How accessible are Britain's online newspapers? Part 5 - The Independent
Last week I started a series of posts testing British newspaper websites against various accessibility standards and issues. So far I've looked at The Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and The Guardian. Today it is the turn of The Independent.
The Independent appears to be almost almost alone amongst the major newspapers in the UK in having a stylesheet 'widget' on the page to allow users to adjust the size of the text that they are viewing without relying on their browser's controls.
This would almost certainly have won The Independent bonus points in the league table of accessible newspaper websites I'll be publishing next week, except for one small detail.
It doesn't work.
Well, OK, to be fair, it does alter the page layout and font slightly, but it seems to do more to increase the line height attribute of the fonts, rather than their actual size, as this comparison illustration shows. It isn't at all clear to me how the 'largest' text on the bottom of this set of three is meant to be significantly easier to read than the 'normal' sized text at the top.
What makes this even worse is that whilst providing the switching gizmo to alter text size, they have also disabled Internet Explorer 6's in-built ability to do so, so users cannot get a big text size differential using the 'widget', nor can they use their own browser settings to override the default.
Firefox users are able to re-size the text using the browser's controls, however.
Alternative image text
Providing alternative image text on the web is one of the simplest and most fundamental nods to accessibility it is possible to make. Incredibly, The Independent's homepage does not appear to have alt text for all images.
The replica of the printed front page, and the promotional images accompanying the list of features on the right-hand side of The Indy's homepage all appear resolutely blank in a browser if image display is switched off.
One thing that didn't work was the functionality to read similar articles that appears on some areas of the site. This uses a widget from Proximic which produces some related links on both The Independent site and the wider web.
Browsing using FANGS
The Independent's homepage performed very well on this test. Although the code does not include Accesskeys, or any 'skip to content' links, it only takes a screen reader 103 words to get to the main headline of the page. This was the best performance of any newspaper I tested.
The actual story page was a complete contrast, however. Again there were no links to skip over the navigation, and the screen reader was confronted with 631 words to read out before it reached the main story headline. As a long block of useless text in the way of content, this was only narrowly beaten by the Daily Mail which performed slightly worse.