How accessible are Britain's online newspapers? Part 8 - The Times

 by Martin Belam, 15 November 2007

I've been looking at how accessible British newspaper websites are, testing the most popular online papers against a set of criteria. So far I've looked at the Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Guardian, Independent, The Sun and The Telegraph. Today, I'm looking at the accessibility of The Times website.

Text resize

The Times, along with The Mirror and The Guardian was one of only 3 out of the 8 newspapers I tested who allowed users to resize their text fully in Internet Explorer 6. Text also resized well in Firefox, although there were some minor display issues around the top promo area.

Text resize issues on The Times homepage

Alternative image text

The Times site seemed to have consistently good, if slightly over-descriptive, alternative image text in place. There was a tendency to put what seemed to be the whole of the stand-first or some ultra-descriptive text into the alt attribute on an image. This might be great for SEO, but could be a bit wearisome when listened to using screen-reading software.

Verbose alt text from The Times

JavaScript unavailable

I didn't find any significant problems with The Times site when browsing with JavaScript switched off. One symptom was that the 'Most Read / Commented / Third Thing' set of tabs were all fully exposed, rather than collapsed into a neat unit. However, although it slightly breaks the design of the page, it is always preferable for the content to be present and available, rather than obscured, because functionality that relies on JavaScript is missing.

Tabbed navigation unfolded without JavaScript

One other side-effect of having the JavaScript switched off in the browser was that the main advertising banner at the top of each page failed to materialise. I suspect it is loaded by some code near the foot of the page and floated up to the top. Without JavaScript, this didn't seem to take place. I wonder if they take that into account if charging advertisers on a per impression basis?

Browsing using FANGS

One test I carried out on all the newspapers was to try to read the homepage and the top story using the FANGS add-on in Firefox which emulates the output of popular screen-reader JAWS.

On the day I tested the sites, The Times performed better than any other newspaper in allowing screen readers to get to content. It took FANGS 'reading out' 184 words to get to the link for the headline of the day's main story, about Conservative proposals to reduce Inheritance Tax. Once I reached the story page, it was then a further 137 words before getting to the main headline.

Not only was this less screen reader words than any other newspaper to get from the homepage to the meat of the main story of the day, The Times also provides a 'skip navigation' link on the homepage. This suggests that an experienced screen reader user would be able to get to the main story even quicker.

When I started this series, my intention was to review the 8 major British newspapers, but I've noticed that The Daily Star has recently re-designed their site and made it more in keeping with 2007 than 1997. I thought it would be worth looking to see how accessible this recent development was, and so tomorrow I will be looking at The Daily Star.

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