Spoolcast: Ajax Aids Accessibility?

Jared Spool

February 20th, 2009

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Duration: 23 m | 12 MB
Recorded: January, 2009
Brian Christiansen, UIE Podcast Producer
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Yes, if you do it right, using Ajax techniques can improve accessibility. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Ajax is like most techniques and technologies on the web—they are what you make of them.

I had a chance to talk with Derek Featherstone, a world renown expert on web accessibility and principal of Further Ahead, a consulting firm out of Ottawa, Ontario that helps their clients get the most out of their web site designs.

In the podcast, Derek tells us that we first need to know how to think about Ajax as a design tool. Today’s toolkits (such as jQuery) can really help designers build functional prototypes to demonstrate their interaction concepts to developers, who will then integrate their ideas into the production system. Taking advantage of the many available libraries gives you a sandbox for trying out interactions without having to know the best practices for implementing the code.

Derek also discussed common misconceptions about Ajax. He said that, while implementing Ajax that aids accessibility has its challenges, it’s within the technical reach of most developers.

I was glad when he reminded me that many interactions that improve experiences for people with special needs also improve the experience of average users. Techniques like managing large data sets on one page through Ajax-powered content updates can also help users with special needs by maintaining context which is normally degraded by full-page refreshes.

As always, I found Derek’s insights fascinating and I bet you will too.

[In case you hadn't heard, this year we asked Derek to build a brand-new, full-day seminar just for UIE's Web App Summit. His session, Designing Great Interactive Experiences for Everyone: Implementing Ajax and Accessibility will unleash a torrent of information about integrating Ajax best practices into your design workflow.

For people who are new to Ajax, he'll define the technologies and techniques involved, and describe what they're really good for and what they are not. For those who are using Ajax currently, Derek will delve into where to get your biggest wins with these interactions and what the best practices are for enhancing accessibility with Ajax. It's going to be a great session from one of our best-rated presenters. You won't want to miss it.]

3 Responses to “Spoolcast: Ajax Aids Accessibility?”

  1. Andrew Says:

    This podcast wasn’t really about Ajax aiding accessibility, it was really more of an overview of Ajax as a design solution, with a few mentions of accessibility thrown in. I think you guys actually ignored some of the profoundly difficult issues around Ajax and accessibility (like: how do you tell a screenreader that some part of the page has just updated in response to a user’s action?).

    I suppose I’d have to pay for Derek’s time at the Web App Summit to get some real answers! :-)

  2. Derek Featherstone Says:

    Hi Andrew — I think you’ll find that the workshop at the Web App Summit is designed to also include a decent amount of content about Ajax as a design solution (and using it responsibly, identifying areas for its use etc). We’ll also cover strategies and techniques for notification of status changes, updates etc to assistive technologies. Necessarily, though, we will cover cases where the design solution is part of the accessibility and usability enhancement for people with disabilities. Yes, please do come to the full day workshop at the Summit :)

  3. Web App Expert Interviews - Part 1 » UIE Brain Sparks Says:

    [...] More detail on Derek’s interview. [...]

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