Dynamic fields and Section 508 compliance
August 23, 2007 9:12 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to use dynamic fields in web pages and stay Section 508 compliant?

I was wondering if having fields/panels show/hide depending on a users actions is verboten. Section 508 seems intentionally vague and yet I need to ensure compliance.

Additionally, does anyone have any experience with screen readers and how they would handle this behavior?

I worry that a solution of just displaying everything at once would be too cumbersome for the user and maintaining an accessible version too unwieldy to maintain.
posted by gerg to Computers & Internet (2 answers total)
I believe one of the tenets of 508 is that the experience has to be equal for all users, so if the dynamic fields only show for any and all users based on their previous choice, then you've met the letter of the law (at least as I understood it two years ago). If the whole page will need to redraw however, to show/hide the items in question, you might be whipping a screen reader back to the start of the page each time.

Can you give more description about what you're trying to do--for instance, are you talking about fields where if you choose "Canada" then the next dropdown will show provinces, but if you choose "US" then the dropdown will populate with states? Or is it more like a closed table that you have to "open" to see all the detail? (For the latter you could have text associated with the widget to alert the user about what it will do and describe what it will show).

I believe IBM's Home Page Reader is free for 30 days and Bobby is a free reader that you can use to test some of your screens for actual behavior.
posted by cocoagirl at 9:23 AM on August 23, 2007

If you want to test it out, you can download a demo of Jaws, the most popular screen reader, from www.freedomscientific.com. Download the version on the front page, it will run for 40 minutes before you have to reboot.

Section 508 criteria for screen readers is very vague and at this point somewhat out-dated. I do this kind of testing for a living and have reached the conclusion that if the page is usable and accessible, I consider it compliant. But sometimes I have to argue that point.

You might check out the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative standards. They are a little more specific about web access and give some solid examples.

Also look at Joe Clark's web accessibility book at http://joeclark.org/.

If you'd like me to take a look at what you've done and give you some short feedback, shoot me an email. Email's in my profile.
posted by rsclark at 5:29 PM on August 23, 2007

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