In February 2008, I was fortunate enough to attend Baa Camp. The gathering was something that is hard to describe, and this is not the goal of this post :) During Baa Camp, I led a discussion arround usability, accessibility, and possible conflicts between the two. Most often people think that if a system is designed to be usable, it’ll automatically be accessible. And often, increased usability does increase accessibility. But sometimes, techniques used to increase usability decrease accessibility. A prime example is the use of AJAX "tabs".
We’ve all seen these tabs. They’re great (for sighted users). They allow much content to be on a page, but hidden until the user clicks on a particular tab, at which point the content assigned to that tab gets displayed. Using such a technique, we can present blocks of content to the user, without cluttering the page too much. Good stuff.
This is a clear example of a usability feature getting in the way of accessibility. So, what’s the answer then? In this case, I’m not sure. There’s always an answer, a trick, a way to make it work.
But the lesson here is more about planning feature implementation, thinking about the consequences of each bell or whistle we put on a site. And if you plan for this from the beginning, you’ll avoid heartaches and costs later on during development!