Web accessibility can be hard to get your head around. It’s all very well talking about best practise, but without personal experience it can be very difficult to understand the day-to-day issues people face.
I’m lucky, in that my eyesight is still 20/20. Yet today I ran head-on into a common web accessibility barrier. I got a (diluted) taste of what it’s like to use a screen magnifier to browse the web (like many vision-impaired users).
I loaded Google Mail. Alas I have a relatively small television by today’s standards, so the on-screen text was rather small. Thankfully, on the Wii it’s very easy to zoom in on a certain parts of the screen, so I did. I scrolled across to the Labels part of Google Mail and clicked one. Just as you’d expect, it updated the conversations part of the page. No problem.
Well, no problem except for the whole zoomed in bit. Because the site is built using Ajax, there hadn’t been a full-page refresh. It meant I had no way of knowing something had happened elsewhere on the page until I zoomed out again.
Now, Google also offer basic HTML versions of their web applications. These don’t use Ajax, so you get the full-page refresh (and hence you’re aware that the page has changed). That’s one way to solve the problem, but creating separate web applications for different groups of users isn’t always an option.
I’m not saying Ajax is a bad thing — rather pointing out one of it’s side effects. I’m not yet sure how I’d work around the problem (and I’d love to hear suggestions), but it’s certainly food for thought when designing for the web.