By Kurt Bunge
The Internet is chock full of information. It's more than just an information Superhighway, it is the lifeblood of the social and business universe. The true backbone of the Internet is information. The core functionality of the Internet is the search for and retrieval of information. The whole ball of wax boils down to those two simple facts. We usually don't even think of these things when we use the Web. We think of it as a simple tool that can help us do an unlimited number of things that some of us tend to take for granted every day. Shopping, banking or scheduling an appointment to have the oil changed in our car are but a few clicks away. Sometimes, I even forget there are physical servers scattered all over the planet that make this Internet thing actually work.
What is the most difficult thing about the Web when it is a happy, healthy stream of digital packets of information?
If It's on the Internet, It Has to be Right. Right?
The most difficult (and frustrating) thing about this man-made marvel is when you cannot find the information you're looking for. You don't think twice about being able to find information because there are so many artificial intelligence mechanisms embedded into every search you perform, all used in an effort to make your "experience" better and more intuitive. But what good does that do when the information you're looking for either doesn't exist or is out of date and is no longer valid or relevant? Further, what if you don't have enough knowledge about what you're searching for to be able to decide which information in your search results is relevant, no longer valid or even accurate?
Like everywhere else, change is constant in the world of accessibility. Browsers and assistive technologies are always changing and new versions are always being released. With these changes come the inevitable bugs that are introduced and sometimes change the way in which things need to be made accessible. In the accessibility profession, these are things we need to stay on top of so we can advise our clients of the current methods that need to be implemented to remain accessible. But as these software and user agent changes come rolling down the pike, it seems there is a gap in the information that is made available on the web for those who try to use the Internet as a resource for how to make things accessible.
For example, if I want to search the web for techniques on making a drop-down menu accessible, I can find a gazillion examples, but many of them are outdated and no longer work correctly or they're simply incorrect. In the case of someone who isn't as deeply educated on ARIA and how user agents interact with it, Mr. or Ms. info-seeker may not even know the information they've found isn't accurate, and might implement their solution using a technique that is known in some circles as no longer a viable solution, although it was the correct method to use five years ago.
I recently searched for an example of an accessible ARIA menu. On one of the websites I visited they provided this working example and provided a code snippet:
This is how the drop-down looks with our library.
<button aria-haspopup="true" aria-expanded="false">My account</button>
<li> <a href="#" role="menuitem"> My Cart </li>
<li> <a href="#" role="menuitem">My Orders </li>
There are many ways to define a menu using ARIA, and this example is one way to do it. At first everything looks great and the necessary information will be imparted to someone who relies on a screen reader to access content. However, there is always more to it than that. If someone were to interact with this demo using only a keyboard, they may be led to believe that it works correctly because after all, this information was found on the web. If it's on the web, its got to be right! Right?
Unfortunately, this example does not work as expected with the keyboard. The menu remains open after you navigate away. This is a problem because any content that was visible before the menu was opened and was then covered by the opened menu will remain hidden by the open menu. This is why it is important to understand the expected keyboard interaction for a menu button. In this example you may be so excited that the actual ARIA used is correct that you may also decide that the keyboard interaction is correct, too, and use the same pattern when you implement it on your web pages. You're shiny new menu won't be considered completely accessible if you follow the example given.
How do you keep up with this? How do you know that accessibility information you are finding through your Internet search is accurate, current, and even useful right now? And by "right now", I mean, TODAY (and I hope tomorrow, too).
Darkness Turns to Light, the Birds Sing and Frogs…Croak?
The Interactive Accessibility Help Desk is here to help you cut through the clutter and keep you on track as you perform your accessibility remediation. There is no way around it, questions always arise. What is the first thing we tend to do when a question pops up that we need a fast answer to? Exactly – we search the Web, the world's ultimate information resource.
As with any resource, information is only accurate if it has the necessary research behind it. At Interactive Accessibility we pride ourselves on staying up to date on the latest releases of assistive technology and user agents and how these new versions affect accessibility when used together. Because so many rely on the keyboard for access, we also understand the keyboard interaction patterns for active elements as outlined in the WAI-ARIA Authoring Practices 1.1. We test, we test, and when we think we're finished testing, we test some more. And we don't just test with what may be considered the "regular" assistive technology and browser combinations. We do this because our clients expect to be guided down the right path when they engage us. We also do this because each member of our team feels an obligation to be as knowledgeable as possible, because in the end we are helping those with a disability to be able to access digital content. We're pretty darn passionate about that 'round these parts.
For expert help and advice on implementing accessibility for your product, look to the Interactive Accessibility Help Desk. We don't believe in throwing a bunch of overwhelming or complicated information your way. We partner with you to provide actionable results and a pathway to achieve your accessibility goals. And I think an important aspect of our partnership with you is this: We don't just tell you about the "how", we also inform you as to the "why". Simply submit your question and we'll have an answer for you quickly. If a phone call or online meeting is needed to hash out more complex questions or scenarios, we'll do that, too.
Contact Interactive Accessibility and ask for more information about our Help Desk service and find out more about how we can help you get the information you need to keep your accessibility process moving forward. Information that is timely, expertly researched, tried and true and explained in plain language that you can understand. And along the way, you'll learn more about accessibility, which is always a good thing.