[Accessibility] Thoughts on how to mark objects that change when they don't have focus (but a user should know about them)

Peter Korn peter.korn at oracle.com
Thu Jul 8 14:55:04 PDT 2010


I'm involved in some discussions around how to properly make accessible 
messages that are (a) important for the user to read, but (b) don't 
appear in their own dialog box and don't have focus when they appear.  
One example might be a login dialog where the user fails to enter a 
properly paired username/password, and so an error string appears 
telling them of the failure (but otherwise the dialog box doesn't 
re-draw).  Another is form field validation, where one (or more) error 
messages are drawn onto the window telling the user that one (or more) 
text fields don't contain information that they should.  Wizards are 
also a canonical example of this problem: items in the dialog box change 
as you go through the wizard steps, but the dialog box itself is never 
town down and re-rendered.

Screen readers commonly attack this problem by way of scripting.  But 
that's not a very scalable solution - we ought to have some default 
behavior that is better than a user simply guessing that something went 
wrong due to silence and using flat review to find it for an app that 
wasn't scripted.

What I believe is needed by this class of situation is:

    * metadata on the UI component with the new/changed text/content
      (so an assistive technology can easily recognize that events from
      this non-focused object should perhaps be treated differently)
    * potentially a relation between the unfocused changed object and
      what it might be referencing
      (e.g. the text field(s) that need to be corrected) - this won't
      always been appropriate to all situations
    * potentially the importance
      (in part mirroring ARIA's politeness) - again this may not always
      make sense

To that end, I suggest the following:

    * Define a new ATK Attribute
      [key,value] pair (or IAccessible2 attributes
      string) indicating that an object is something that presents
      important information when not focused
    * Where appropriate (e.g. when static text is noting an error in one
      or more edit text fields in a form), use a relation (e.g.
      ATK_RELATION_DESCRIPTION_FOR, or perhaps introduce a new one if
      really needed)
    * Both for mapping from ARIA politeness levels and also in general,
      consider making the value of the [name,value] be a politeness
      level for this message (e.g. "rude", "assertive", "polite"), as
      well as going beyond ARIA levels (e.g. "error", "warning").

Thoughts?  Brickbats?  Pointers to some (other, perhaps better) solution 
to this issue?



Oracle <http://www.oracle.com>
Peter Korn | Accessibility Principal
Phone: +1 650 5069522 <tel:+1%20650%205069522>
500 Oracle Parkway | Redwood City, CA 94065
Green Oracle <http://www.oracle.com/commitment> Oracle is committed to 
developing practices and products that help protect the environment
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