Today I finished another free web accessibility course. This one is from Google and hosted by Udacity: Developing with Empathy
I find it hard to explain to other developers about having empathy for all web users, not just those who resemble ourselves. Courses like this are a great place to point those who might not be convinced that accessibility is important, especially those of us who work on projects that have little to no legal accessibility requirements.
This course is designed around four concepts:
Providing and managing focus of elements for keyboard and switch users
Constructing pages with good semantics and understanding the accessibility tree in the DOM
A basic look at ARIA features
Putting these together with style
I enjoyed learning about ChromeVox which emulates using a screen reader. The controls take some learning but it’s a useful way to test some of the hidden features of accessibility like aria-required on a form field.
Another helpful accessibility tool from this course is the Accessibility Developer Tools available through Chrome. It lets you perform an accessibility audit on a page and provides tips for improvements.
I want to improve my Spanish—a language I started learning in elementary school, took two classes in during high school (regrettably, I took French in college) and encounter almost daily living in Texas. When I heard a News in Slow promo on NPR, I decided to check out that option. The main draw is being able to hear conversations along with reading the words. Accessing the site as a new user, I ran into many usability issues. I’ll review these:
At the end of the post, I’ll add a mock-up of a few suggested changes.
First impression: It’s dated looking but the core task is front and center. I immediately clicked the ‘play’ button to hear (and read) the episode. That was fine, happy to have independent volume control.
After a few seconds, though, I realized something was off. Some of the pronunciations indicated that this was news in Spain Spanish, not the Spanish we use around here. Feeling frustrated, I stopped the audio and started looking around to see if there was some option to pick different Spanish. Eventually, I saw a select menu at the very top of the page, above the logo, allowing one to switch between “Spain” and “Latin America”. Selecting “Latin America” reloads the page with a different color scheme but there isn’t anything that clearly indicates what kind of Spanish the page uses.
The tabbing order is inconsistent with the display order. Some controls are inaccessible with a keyboard, most importantly the ‘play’ button for the audio clips. Curiously though, there are some keyboard controls for interacting with the player.
Much of the transcript text is marked up to look like links and when you hover over that text, it shows the English translation. None of these is visible through tabbing.
Some content is gray text on gray background with low contrast which, even as large headings does not pass WCAG.
The quizzes rely on color only to indicate whether an answer is right or wrong. (Is that really “purple”?)
When trying to sign in, the form loads in a modal window without focus making the task impossible. Pressing ‘esc’ does not close the modal window, leaving you trapped.
This site uses the older convention of left navigation as the global site navigation. I’m focusing on the top and local navigation components used to access the contents of an episode.
On the site’s home page the only link in the top nav is a ‘home’ link that is right aligned. It’s hardly noticeable. Once you interact with the local navigation for an episode, the top nav gains a second link: ‘episode’ with a down arrow. Having no idea what the arrow did, I clicked it and suddenly an up arrow appeared next to it. Using these arrows is how you’re able to access past episodes…one-by-one in chronological order.
It’s important to note that the ‘home’ link does not take you back to the episode’s start page but to the site’s home page. The site logo also brings you back to the site’s home page, making the ‘home’ link confusing and redundant.
Switching between episodes feels clumsy to me. I’d like to see episode searching in the top navigation area.
The local nav works as expected. It’s a list of links across the top of the episode content. The link for the section you’re on is bold to show place in site.
I think the local nav should stand out more. These links are what most users probably access the most every time they return to the site for a new episode. It feels like they are purposely small and crammed in there so that they all fit on one line for visual rather than usability reasons.
My big criticism here is that there isn’t a link to take you back to the episode start page.
The use of blue in the color scheme really confused me. Sometimes blue text is a link, more often it’s not. Blue (#0000ff) is the default color for links in most browsers and various shades are used as the link color on many, many sites.
Using blue isn’t a problem but using it inconsistently and for something other than linked text within this color scheme is seriously problematic. The most annoying issue for me was the big “Episode #” text which looks so much like it should be clicked to get you back to the episode’s start page. It’s not a link :/
Let’s look at an example: at the bottom of the home page is a section for searching past episodes.
What here is a link? Convention tells me that the gray text indicates something that is not a link, that is disabled. That’s true for the ‘first’ and ‘previous’ links in the pagination bar. It’s not true for the episode titles which open an accordion when clicked. Maybe they expect people will see the dates in pink and click there?
With the accordion open, the “Episode #” turns blue and is clickable in this context because clicking it closes the accordion!
The link colors of the icons further the confusion with the play button being blue while the volume controls are pink. The fix here is to use colors consistently. I’d stick with using blue for links only.
I’m not going to attempt to make broad visual design or branding changes here, just information architecture and legibility tweaks.
Tightened up the header, moving the Spanish selector into the utility nav, adding a search box and removing the existing top nav links.
Moved the local nav up to be more obvious; removed the “News in Slow Spanish” text from the title (redundant) and added ‘previous’ / ‘next’ links to still allow for tabbing between episodes.
Made sure only (all) links are blue!
Decided to highlight the text with translations in pink since they aren’t links, just text with title tool tips. See mocked-up help message that can be removed by the user.
To improve legibility, I removed the weird slanted background image in the header; removed the gray background from the transcript area; increased the line height of the transcript text; and bumped up font sizes for other text.
Kiva, a microlending non-profit that enables anyone to lend money to help end poverty, recently went through a site redesign. This included major changes to its global navigation, faceted search, and loan display. Here’s a snapshot of the Lend page highlighting four problem areas affecting keyboard users.
1) Global navigation menu doesn’t open
When tabbing through the site, the second link is the “Lend” menu in the global navigation. Only by using a mouse can the “Lend” menu be displayed. Hitting the space bar or enter keys to try to access this menu just reloads the page.
Kiva needs to implement a keyboard-friendly solution like Adobe’s Accessible Mega Menu, available on GitHub. It enables users to access drop drown menus with the space bar, and then continue tabbing through the menu links. The esc key exits the menu at any time, returning focus back to the navigation item.
2) Hidden controls
The “Borrowers” facet uses hidden radio buttons and provides no feedback to a keyboard user when one is in focus. Here, I’ve disabled the CSS rule that hides the radio buttons.
I tried repeatedly to select one of these options using the keyboard but couldn’t. Kiva needs to allow users to select all form options, even if the radio buttons are visually hidden. Mouse users click on the form labels to select options but labels do not get keyboard focus.
Another set of facets employs sliders to filter results. These are completely inaccessible to keyboard tabbing.
I did a little searching and came across some accessible slider examples that allows keyboard focus on the handles then employs the arrow keys to adjust the values.
3) Focus, focus, focus
So many elements on the Lend page do not indicate they are in focus, from the above mentioned facets using radio buttons, to the lending controls for individual loans. In this example, the links for “Lend $25” and “Learn more” are visible only on hover. While the links can be tabbed to, there is no feedback that they are in focus.
Kiva needs to use the a:focus CSS selector consistently and ensure any JS used to show links works with keyboard focus too.
4) Stuck modal windows
Another facet option is to “Select countries” to filter loans. This link opens a modal window.
I tried tabbing through the country checkboxes but nothing happened because the modal window did not get focus. As I held down the tab key, I could see that I was continuing to tab through the links on the Lend page instead. My only option was to hit the esc key.
Making sure your site works with focus is important and easy to implement. For visual feedback, you generally can employ the same CSS rules used for hover. Another useful enhancement would be to provide a way for keyboard users to skip the search facets and go directly to the loan options. Reviewing this site has inspired me to create a future post centered on accessible faceted search.