Accessibility

The title attribute is an accessibility fallback

[S]upport aside, it’s still not a particularly good choice as a consistent means to convey accessible information. Because while the title does provide an accessible name to elements in the absence of other sources, it is considered a fallback. Outside of some notable exceptions (more on this later), other mechanisms will always be preferred.

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While the title attribute can be used on any HTML element, it’s essentially wasted on most inline, text level elements. As these elements aren’t typically included in the accessibility tree, there’s no reason for a screen reader to look for a title on these elements to announce.

Block-level wrapping elements can get some usage out of the title attribute. JAWS, NVDA and VoiceOver will all announce a title on elements like landmarks (header, footer, main, etc.) but support may vary on other elements depending on your browser pairing. For example, JAWS will not announce a title on a div without additional role updates.

Other wrapping elements, like lists and paragraphs, are announced in JAWS and VoiceOver, but NVDA ignores the attribute on these elements. But honestly, using title tooltips on these elements is highly suspect. Why would you want to have a tooltip constantly appearing over a large chunk of content? Unless you are purposefully trying to hide content, which isn’t helpful, there’s little need for using the title in this manner.

Images, form fields, and anchor links are the elements one is most likely to associate with the title attribute. In regards to screen readers, the title attribute essentially gets a “B” grade when reviewing publicly available screen reader support charts from powermapper.com.

titles are meant to serve as descriptive text. And largely only in situations where there is no accessible name for an image, form field, or anchor element, the title will be promoted to the accessible name.

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An Inclusive Content Slider (Carousel)

Carousels (or ‘content sliders’) are like men. They are not literally all bad — some are even helpful and considerate. But I don’t trust anyone unwilling to acknowledge a glaring pattern of awfulness. Also like men, I appreciate that many of you would rather just avoid dealing with carousels, but often don’t have the choice. Hence this article.

Carousels don’t have to be bad, but we have a culture of making them bad. It is usually the features of carousels, rather than the underlying concept that is at fault. As with many things inclusive, the right solution is often not what you do but what you don’t do in the composition of the component.

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  • Use list markup to group the slides together. Then screen reader users in ‘browse’ mode can use list navigation shortcuts to traverse them.
  • Provide a reasonable experience in HTML with CSS, then feature detect when enhancing with JavaScript.
  • Don’t preload content users are not likely to see. Defer until they perform an action to see it.
  • Provide generous touch targets for touch users on mobile / small screens.
  • If in doubt of a control’s (or widget’s) affordance, spell it out with instructions
  • If you are a man and got past the first paragraph without being personally offended: Congratulations! You do not see men and women as competing teams.

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How to Disable Links

The topic of disabling links popped up at my work the other day. Somehow, a “disabled” anchor style was added to our typography styles last year when I wasn’t looking. There is a problem though: there is no real way to disable an <a> link (with a valid href attribute) in HTML. Not to mention, why would you even want to? Links are the basis of the web.

At a certain point, it looked like my co-workers were not going to accept this fact, so I started thinking of how this could be accomplished. Knowing that it would take a lot, I wanted to prove that it was not worth the effort and code to support such an unconventional interaction, but I feared that by showing it could be done they would ignore all my warnings and just use my example as proof that it was OK. This hasn’t quite shaken out for me yet, but I figured we could go through my research.

First, things first:

Just don’t do it.

A disabled link is not a link, it’s just text. You need to rethink your design if it calls for disabling a link.

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Surefire way: remove the href

If you have decided that you are going to ignore my warning and proceed with disabling a link, then removing the href attribute is the best way I know how.

Straight from the official Hyperlink spec:

The href attribute on a and area elements is not required; when those elements do not have href attributes they do not create hyperlinks.

An easier to understand definition from MDN:

This attribute may be omitted (as of HTML5) to create a placeholder link. A placeholder link resembles a traditional hyperlink, but does not lead anywhere.

See the source link on more complex stuff involving disabling click/tap/keyboard interactions via JavaScript.

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But sometimes links look like buttons (and buttons look like links)

In Resilient Web Design Jeremy Keith discusses the idea of material honesty. He says that “one material should not be used as a substitute for another, otherwise the end result is deceptive”.

Making a link look like a button is materially dishonest. It tells users that links and buttons are the same when they’re not.

In Buttons In Design Systems Nathan Curtis says that we should distinguish links from buttons because “button behaviours bring a whole host of distinct considerations from your simple anchor tag”.

For example, we can open a link in a new tab, copy the address or bookmark it for later. All of which we can’t do with buttons.

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Inclusive Tooltips & Toggletips

Most of the time, tooltips shouldn’t be needed if you provide clear textual labeling and familiar iconography. Most of the time toggletips are a complex way of providing information that could just be part of the document’s prose content. But I see each of these components all the time in auditing websites, so I wanted to provide some guidance on how to make the most of them.

Checklist

  • If you have space, don’t use tooltips or toggletips. Just provide clear labels and sufficient body text.
  • If it’s a tooltip you are looking to use, decide whether the tip’s content should be provided as the label or description and choose ARIA properties accordingly.
  • Don’t rely on title attributes. They are not keyboard accessible and are not supported in many screen reader setups.
  • Don’t describe toggletips with aria-describedby. It makes the subject button non-functional to screen reader users.
  • Don’t put interactive content such as close and confirm buttons or links in tooltips or toggletips. This is the job of more complex menu and dialog components.

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Developer-facing implementation errors

This is a great way to guide other developers who may use your code or components to use the correct elements for accessibility and other reasons:

In our script, we can detect the element nodeName and return an error message if it is not BUTTON. We use return to stop the remainder of the IIFE (Immediately Invoked Function Expression) from executing.

Javascript

if (toggletip.nodeName !== 'BUTTON') {  
  console.error('Toggletip buttons need to be <button> elements.')
  return;
}
A screenshot of a browser's developer console with the error message 'Toggletip buttons need to be button elements.' shown.

CSS tests and error messages

In Inclusive Design Patterns I write about creating deliberate visual regressions to highlight code errors, and providing error messages in the developer tools CSS inspector.

The error we caught with JavaScript earlier can be caught using the CSS selector [data-tooltip]:not(button). We can highlight the erroneous element with a red outline, and provide an error message using the made-up ERROR property:

CSS

[data-tooltip]:not(button) {
  outline: red solid 0.5em;
  ERROR: Toggletip buttons need to be <button> elements.
}

Despite being an invalid property, the ERROR will appear in dev tools when the element is inspected.

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Windows High Contrast Mode

Windows users are offered a number of high contrast themes at the operating system level — some light-on-dark like our inverted theme. In addition to supplying our theme switcher feature, it’s important to make sure WHCM is supported as well as possible. Here are some tips:

  • Do not use background images as content. Not only will this invert the images in our inverted dark theme, but they’ll be eliminated entirely in most Windows high contrast themes. Provide salient, non-decorative images in <img/> tags with descriptive alt text values
  • For inline SVG icons, use the currentColor value for fill and stroke. This way, the icon color will change along with the surrounding text color when the high contrast theme is activated.
  • If you need to detect WHCM to make special amendments, you can use the following media query:

CSS

@media (-ms-high-contrast: active) { 
  /* WHCM-specific code here */
}

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