Leave Accessibility to the Experts Please

There’s a fine line between inducing conversation and creating havoc. In the field of web accessibility (which is very complex and fragile already), it seems that this line has been crossed at least a couple times lately.

Recently, renowned CSS expert Chris Coyier (@chriscoyier) wrote the blog Navigation in Lists: To Be or Not To Be. The blog re-evaluates, again, whether lists (UL element) should still be used for navigation menus or just remove them and use only the remaining anchor text. Much unnecessary debate was generated from this. Most of it regarding use with screen readers, an area in which the author is not an expert.

The straight answer? Continue to use lists.

Just because one screen reader user gives an opinion, doesn’t mean that’s the way to go. Lists are beneficial in many ways: they’re semantic; they provide info to users of assistive technology; they provide hooks for developers to implement design and interaction; and it’s a convention.

A day after the Coyier blog, web standards guru Jeffrey Zeldman (@zeldman) on A List Apart published the blog titled on alt text about the use of the alt attribute and its impact on screen reader users. Topics in the comments include its use in HTML5, confusion with the title attribute, and using a space or not when empty value. This sparked a lengthy debate in the comments and on Twitter.

The straight answer? Use alt text; if an image is decoration then implement with CSS; if a decorative image is still inline or has no added value, use alt="", with no space. (Hint: repetitive content has no value.) If an image is linked, it must have alt text conveying the meaning of the link (and not necessarily the image itself).

Web celebs have created confusion when the answer was already agreed upon by most web accessibility professionals. So, I won’t write about NodeJS and Spring if you other experts stick with your area of expertise. Many times, we should leave accessibility to the experts. Agreed?

PS: I am indeed a fan of Coyier’s work and I greatly respect the invaluable foundation that Zeldman helped build for web standards.

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