Uncanny A11y | Adrian Roselli

February 14, 2019; 5 Comments
A female-appearing android wearing white sits behind a white desk in a white room. Throughout the front of the desk is the phrase ‘Accessibility’, besides it doesn't match on the desk.

Unique photograph by Kevin Hale, text added. CC BY-SA

The pun within the title is that some individuals pronounce the a11y numeronym as “alley”. That makes the complete title sound like uncanny valley, the idea of human-looking things seeming virtually, but not quite, human and subsequently creepy.

In accessibility, the identical thing can happen. Builders can attempt so exhausting to ensure something is accessible that the complete experience turns into weird, confusing, or downright unusable.

There are usually two issues that contribute to this:

  1. considering that using code, all the code, is one of the simplest ways to make something accessible, and
  2. not testing with customers who’ve disabilities.

Unfortunate Examples

These examples mirror actual websites. I see them time and again. These examples additionally do not set off automated accessibility checkers as a result of they are technically doing nothing mistaken.

Simply tabindex All the things

Typically when builders first understand that display reader users do not use a mouse (principally), but as an alternative depend on a keyboard, they will get a bit overzealous. These developers build a table and understand they can’t tab to particular person cells on their pc. This is confirmed when testing utilizing a display reader. They rediscover this with lists, headings, regions, and so forth.

With out understanding that display readers have built-in controls to navigate tables (and lists and headings and regions), they consider that including tabindex to each component guarantees keyboard entry. I are available and I see the next:

Do Not Do This

WriterTitleYrEmma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte SouthworthThe Hidden Hand1888

This is compounded when utilizing constructive tabindex values. Many developers do not understand those gadgets will come first within the tab order, before some other native controls and controls with tabindex=”0″. This could simply make the visible format of the page fall out of sync with the page order. Some, nevertheless, do that intentionally.

Using aria-label As a Trace

The trick with aria-label is that it overrides the built-in accessible identify on an ordinary management. Typically developers will add aria-label considering it’s a hint for display reader users, not realizing that they have made a hyperlink ineffective or a button complicated.

Within the following code the hyperlink might be announced solely as Opens in a brand new window, the button as Cancel. The button could also be confusing for a consumer who needs to close an alert but thinks he may be canceling a whole process as an alternative.

Visit their site

Following is an example from GitHub. When a display reader consumer reads this content material, she is going to hear Only those with Link Study extra about permission ranges to this repository can merge pull requests.

Only these with write access to this repository can merge pull requests.

Some developers lean on aria-label to populate tool-tips, further complicated its true objective.

Unhelpful alt Text

Too typically each image on a website is preceded with “photo of” or “picture of”. Authors usually do not know that display readers pre-pend the announcement of alt text with “Graphic”, so these users will hear “Graphic photo of a silver car.”

Photo of a silver car.
Picture of a screen shot of the WIndows Mobile home screen.

Some authors consider that each nuance of an image have to be conveyed. They could write whole paragraphs to convey the contents of a photograph, when all that is wanted in context of the web page is something so simple as “A coffee mug”. Compounding this is when authors assume that alt text is re-usable all over the place without modifications, when typically the purpose of a picture will change based mostly on its use and context.

Come attempt our espresso!
A four ounce white porcelain mug with a square handle on a matching white saucer, both resting on a dark wood table polished to a gloss; in the mug is a mound of white foam with dark edges at the rim.

For photographs used as hyperlinks the alt textual content not only must be temporary, nevertheless it also needs to convey the purpose of the link. If I’m linking to a bag of coffee beans on an ecommerce website, “A coffee mug” gained’t do. If I’m linking to an organization by way of its emblem, then Go to our companion Enron emblem sounds weird.

Go to our companion Enron logo.

Some retailers have applauded the efforts of Fb to auto-generate various textual content for photographs in order that customers (or, more imporantly, manufacturers) would not have to. The problem is that AI can’t perceive the writer intent of a picture. Generated textual content additionally learn like a machine, eg: Graphic. Image might include: 2 individuals, individuals smiling, eyeglasses, outside and closeup.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, eyeglasses, outdoor and closeup.

Equally, various textual content for a picture in a single a part of a website may have to be totally different elsewhere on the same website.

Overriding Default Pronunciation

Typically a developer will begin testing with a display reader and determine that the best way a display reader pronounces phrases is fallacious. When this occurs, as an alternative of accepting that perhaps users don’t care, they could attempt to code around it (and the resultant display reader pauses for hidden content). Often it’s just a hidden span, however I’ve seen some strong options:

Please enter your


It isn’t restricted to pronunciation. Typically currencies, temperatures, time spans, dates, and so on can confuse a developer listening to it for the primary time. It may be notably taxing for users when builders make them much more verbose (and compound it by making every one a tab-stop).


I’ve additionally run into instances where builders really consider each overseas word used in a sentence, including widespread idioms, have to be wrapped in a container with a lang attribute. The frustration comes when the display reader pauses on the container, to not point out when the word sounds totally different than it has each different time for the consumer.

I would really like a cappuccino and a croissant, and hopefully it comes in beneath my per diem for my bills.

Punctuation can be mis-applied, notably in image various text or trace textual content, the place authors assume each fragment is a full sentence and warrants a interval.

That is the perfect Pie. I’ve ever had, and I do not like Peach. normally.

In that case, even first-time display reader testers will in all probability recognize the impression of the 2 durations.

ARIA Authoring Practices Information

The ARIA Authoring Practices Guide is taken into account a go-to useful resource for pre-built accessible patterns. Primarily, a free pattern library for the taking. It isn’t a regular regardless that some deal with it as one. It is just a observe — a bunch of fabric that could be useful to some authors.

These patterns attempt very onerous to imitate native working system patterns. Nevertheless with those efforts they typically do not determine current browser help or bugs, typically don’t disclose dependencies clearly, disagree with revealed W3C tutorials, and in many instances are usually not absolutely tested. There are open issues the place customers complain that the really helpful patterns are cumbersome or confusing. These problems end in giant platforms encoding confounding interface patterns.

As they are integrated into tasks and usefulness testing is performed, the gaps have gotten increasingly more obvious. Groups that didn’t expend the trouble to check them are dropping their trust in W3C recommendations in consequence. I say this with confidence because I am the man standing in entrance of rooms of 30 developers at a time on a twice-monthly foundation having these conversations.

I have written in more detail on a few these patterns:

What You Can Do

Sorry, your browser doesn’t help embedded videos, but don’t worry, you’ll be able to download it.

Caption: I’m sad. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

I have a couple strategies.

Check with Customers

The majority of those points are a perform of not figuring out how real users truly surf. Developers make assumptions about what can be simpler for a display reader consumer (or zoom consumer, or voice consumer, …) with out testing it with display reader users (or zoom customers, or voice customers, …).

I can’t train you tips on how to begin testing with customers when you by no means have before. I can, nevertheless, direct you to video and slides of my speak Inclusive Usability Testing that covers a few of the logistical points of incorporating users into your course of.

Perhaps Code Much less

Some developers don’t know what these parts, attributes, or features actually do, in order that they find yourself preserving defaults or adding arbitrary values. Once more, with out testing with customers or assistive know-how they have little approach of understanding what a multitude they have created.

If builders worked to comply with the three, no, five Rules of ARIA, a lot of this may remedy itself:

  1. If you should use a native HTML factor or attribute with the semantics and conduct you require already inbuilt, as an alternative of re-purposing an element and including an ARIA position, state or property to make it accessible, then achieve this (rule 1 reference).
  2. Don’t change native semantics, until you really should (rule 2 reference).
  3. All interactive ARIA controls have to be usable with the keyboard. For those who create a widget that a consumer can click or faucet or drag or drop or slide or scroll, a consumer should also have the ability to navigate to the widget and perform an equivalent action using the keyboard (rule three reference).
  4. Don’t use position=”presentation” or aria-hidden=”true” on a focusable aspect (rule four reference).
  5. All interactive parts should have an accessible identify (rule 5 reference).


I will doubtless add extra curious patterns as I discover them. If you wish to remark with some you’ve got seen, word that I’m targeted on technically valid code that’s unusable and has gotten that means because of someone making an attempt to make it more usable or accessible.


accessibility, css, html, JavaScript, usability, UX

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