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Accessibility on the web has been an issue for over a decade, and it remains a crucial--but often overlooked--element of web design. Instructor Zoe Gillenwater explains the concept of accessibility as it applies to the web, and describes how it affects the audience. She also covers how to set up accessibility testing, and how to apply accessibility principles to new and existing sites using standards-compliant markup and CSS. Exercise files accompany the tutorials.
>> We now have both our main navigation and section navigation menus set up, but most pages will have links within the text of the page as well. Users frequently jump from link to link when they encounter a new page. Screen reader users can use this by bringing up a listing of all the links in a page using keyboard commands. Sighted users can use their eyes to jump from link to link on a page looking for the different link color and underlining. But if the links aren't set up properly, the screen reader's links listing will not be of much use to them.
For instance, there may just be so many links on the page that it makes it impractical to even use the links listing as a navigation method. If the link text doesn't match the topic of the linked page, this will confuse the screen reader user. A sighted user can look at the text around the link to get more information about where the link will take them. A screen reader user can do this as well by leaving the links listing and going back to reading the page, but it will take them much longer to do so. This is also a problem when the link text is vague, for instance it just says click here or read more.
Again, the screen reader user will not know where they're going to go to, so they'll have to go into reading the page, get back to that link, read to the text around it before they can decide whether that's the link that they're looking for and that they want to go to. If the same text is repeated for multiple links in the page, the screen reader user would have to hear that read to them many times in the links listing and again would not be able to determine which link was which. So if possible, write your link text so that it is meaningful and can make some sense out of context and so that it is unique from other links on the page.
This is not always possible, but for the majority of cases the text can be written to make the link text more meaningful and clear. Let's look at an example of problematic link text from our site that we have been working on. If you're following along in the exercise files, open index-before.html in Firefox, it's located in the 05_06 folder of the chapter five exercise files. This page is the home page of the site we've been working on. If we scroll down the page we can see all the text.
The orange links stand out visually, but because the text of so many of them is repeated, sighted users will have to take more time to locate the link they are looking for. For instance, we have the text click here, click here, underneath the elections 2008 heading at the bottom of the page. And if we scroll back u p to the top of the page, you'll see the same link text, click here and click here in the first two paragraphs of the page. In the sidebar, we have a number of links to news stories, but each of them is linked with the same text, read more, read more, read more.
This is even more problematic for screen reader users than for sighted users. To quickly see the list of links in the page, we can use the Fangs extension for Firefox that we downloaded earlier. Right click or control click on the page to bring up the Context menu and click on the view Fangs option in the menu. In the new window that opens click on the links list tab. At the top of the list are the skip navigation links that we added earlier followed by the main navigation links.
But then you can see that we have a series of read more, click here and other unclear link text. Close the Fangs window now. Now let's look at how that text can be improved. Open the file index-after.html in the 05_06 folder of the chapter five exercise files. This is the same page with the same content, but some of the text has been slightly rewritten to make the link text be more clear and meaningful. In the first paragraph we now have a link that says schedule of free performances and another that says buy discounted tickets to rides.
Both sited and screen reader users can quickly identify these links. In the sidebar, we've simply removed the read more links and instead linked the title of each of the news articles. Again, this is the clearest text that will tell the user exactly what they are going to get if they choose this link. We haven't changed the links that say English and Spanish in the third paragraph on the page. These are still a little vague if they were seen by a screen reader, but rewriting them to include more words would probably be problematic for sighted users. So let's open this page in Dreamweaver.
In design view, scroll down the page, click on the English link. We can set a title attribute on this link to provide extra information about it. Open the tag inspector panel then click on the plus sign by the CSS/accessibility option. You'll see a field for title. Let's type in PDF flier English version. Next, click on the link for Spanish then go into the tag inspector panel and select the title field.
Type in PDF flier Spanish version. Now go to file > save and return to Firefox. Reload the page to save the changes. If we hover over the English and Spanish links, a tool tip will come up with the content of the title attribute. This extra information could also be accessed by screen readers, however it's not guaranteed that a screen reader user will hear this text.
They can change the settings in their screen reader to have title attribute text read to them or not. But in many screen readers, the default option is to have it not read out. If a screen reader user encounters a link that they find confusing, they can use a key combination to bring up the title attribute, even if their default setting is to not read those attributes. Even so the title attribute is not going to be read every time. So make sure that you use it sparingly, write the clearest link text that you can and make sure that any information that is truly essential for understanding the page is on the page as regular text for everyone to read.
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