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ARIA Introduction: The Importance Of Explaining ARIA Directly To Users

From: Samuel Proulx <samuel@interfree.ca>
Date: Sat, 7 Mar 2009 11:46:59 -0500
Message-ID: <1d62c6870903070846p18ba4d8bu480d8bb7aeefbe1b@mail.gmail.com>
To: wai-eo-editors@w3.org
This message is all prompted by Google's recent addition of ARIA technology
to Google news, that I blogged about at:
http://interfree.ca/samuelp/2009/03/05/what-is-google-news-aria/

My post generated a lot of (unexpected, to me) discussion in the web
accessibility community.  I feel that I'm much too hard on ARIA in my
original posting, because user-facing information about what ARIA does is
thin and scattered.  I've been asked how information about ARIA can be
better communicated.  Honestly, I don't feel that the problem, in this case,
lies with the developer community.  As I said in a comment on my blog entry,
the fault is Google's.  Google created a link on Google News and Google
Reader to websites enhanced with ARIA.  However, it failed to explain what
ARIA can do for the user, what software the user must have to take advantage
of ARIA, or give any introduction of what changes ARIA brought to Google
News.  Most users, who have older and out-dated software, will find that the
ARIA link does nothing, and leave baffled.  Those of us who try and
investigate will find information about ARIA directed at developers, that
provides little to no information about what ARIA does for us, and how to
make it work.  When, in my case, I finally found out what ARIA enhanced
Google News did, I assumed that was the limit of the technology, and left
unimpressed.  I think that, at this point, the best thing the WAI can do is
stress the importance to developers using ARIA of ensuring that the user has
software that can support ARIA, and explaining how exactly the ARIA page is
different from the non-ARIA page.  Perhaps some of this effort should also
fall on the shoulders of screen reader programmers; most screen readers have
announced to developers that they support ARIA, but they haven't explained
this feature to their users.  Perhaps the WAI could create some sort of
user-facing documentation for ARIA that developers could link to whenever
they create an ARIA enhanced page; but I'm not really sure that that's the
job of a standards body.  As things stand right now, blind users are
starting to see ARIA links popping up on accessible websites, trying to find
out what ARIA means for them, and coming up confused or empty handed.

My original comment follows:
@Shawn Henry: This [[http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/aria.php] seems clear
enough, but itís a document for web developers. To me, the user, this is all
just theory. What should probably exist somewhere (and maybe does? Google
doesnít index
everything.) is a page describing websites using the technology, discussing
what differences it makes for users (like interaction with google chat, the
pop-up menus in gmail, etc),
and what screen reading and browser combos support this technology (the only
one Iíve got working
thus far is firefox 3+NVDA; Freedom Scientific says they support it, but
something must be broken
on all three of my windows boxes because I just canít make it work). The
people who should probably
write this kind of user document, in fact, are Google. Theyíve suddenly
presented all screen-reader
users of Google News and Google Reader with a mystery link about ďARIA,Ē (a
link that our sighted
counterparts apparently canít even see, so we get strange looks when we ask
about it) and failed
completely to explain anything at all. When people search for information
about ARIA on google
itself, it seems they wind up at either web developer resources, year old
discussions of google
reader, or my blog, depending on what keywords they use. IMHO, the way to do
this would be to
present a kind of ďARIA information pageĒ the first time the user clicks the
ARIA enhanced link,
explaining what software they need to be using, and what extra functionality
ARIA ads to the page.
Pressing questionmark for help, while an interesting interface enhancement,
is just so far removed
from anything I would ever think of doing on any normal page, that I wonít
try it unless prompted
with a ďpress questionmark for helpĒ message. Otherwise, Iíll go hunting for
a help link.
Because thatís what you do with web pages: you click links on them.
Received on Sunday, 8 March 2009 18:25:00 UTC

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