "Multiple Jurisdictions: [CT, NJ, NY]"

Thanks again,
Jim





From: Penny Roberts
Date: Mon, Dec 05 2005 5:40AM
Subject: Re: State Abbreviations in Dropdown - Permitted?
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Rimantas Liubertas wrote:

> Seth Godin rises interesting point in his "Big Red Fez" book, namely,
> if someone is filling a form, he keeps both hands on the keyboard, and
> drop downs are usually operated with mouse, so selecting item from drop
> down requires additional action.

Depends on the browser and whether it is set to offer auto-fill. I use
the mouse all the time when filling in forms because as soon as I type
the first letter of my name, address, postcode etc. I get offered a drop
down of the possibilities that start that way so I nearly always select
from a drop down for the common fileds like name, address, e-mail and phone.
Personally I prefer to select from a drop down because it lessens the
chance of mistyping (I have poor hand/eye coordination so I often type
one key out).

Penny