[thelist] Site Check (Clattco)

Ian Anderson ian at zstudio.co.uk
Thu Dec 22 17:17:24 CST 2005

Jay Gilmore wrote:

> Not sure what you mean here. The title element is php driven and is set 
> at the page top to reflect the content. The title in the title bar shows 
> as it should. Please clarify or explain further. :)

My bad, sorry. I didn't realise that the unique part of the page title 
occurred before the much longer company name. I am so used to the unique 
part of the title following the static part.

I have a feeling that given the relative wordcount, the company name is 
excessively dominant in the title compared to the important unique 
information, but that is just totally splitting hairs. Apologies for the 

> Are you just suggesting that I place a "skip to 
> content" at the top or are you suggesting that I place the sideBar below 
> the content in the code? My fear -- and this will show that I am still 
> learning -- is that by placing the SideBar (secondary content) after the 
> content text it will not position correct as floated. 

Not a skip link. I was indeed suggesting that you change the order of 
the content as presented. The aim is to put the primary content at the 
very top of the page or as close to it as possible. I am not necessarily 
suggesting that you start dorking around with this site, as it is pretty 
well done and dusted; it's just an observation.

You plainly took some care to remove some of the material that stands 
between the screen reader user and the content; it's ironic that owing 
to the layout mechanism, the secondary content is now in the way instead.

You might find that floating the main content left and the sidebar right 
would achieve broadly the same design while fixing the content order 
problem... This is the approach taken in www.cloisters.com, a site I 
collaborated on that was intended to be rather accessible. In the 
process I think I hit every single float-related bug that exists in IE, 
but that's the fun of the fair for you.

> Um..err what is MSAA is there a reference on how to handle such issues? 
> Maybe outside of the scope of this project but I sure want to learn more

Sorry for the accessibility jargon. MSAA = the Microsoft Active 
Accessibility Layer. This is the technology that screen readers and 
other assistive technologies interact with. When a page is loaded in IE, 
it sends a data tree consisting of HTML (including JavaScript generated 
content) to MSAA which holds this tree in a data buffer. The screen 
readers such as JAWS, Window-Eyes and HAL then navigate the MSAA data 
tree through keyboard navigation commands issued by the user. One of the 
nastiest things that happen to screen reader users is when the buffered 
data tree is out of sync with what is going on in IE. Many users go into 
emergency mode when they suspect this is happening, when sometimes it's 
actually repeated content making it look like a buffering issue.

For example, on one site I consulted on the developer had left the 
search form and search instructions at the top of the subsequent results 
page. In user testing, the screen reader users went into an infinite 
loop submitting the form over and over, because they didn't realise that 
the search results were indeed appearing, but below the search form and 
other repeated content that they had just seen.

You cannot control the MSAA data tree. What you can do is give the user 
very clear feedback that the page they are on is the one they expected. 
Breadcrumb trails help here, as do clear page titles and headings, as 
does not repeating the same content near the top of the page.

> How are you planning to handle the heading levels? Should I be using 
> classed divs for content that is not a true section heading? If so, what 
> happens when CSS is off? Do I end up with a bunch of plain text with no 
> indication of the importance of said text. I am referring to such thins 
> as company name, taglines, slogans, 

This is the downside. It feels very tacky to have this raw text floating 
around the place - wherever it occurs - and giving it these heading tags 
gives you as a page author a comforting sense of order. It's great for 
search engine mojo, but its absolutely no flippin' use to the screen 
reader users, and may occasionally be actively harmful.

> [main nav font] Open to suggestions here. I  didn't want to use Georgia in the menubar 
> as it wouldn't differentiate from the headings.

Well, all I was thinking was play with the font-weight and size a little 
to see if there is a more sympathetic rendering for those elements.

Arial is a weird font - it can look gorgeous at a few sizes, and 
completely revolting at others. The size the main nav links rendered for 
me happens to be well towards the uninspiring end of the spectrum. As I 
said, the rest of the typography as displayed on my screen was quite 
nice, and those links stood out rather like the poor relations at the 

hope this helps



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