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Re: source order, skip links and structural labels

From: Web Usability Roger Hudson <rhudson@usability.com.au>
Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2006 14:35:54 +1100
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <GGEEINFOLDEIIBPBECEMGEEOCGAA.rhudson@usability.com.au>

Terrence Wood wrote:
>Roger, thank you for sharing your results with us. Interesting reading to
>be sure, however, your conclusions regarding source order are not
>supported by your findings.

Article at http://www.usability.com.au/resources/source-order.cfm

Many thanks Terrence for reading and responding to our article.

I would like to comment on a few of your concerns regarding the source order
section of the article.

Like you, we are aware that the user expectations relating to source order
reflect the current state of the web, but we were particularly interested in
the implications of these expectations for screen reader users with
different levels of skill. This is canvassed in the discussion section of
the article:

Start quote -
"Given that the vast majority of web pages present the informational content
of the page after the navigation, it is not surprising that this was the
expectation of the 23 participants (18 screen reader and 5 text browser
users) who completed the (Stage 1) Source order expectations survey.

Since screen reader users appear to expect the navigation to be presented
before the content of the web page, how important is this expectation?

For people who are able to perceive the graphical presentation of a web
page, the position (or order) of material on the screen is an important
usability consideration. However, for three of the four screen reader users
we observed, the order the material in the test sites was presented by the
screen reader did not seem to be important. The participant with the least
screen reader experience, whose loss of vision was relatively recent, did
appear to rely more on her preconceived notions of how a site should look,
including the presentation of navigation before content. She had
considerable difficulties using the 'Frogs' test sites, where the content is
presented before the navigation."
- end quote.

With regard to Terrence's comment:
>"It would appear that you didn't actually ask your participants which
method they preferred. You asked them which site they found easiest to use.
However, using your logic (that ease of use equals preference), your results
in fact show that 6 out of 8 participants had no preference or preferred
content before navigation. There is little evidence (2 of 8) that they
prefer navigation before content, despite this being the predominant design
pattern. Presumably these users in the latter group are
your novice users."

When preparing the questions we were keen to reduce the risk of any biases
the participants might have in regard to the actual content of the sites.
That is, we were concerned that if we asked which site someone preferred, a
person with a passionate interest in birds or a hatred of frogs, for
example, might be more predisposed to preferring the site about birds.
Therefore, we decided to ask which site they found the easiest to use on the
basis that when all things are equal, most web users prefer a site to be
easy rather than hard to use. (I fully realise that this is not always the
case, particularly with gaming and other experientially focused sites.) When
it comes to the results, I believe this quote from the article fairly
represents our findings in this regard.

Start quote -
"The four screen reader users who used the test sites (Stage 2) and the
eight users who responded to the Preferences survey (Stage 3) were asked to
nominate which site they found the easiest to use:

    * Four nominated the 'Birds' site which had the navigation before the
content.
    * Four nominated the 'Frogs' site which had the content before the
navigation.
    * Four said they were both equally easy to use.

These results do not indicate any clear preferences relating to the order of
navigation and content by the participants in this project. And, we did not
find much evidence to support the notion that, 'blind web users want to have
page content presented first'!

Following our research, we feel that the order of the material on a web page
is likely to be of little importance to most screen reader users. However,
for the inexperienced screen reader user, presenting the informational
content before the navigation is more likely to be a source of confusion
rather than a benefit."
- end quote.

I agree with Terrence that, "these novice users would also struggle on sites
that present a hundred or so links up
front with no obvious way to bypass them." Furthermore, many other AT users
struggle with sites that have a hundred or so links up front. No doubt this
contributed to about 50% of the participants saying the found the inclusion
of skip links useful. We believe skip links, while not a perfect solution,
do offer an effective way of by passing navigation elements for screen
reader users who are not able to do so with thier technology.

With regard to Terrence's comment:
>"It (the article) makes no comment on the usability and accessibility of
current web site design practice, it merely comments on how it is. If we
used this kind of argument for every aspect of web design we would make no
progress towards improving accessibility at all."

I believe we are commenting fundamentally on the usability and accessibility
of sites. In essence, we are saying you need to look at how screen reader
users actually use site when determining if something is going to be a
benefit to them. And, IMHO our comments relating to the use of Structural
Labels do suggest a way of improving accessibility.

Finally, I agree with Terrence's comment, "clearly needs a lot more testing,
there may be any number of other factors than merely source order that
influenced these participants performance in the test". And, hope that
someone takes up the challenge, undertakes more research into these issues
with a larger number of participants and then shares their results.

Regards
Roger
Received on Friday, 20 January 2006 03:36:12 GMT

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