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Web 2.0 is all about connecting people. Social websites where people can share ideas, collaborate or just chat. Everybody can access these sites. Or can they?

Most Web 2.0 sites uses AJAX to provide a more interactive and responsive experience to the user. The problem is that a large proportion of these sites do not take into consideration the needs of people with disabilities or people on slow access links for example using PDAs over GRPS or even WAP links.

Below are some ideas on how to enhance your Web 2.0 site to be accessible to everybody, including those among us who may have visual, hearing, mobility or cognitive impairments.

What are screen readers?

Screen readers are a technology used by blind people or people with severe visual impairments. A screen reader takes the textual content on a website and converts it into spoken words using a speech synthesiser. To assist the user to find their way around the screen reader has additional navigation keys and also speaks out some additional words to provide context for the content from a website.

AJAX and screen readers

The main problem when using a screen reader is that the user cannot “see” when a section of the page is updated or a new section appears. Unless the user expects there to be an update or new section, they may not even know that it happened.

Say for example that a user clicked on a link in the page that kicked off an AJAX transaction. The screen reader will just wait for the user to take the next action. When the new content arrives there is no signal from the screen reader to the user that it is ready.

The key is to “tell” the user that there was an update or that new content is ready. If the new content replaced the content where the user clicked on the original link then it is best to provide an auditory signal once the update is complete. This may be a chime or even a voice indicator.

If the updated content is a single other location on the page it is better to redirect the user to the updated/new section using an anchor. This will reposition the screen reader and it will start reading from the new section.

Finally if you have a number of areas updated, provide the user with a voice message that multiple areas of the page had been updated. That way the user can navigate back to the beginning of the page and scan it again.

What do you mean there is no JavaScript?

Although JavaScript is available on most internet browsers today, there are still instances where JavaScript is not available or is specifically disabled by the user.

  • Not so long ago there was a major security hole in the world’s favourite browser and the temporary workaround was to disabled JavaScript.
  • Users who suffer from photosensitive seizures may disable JavaScript to prevent animation sequences on websites that may trigger their seizures.
  • Some mobile devices still do not support JavaScript. Others may support JavaScript but does not support AJAX calls yet.

If you want to cater for these cases you have to ensure that your site will still work, even if there is no JavaScript available. You may have to provide alternative ways to do certain things on your site that are currently reliant on JavaScript.


Web 2.0 is all about connecting people. We can create rich, interactive sites that are exciting and easy to use without having to exclude a significant portion of the population.


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