RE: [w3c-wai-ig] side menu and screen readers

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> A regular screen reader user of our web site has said to us that
> the use of
> a side bar navigation system on sites is a pet hate for him.  His
> problem is
> that his reader has to plough through all the side bar information
> before getting to the content on the page.
> We are in the process of re-developing our site and I'd be very
> interested in comments on this issue.

There are a few things you can do to deal with this.

One is to have a table structure as such (I apologise for the ASCII
art, but can't think of a better way to describe this:

+----+Main   |
|    |Content|
|Menu|       |

That is you have a small blank cell, then a cell to the right with
rowspan=2, then a cell on the next row with the menu. The effect of
this is that you have a left-aligned menu, but it appears later in
the source code, and therefore later to many screen readers.
On the plus side it also makes the main content earlier in the page,
and therefore gets a higher relevancy rating in many search engines.
However a disadvantage is that because it's all one table it will
render slower on most graphical browsers than if you had a floating
left table for the menu.

Another strategy is to have a right-hand side menu, and then use CSS
to position it to the left. If you are careful with the table layout
then non-css graphical browsers will have a workable menu, but on the
right hand side.

Yet another strategy is to simply have the menu on the right hand
side. There are a lot of advantages to this; the main content
downloads first, the natural (in Latin languages) reading order
matches the most like use-scenario (that is someone will want to read
the content and then select from the menu, which will match the
natural reading order of Latin languages, in going left to right),
and finally the menu items are those items most likely to be selected
by a mouse, while the main content links are those items most likely
to be selected from the keyboard - having a right hand menu means
that the main content will automatically be earlier in the tab order,
and the menu will be near to the scroll bar on left-to-right systems,
which is an ergonomic advantage. The down side is that people are
used to left-hand menus, so you may have a usability-from-convention

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Received on Friday, 2 March 2001 06:00:49 UTC