Source Order, Skip links and Structural labels
Webusability has published the results of their research on Source Order, Skip links and Structural labels.
Our results suggest that:
- Most screen reader users expect at least the main site navigation to be presented before the informational content of the page.
- The source order of a web page is likely to be of little relevance to the majority of screen reader users.
- About half of the screen reader users we either tested or surveyed found the use of skip links on the test sites helpful.
- All the participants indicated the inclusion of structural labels identifying the different levels of navigation on a web page was useful.
Structural labels are something that I haven't seen discussed much in the way of accessibility but it makes sense. A structural label is a header like "Site Navigation" that helps identify the content that occurs right after that header. We tend to do this anyways but some headers, like the Site Navigation example I used, might not be necessary for sighted users. In which case, you can rely on CSS to hide those.
Source order is another interesting topic that could see some debate. While some say that putting content before navigation results in a more usable site for users of screen reader software, the results of this research seems to indicate that users are divided on whether it is actually easier. All respondants, however, indicated that they would expect to see the navigation before the content. On the flip side is search engine optimization where engines like Google apparently give preference to keywords found higher in the document. As a result, placing content first would give you better search rankings.
This kind of research is fantastic. It's easy to develop based on assumptions but it's even easier when you know it's actually making a difference.