Screen Readers and Ajax

Originally posted in JSLive Day 13 topics:

I found it interesting that Ajax is supposedly incompatible with assisted tech screen readers. It just so happens that I am legally blind and use a program called Zoom Text which literally opened my eyes to the world of the internet. This technology is a product of AI Squared. I started using it about 7 years ago with version 7.x.x and now I use version 9.x.x so the technology has really been improving at a pretty good clip.
In regards to Ajax I quite often use Google Maps and I am pretty sure that the API Utilizes Ajax and IFrames as do a number of Google applications. I have minimal difficulty using maps, PICASA, Webmaster Tools, Google Voice and numerous other Google Application that I believe use Ajax. So the technology at least with ZT is becoming more AJAX friendly.

In any event as a developer I would not consider not using AJAX simply because of the screen reader audience. I say this because if we as developers do exclude Ajax from that audience then the assisted tech folks would have little motivation to make changes to their software to adapt to Ajax API.

I did not realize it until I started my journey in web design but people with disabilities visual and otherwise are a significant presence on the web and for the most part are fairly creative in finding ways to do things that the industry says they can’t.

Besides we web developers are way to busy catering to the idiosyncrasies of Internet Explorer crowd.

In creating CSS Drop Down menus one time I was told that this particular method would not work with IE 6 and being the compassionate person that I am said well to bad for them. Then I was informed that IE 6 still accounts for a significant percentage of market share. This I found hard to believe until it was mentioned that a lot of cash strapped corporations are still using IE6 on their antiquated Intranet networks. So I cut them some slack. I am not sure why I included this last paragraph it seemed to make sense at the time.

That is the view from here. What’s it look like from where you’re setting?

Mike E:eye:

AJAX isn’t necessarily incompatible with accessibility, that’s just a major misconception. Accessibility in it’s fundamental boiling point is all about making your content work for everyone, equally, no matter what disadvantage they have. While this does have implications for those who cannot use JavaScript (which is a surprising number of up to 8% of all Internet users), if you ensure alternative methods to access the content is available and you ensure that you account for how devices like screen readers work and the browser will naturally function (like zooming text, the back button, etc) you shouldn’t really have much of an issue. I work primarily in the accessibility sector trying to promote best practices for the industry and it’s an unfortunate stereotype that people assume that disabled people are a minority. When such factors like color blindness or even tiredness and lethargy can affect how a user can work, browse the web or function, it stands to a greater reason that all things considered… we are all disabled to some extent. There’s lots of situations and ways we use computers which can limit our ability to use them.

Have you ever broken your arm? lots of people have… that can be a disability of motor function (the ability to move) and just because it’s a recoverable condition doesn’t make it any less damaging to the end users experience. Internet Explorer 6 does have a seriously high share in the browser market (unfortunately) but this “mechanical” disability of outdated software is still accountable. From how I work… we all too often take our bodies for granted and only come to realise how people can struggle when we’re affected by the conditions. Whether it’s a physical, intellectual, emotional, social, psychological or mechanical disorder from blindness to color blindness, being deaf to tinnitus, not knowing English to using IE6, we need to better appreciate each users circumstances and try to ensure they can use the site without too much of a headache at the end of it. Accessibility is the single most important thing you need to encompass for, as without it you have no visitors. :slight_smile:

The core of accessibility is about making sure you always present the information of the website in a usable format. The ultimate fallback is text, because all devices are programmed to handle that, and you then layer enhancements on top of that. The goal is simply to ensure that your site is usable and comprehensible for anyone who stops by. For 90%+ of web pages this typically requires no extra time and no extra resources, just learning the field and implementing pages along universal design principles. There is an initial time investment to learn what flies and what doesn’t, and after that there is virtually no downside to accessible design. (Then of course someone hands you a one hour speech on video and you have to provide synchronized open captioning… sigh)

I can second your and Alex’s appraisal of AJAX. AJAX used badly can cripple a web page like many other things, and unfortunately a lot of AJAX developers hopped on the band wagon because it was the hot new technology. There are a LOT of really badly designed AJAX sites made by people who were REALLY enthusiastic and REALLY cutting edge, but that had little dedication (or in some cases even interest) in writing their code well. The new Sitepoint book, jQuery: Novice to Ninja, does a fantastic job of outlining the best practices that let you use the framework to create powerful, flexible, professional grade production code.