Improve your WordPress site by forcing plugins to put JS at the bottom of the page

WordPress makes it easy to add features by installing plugins. While most of these are well designed, they often use WordPress defaults that are not the greatest for accessibility or performance. One of the key elements of making your site load faster is to put the JavaScript at the bottom of the page, just before closing the body tag.
Continue Reading Improve your WordPress site by forcing plugins to put JS at the bottom of the page

Storyboard your DHTML interactions

Bill Scott - AJAX GodBill Scott gave an interesting lecture today at Yahoo! about AJAX design patterns. He explained how good AJAX designs keep the user’s attention on the page, remove roadblocks, and increase stickiness to a site.

Patterns of successful AJAX behaviors are beginning to appear (Netflix, 37Signals, Yahoo!). There are subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, changes that can occur to let a user know that an action has happened.

storyboard for AJAX interactionsDownload the drag and drop storyboard design package

For instance, he pointed out an interaction on the recently departed Yahoo! Photos site. A user could select multiple photos and then drag them to special collection folders. The page generated several panels to let the user know that the move would go to the preferred folder (hit yes), wait for the action to finish, and then a final congratulations panel (hit yes). These panels and the two required clicks could have been avoided if the folder changed when the photos were dropped into it. This could be a simple glow and maybe the number of photos in the folder is increased.

Plan your entire sequence in advance

Eric Miraglia coined the phrase Interesting Moments to describe the multiple changes that occur during an AJAX/DHTML action.

In most cases, Drag and Drop requires that you write code to respond to the interesting moments in the interaction: when the drag event starts, when the dragged object enters another object, and so on.
Yahoo! UI Library: Drag & Drop – Interesting Moments

Your user will have a much more pleasant experience if these are considered in the beginning of production. The Yahoo User Interface library includes a storyboard template (.zip) for planning these interactions effectively. This story board concept also works well for forms (especially form validation actions) and Flash components.

Update

The YUI blog has posted a video of Bill’s lecture: YUI Theater — Bill Scott: “Designing the Rich Web Experience: Principals and Patterns for Rich Interaction Design on the Web”. This is a great opportunity to learn from one of the finest developers around.

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Make Flash accessible to screen readers in transparent window mode

The detour around flash for accessibility

Yahoo! Tech’s home page features a flash-based media space that highlights stories, comparisons, buying guides, blog posts, and more. Making this accessible required a bit of trial and error, but the solution was simple and can be used by sites everywhere.

Step 1. Inserting the flash object

The site uses the Unobtrusive Flash Object script by Bobby van der Sluis. This script checks to see if the user has JavaScript enabled and the correct version of Flash in their browser. If so, it inserts the code required to display the movie. If the user doesn’t have the requirements, a default set of information is presented.

This script cures the validation errors caused by the normal flash insertion code. Theoretically, it would also allow you to provide good, accessible content to those not using JavaScript and Flash enabled browsers, i.e. screen readers and search robots.

Window Mode Transparency conflict

However, we had an issue with the flash movie conflicting with a DHTML drop down menu. The flash movie wanted to have the highest z-index and thus sat on top of the menu. To cure this problem, we added the attribute wmode:transparent. This tells the flash movie: your window mode is transparent, you are not the boss, go sit in the back and let others take center stage.

This cured the overlapping issues but negated the accessibility features that we had hoped for. User testing with a screen reader was disheartening. Screen readers ignore flash movies with window mode transparent. They want to do what’s best for the user and ignore the little guy in the back corner.

We began searching for answers on the flash and accessibility forums and couldn’t find a way to get screen readers to read a flash movie with wmode:transparent. It simply isn’t possible at this time.

Step 2. Time for a detour

The U.F.O. enabled page features a div with default text. This is where we originally duplicated the content being fed via xml to the flash movie. Our hope was that the screen readers would ignore the flash and read the HTML content in this div. When this wasn’t possible, we literally thought outside the box.

The U.F.O. script uses visibility:hidden to hide the default box. We tried using text-indent and negative margins instead, but it still was not available to the screen reader.

The default div now has your standard non-optimized warning text: “For the best experience, please enable JavasScript and download the latest version of Flash….

screen with css disabled - both versions viewable
We then created a new div (id=”alternatecontent”) that features the content from the flash movie. It is pushed off screen by using absolute positioning. This hides the duplicated content from the visual design while providing the content to those without the visual abilities.

We’re satisfying two audiences with just a little extra code. Add the extra div for your screen reader audience (…and search engines!) when using wmode:transparent in your Flash movie. You’ll create valid, visually dynamic, and accessible pages.

Listen to the Yahoo! Tech media space as read by a screen reader (.mp3)