Navigation, identification and controls: accessibility for developers

  • Author: Access iQ ®
  • Date: 1 Feb 2013
  • Access: Premium

Quick facts

When content is well-structured, easy to navigate, landmarked and follows a clear linear flow, everyone regardless of ability has a better experience.

  • Ensure good semantic structure
  • Provide skip links

For people without a disability, being able to traverse a document is generally a trivial activity. Developers work to ensure visual flow in the design and to relay meaning through arrangement, proximity, size and proportion. Visual flow, scanability and well-paced text written specifically for the web, are all commonly understood methods to make interacting with web content a pleasant experience.

When the conditions for consuming content are different from the average state, such as for a person who is blind or vision impaired, or when the conditions are constrained, as on a smartphone screen, being able to navigate a document should not be made more difficult. Conversely, when content is well structured, easy to navigate, landmarked and follows a clear linear flow, not only do users who depend on assistive technology to get the most out of a website, everyone regardless of ability has a better experience.

The main issue for people with disabilities is that some cannot visually scan the page view as sighted users are accustomed to do; their experience depends heavily on the semantic page structure. People with visual impairments experience the page linearly, from top to bottom. They cannot roam the layout in the same way others can, but do have parallel methods they employ to perform tasks similar to scanning.

For example, using the Tab key allows anyone to navigate a webpage via the links and form elements. This saves time when filling out a form, so no user has to continuously move between mouse and keyboard. Instead, this allows all users to use only keyboard while filling out a form, and also helps those using a screen reader hear the links and actions available on the page.

Another way screen reader users navigate a page is by moving through the headings, using the <h1> to <h6> hierarchical structure of the page, properly nested. This structure forms the backbone of the page, which can also serve as a "scan" across the page for assistive technologies.

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