A survey by WebAIM on how users of screen readers interact with web pages is worth a read. It gives a small insight into how screen reader users navigate around pages and some of the problems they face. The survey failed to clarify the term Web 2.0 so the survey hasn’t helped to understand if AJAX based sites disenfranchise partially sighted users but it does confirm some of the advice accessibility experts make. It also reinforces some of the point I tried to make to the Domino developers at Lotusphere about where the new XPage technology fails to meet basic accessibility criteria, namely that screen reader users use the page’s semantics to navigate around the page. A good practice that XPage authoring using the visual interface fails to support.
When html was originally specified it was intended to be a docuument markup language and the tags selected define the page’s content – headings, paragraphs, lists, etc. As web developers we all know this, it’s really basic stuff.
Since headings are more important than paragraphs, a significant percentage of screen reader users use headings to quickly navigate around sections of the page and this confirms the advice accessibility experts have been giving for years. Define a readable document and then style it to look like an application. XPages gets this fundamentally wrong and provides no visual tools to generate standard page markup, a glaring omission that no other editor that I’m aware off fails to include.
All’s not lost. If you want to develop a semantic page it’s just a case of switching to code view and you can add normal markup and it wouldn’t take much for Lotus to add some simple page editing tools.
Hopefully surveys like this help developers see how some simple changes to their pages can make page browsing easier for a small forgotten number of web users