Simple Accessibility Updates to Improve New York Times New Redesign – Part 1

From the promo piece I saw about the New York Times new redesign, everything looked really good, and I was looking forward to seeing it.

New York Times Redesign Goes Live

On Wednesday (January 8, 2014), the new New York Times redesign went live, and everyone was raving how lovely it was from a design, content, and responsive web design perspective. No one was talking about how accessible the new redesign was. On Wednesday morning, I saw Patrick Dunphy’s tweet: “redesigned homepage #accessibility quick check w/@WebAIM tools web 59 & toolbar 131 errors #a11y” I’m familiar with the WAVE Toolbar by WebAIM, which is useful for testing behind firewalls or for code found on DEV servers. It’s a free Firefox plug-in and WebAIM’s online checker is useful as well. After seeing that Patrick had run the home page through the WAVE tools, I had to do the same thing myself. And I found that the New York Times had missed a lot of what I thought were easy items, such as missing ALT text, empty or missing headings, missing form LABELs, etc. I was able to confirm Patrick’s findings. On Saturday evening at about 6:30 PM EST with the WebAIM WAVE toolbar, I found 115 errors. The following screenshot shows the results. Some of the problems that the tool identified are:

  • Missing ALT text – red background with white line running through it diagonally
  • Linked image missing ALT text – white hand on the red background
  • Empty heading – an “H” with a question mark on a red background

All screenshots can be enlarged by clicking the images and they were re-taken on January, 27, 2014.WebAIM WAVE toolbar with 115 errors Next, I used the WAVE WebAIM accessibility checker and I found 57 errors and 89 warnings. The following screenshot shows the problems that the tool identified:


  • Missing ALT text – red background with white line running through it diagonally
  • Linked image missing ALT text – white hand on the red background
  • Empty heading – an H with a question mark (h?) on a red background
  • Missing FORM LABEL – white gift tag on red background
  • Image button missing ALT text


  • Missing first level heading – yellow background with an “H1”
  • Noscript element – paper scroll on yellow background
  • Long ALT text – the word “long ALT” on yellow background

WebAIM WAVE accessibility checker showing 57 errors and 89 warnings Around 2 PM EST Wednesday afternoon, I saw Jeffrey Zeldman’s tweet: “NYTimes redesign has finally gone public. Content-first, responsive, immersive.” I replied: “hopefully accessibility next? Missing easy stuff? MT @zeldman NYTimes redesign has finally gone public. Content-first, responsive, immersive” And Jeffrey answered: “@jfc3 Can you write a post about the easy things, accessibility-wise, that the otherwise wonderful @nytimes redesign is missing?” So I responded: “sure @zeldman I can write up a blog post over weekend about the easy accessibility updates the new @nytimes redesign should have done. #a11y

Writing an Accessibility Review

My conversation with Jeffrey is why I wrote this blog post after checking the New York Times new redesign for simple accessibility issues. I understand that not all of the home page may have been updated, or parts of the page are being created somewhere else or that they have a bunch of technical debt they have to deal with. I’m trying to use this large public project to show people that, in the real world not everything gets done before you go live. But you still can work on accessibility at any time with some easy-to-use free tools that will get your website or web application closer to being accessible to all. After you fix the issues found with the free tools, you start to worry about using assistive technologies like screen readers (JAWS, NDVA, VoiceOver, etc.), talk-to-type (Dragon Naturally Speaking), text enlargers (ZoomText), etc.

Possible Solutions

The New York Times can make some simple changes to the home page and article pages (future blog post) to make them more accessible to those using assistive technologies or those who only use the keyboard.

Missing ALT Text

Let’s start with the missing ALT text, which seems to be common in certain sections of the home page, but not in others. If you go to the “Inside” section, they use the article title as the ALT text, a technique I used to have our developers use for images that link to articles on ARMY.MIL. Missing ALT text for the previous or next buttons in the “Inside” section In the “Inside” section, there are no ALT text for the previous or next buttons, which you would think would be useful for those trying to see other items currently listed off screen. When you go to the sections shown below, which are the World, Business Day, Opinion, Technology, etc., there is no ALT text. Look for the white hand on the red background to see which linked images are missing ALT text. Missing ALT text for the images that link to the articles Here is another section (“The Opinion Pages”) of the home page that is missing ALT text, which are links to the articles. Opinion page section with empty ALT text for images that link to same place as the heading level five’s (h5) I’m not sure why they didn’t make the ALT text be the article title as they did in “Inside” section for the “World, Business Day, Opinion, Technology, etc.” section and the “The Opinion Pages” section.

Empty or Missing Headings Levels

After running both WebAIM tools (WAVE toolbar and online checker), I noticed that the home page had a bunch of headings that were empty. Most of the time, that was because they had created the same heading level just before or after the empty one. Under the main featured article, there is an empty heading level six (H6), which is followed by a heading level five (H5), and then another heading level six (H6). Why not remove the empty heading level six (H6), because it’s making it more difficult for those using screen readers, etc. to understand the page structure and find things on the page? Under the “Arts” section (as mentioned by Sarah Bourne), there is a heading level four (H4), and then there is an empty heading level six (H6) followed by a heading level five (H5). This shows issues with headings because one is empty and another that it is not in proper order, because it goes from H4 to H6 to H5. Empty heading level six (H6) under feature article and incorrect heading order under “Business Day section”

Missing Form LABELs

When you look under the “Auto” and Jobs” tabs of the home page, there are form INPUT fields with missing LABELs. Another interesting part of this is that the text above the INPUT fields is outside the FORM itself. Missing LABELS in Auto Section of New York Times Home Page   The New York Times newly redesigned home page still has some other issues: possible color contrast problems, buttons that are not real buttons (as mentioned by Ian Pouncey), issues with using the keyboard, and screen readers that can’t figure out where a person is on the screen, etc.


I’m going to break this topic into multiple parts. I plan to write about the other accessibility issues found on the home page, about the article pages, which I’m guessing will have similar issues as the home page does, and finally how to use all the tools I used. I hope this post helps you find easy ways to check your websites quickly for accessibility issues, along with pointing out a few free tools you can use. If you have other tools or software that you use to check website accessibility, please add them in the comments, because not all tools will find all the issues.



Edited by: Char James-Tanny of JTF Associates, Inc.@CharJTF

How to Improve Your Search Usability

Doing searches on websites is a pain when you are using assistive technology. There are ways to improve how you get to the results.

Why not add an HREF anchor like #maincontent, which we used for the “Skip Navigation” article to your “Search Results URL” so those using screen readers, other assistive technologies, keyboards only, or other non desktop web browsers to skip right to the results section of the page skipping all the header, primary navigation links, and secondary navigation, etc.

You also need to make sure you have a LABEL connected to your search box for screen reader and other assistive technology users to know what they are looking at. Below is some sample code you can use as a starting point, along with some CSS to hide the search LABEL visually off screen if your design calls for that kind of things.

Search Form Code

<div class=”SEARCH“>
<form name=”Skills_Search” action=”searchResults.html#MAINCONTENT“>
<label for=”search2“>Search</label>
<input type=”text” name=”search2″ id=”search2” />
<input type=”submit” value=”Search” />

Results of Search Code

To hide the word “Search“ just add to the hide class used for the skip navigation blog post this can be done easily by adding “.search label” to the CSS.

Here’s a live example of the search box and search results example page.

Hope this little change to your website was helpful to you and it will make accessing the internet for those using assistive technologies better.

If you have any questions or ways to improve this, please leave a comment or get in touch with me.

How to Hide “Required” from Visual Users, but Make it Available for All Others

How do most people usually designate that a field is “Required” in a web FORM? I would think that it is with an asterisk (*) after the actual INPUT field and it is sometimes made “bold” and “RED”. There are other ways to do this that are simple, use web standards, good design principles, and are 508 compliant.

When creating a FORM you should not make all fields required. By doing that nothing stands out to the person filling in your very important FORM. If most fields are required you should state at the top of the FORM or in the directions the fields that are NOT required.

Instead of just placing an asterisks after either the LABEL or the INPUT field in a FORM for a required field as most people do. You can actually place the word “Required” within the LABEL. Of course your using LABELs for your FORMS, along with FIELDSETs and LEGENDs.

Here is how to accomplish this for a web FORM and it can be easily accomplished by using a little CSS to hide the text that a field is “Required” to be filled in. The way to do this, that I use is to make it part your input fields LABEL. Here is an example of a few lines of code on how the code might look.

<label for=“username”><em>Required<em>User Name</label>

To hide the word“Required” you will be able to use the same CSS used for hiding “SKIP NAVIGATION” by adding a new class or stating that LABELs with an “EM“ in them will be displayed.hidden off the page.

Reminder please do not use “DISPLAY: NONE” in your CSS, since screen readers will not see it. Below is the CSS to visually hide the word “Required” from browsers.

.skip a, .skip a:hover, .skip a:visited, label em {
position: absolute;
left: -10000px;
top: auto;
width: 1px;
height: 1px;
overflow: hidden;

As you can see the CSS positions the link absolutely with a position of “LEFT” minus 10,000 pixels and a “TOP” position of auto. This will allow screen readers, Blackberries, Treos, etc. to see it but not browsers. That is as long as their CSS in turned on.

You can also place extra notes or instructions for a field inside the INPUT field with lighter text that is that will not go away once you start typing in the field. This can be done by using more CSS. Below is the XHTML code to accomplish this.

<label for=“username”><em>Required<em>User Name<strong>must not contain spaces<strong></label>

<input type=“text” name=“username” id=“username” size=“25” maxlength=“50” value=“”/>

The CSS to do this is fairly simple and follows below.

label strong {
color: #aaa;
font-size: .85em;
font-style: normal;
position: absolute;
top: 0;
right: -275px;}

Here is what the CSS is doing for the extra notes and instructions. It is first taking any STRONG elements within the LABEL and making it light gray color, the FONT-SIZE smaller and normal weight. After that it is absolutely positioned at the top left of the INPUT FORM field, as long as the LABEL is left or right justified to it and finally placing the information negative 275 pixels from the right of the beginning of the INPUT field.

Don’t forget to listen to your FORMs by using the Firefox extension Fire Vox. Here is an example how placing extra notes or instructions would look in a FORM, along with some “Required” field examples.

I hope this post is useful and further explains how to hide visual the word “Required” from my Accessibility presentation “Is your Website Accessible?”, please look for the most current presentation closer to the top of the list.

Further Explanation of My Accessibility Presentation

Over the next few weeks YEARS, I will post in more detail different sections of my “Is Your Website Accessible” presentation.

Two of the topics I have already covered on my blog are:

  1. Use of UL or OL in HTML Forms
  2. CLiCk Speak Firefox Extension

The new ones I will be going over to an excessive degree (just kidding) are:

  1. The “Fire Vox” Firefox extension is a FREE screen reader
  2. Part of CSS3 “Say-Instead
  3. Are You Using Skip Navigation?
  4. How to Use Access Keys
  5. How to Hide “Required” from Visual Users, but Make it Available for All Others
  6. You Need Color and Contrast
  7. How to Create Web Standard Accessible Tables
  8. How to Improve Your Search Function
  9. Advanced Forms Information
  10. Improve Your “Return to TOP” of Page Link

Please leave a comment if you would like me to explain other items covered in my talk at greater length or even something I did not cover that deals with accessibility.

Long Week in Technology Last Week

It’s been a long week in technology for me this week. I spent about five or six hours on both last Saturday and Sunday working on the website for my accessibility talk for the Refresh DC meet up on Thursday night. This is the prototype for the DC Tech Skills website I’m building so the Washington, DC, technology community can post their skills and then find others that either have the same skills or might need help on projects for skill they need.

Monday was long day at work  with one meeting that ended up needing a few changes and a few other meetings were canceled. The rest of Monday night was spent updating the “Accessibility“ slides I had prepared for “BarCamp DC“ talk back in mid August, 2007.

Tuesday was spent working on getting stuff ready for a move of code to PROD, which never happened. I took a few hours off in the beginning of Tuesday night to go to the “Opportunities & Challenges of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Project” meet up. It was really cool to be able to get to use some of the other features of the OLPC has besides the internet. We had a “Chat” going  and afterwards demonstrated the “Write” and “Memorize” activities to people. Then it was home for about three more hours of presentation work.

Wednesday was filled with meetings and luckily a few were canceled. I’ve had more meeting in the last few days than I normally have in a month. I got approval to move code to PROD for one project. I have like two others that just need user/client review and approval and I’m good to go to PROD.

I got home from work around 5:00 PM and started working on  the final dozen or so slides. Things were going well so I took an hour off to watch the Discovery Channel. I forget what the show was, but it must have been good that i took and hour off to watch it. Once that ended I started back on the presentation. The first thing after the TV show my laptop would not type. There was a problem with the keyboard. I saved things and re-booted.

Around 12:15 AM my keyboard  stopped working a second time. I used the mouse to save everything before re-booting the PC.  The only problem was that it never re-booted. At that point I guess I must have said a few four letters words, since I had not uploaded a copy of my presentation to the server or made a backup in over a day.

After walking into the living room and then the bedroom to try and figure out what I might have to do next. I remembered my friend from Rochester, NY, saying that COMPAQ laptops sometimes won’t re-boot if you have them plugged in all the time and don’t let the battery drain every so often.

So the first thing I did was take the battery out and just used the power cord and that did not work. Next was put the battery back in and unplug the PC and that worked. First thing after twittering about the problem now at like 1:45 AM I put a copy of everything on the server, and two different thumb drives. By 1:00 AM, I was back and finishing the presentation.

I ended up finishing it around 2:15 AM and spent the next bit of time re-copying the updated information to the server, thumb drives, and into another folder on my machine. It was then 2:30 AM and I tried to get to sleep but was to wound up. Finally went to sleep after 3:00 AM. The latest night in five days. All the other nights it had been between 1:00 and 2:00 AM.  I’m getting to old to stay up five night that late.

Thursday morning it started sinking in that close to 100 people were now going to show up to listen to me talk about accessibility. It was just a bit surreal, since when I was at SXSW 2007, I went to most of the accessibility talks and only 50 or 60 people where there to listen to the likes of Derek Featherstone, Ian Lloyd, Patrick Lauke, Glenda Simms (Glenda the Good Witch),  and many others.

These people are proven accessibility experts. I felt like just some guy from Washington, DC consulting for the Army that is really passionate about accessibility.

I had sent the link to two friends to look over early in the morning. I got some feedback from one that I should run the presentation through a spell checker. I said it’s hard when it is done using “S5“, which is HTML based. A guy from the office said paste it into word and run it through, while overriding the code parts. I did this over my lunch. My friend read the whole thing over during his early lunch and liked most of it.  He thought the topic might be to long to get done in the hour I had along with a few other suggestions to improve it some. While on my lunch I made most of his changes along with using a bit of his wording, since it made more sense than what I had first written.

One of the people from work noticed that my accessibility talk was the most popular event on Upcoming for the DC area that day. Once I looked it up I got rid of the DC part and looked and it was the third most popular event  for that day anywhere in the world. The first place event was a  new Flickr feature meet up in San Francisco and then a “MacWorld” meet up in San Francisco. Our event was even about 25 people larger than the London “Pub Standards” meet up. This was just unthinkable to me. It put me in a bit of a panic most of the morning and early afternoon.

After the lunch of updating  my presentation I was much better and the panic slowly went away. The rest of the afternoon flew by because I had to finish some work and move other things to PROD server.

I headed home around 4:30 PM to pickup my computers and get to the Refresh DC meet up early to make sure everything was ready and working correctly. By this time it seemed like everything was okay and I was relaxed on the Metro trip there.

I guess I finally realized I had been thinking about this presentation for the last few months and what I wanted to present. So when it finally came to doing the presentation all the stress, lack of sleep, and everything just went away.

I thought the presentation just flowed out of me. Part way through the presentation I asked the audience if I was going to fast and if they were understanding it. They said no my pace was fine and that yes they understood my talk. I thought I was talking like a million miles a minute. At another point I asked how long it had been and they said like twenty minutes. I was not sure if that meant I had talked for that long or that was how much time I had left.

I got to questions around 8:14 PM (I looked at the computer clock). I guess I had kept the presentation to close to an hour, since we waited a little bit because of the poor weather (snow with rain at rush hour). During the question time I took two photos of the audience of about 50 or 60 people, while someone was answering an audience members question that I had no experience or answer for.

After the talk and then at Cafe Asia everyone I talked to really like the presentation and had only good things to say to me about it and this was other people than my friends.

Now for the general overview of my talk, for those that might have missed it.

  1. Explained a few personal stories of why I’m so passionate about accessibility. One being seeing all the soldiers that come to Pentagon from Walter Reed Medical Center. Meeting Pat Pound at the Knowbility booth in Austin, TX at SXSW 2007. Also having Charles L. Chen show me his great free software, which are two Firefox extensions. One being a page reader called “CLiCk Speak“and the other being “Fire Vox“, which is a paired down screen reader.
  2. The next section was on using “Skip Nav” and “Access Keys” and how useful they are to people that need them.
  3. After that I then talked a bit about the “Color and Contrast” of website and that Text plays an important part of usability for everyone that is sighted.
  4. It was then on to how to build proper data tables by having a “Summary” element to explain what the table contain, along with a “Caption” of the table instead of having header in front of it. The final piece about tables was that you need table headers and then information on you cells to identify what pieces go together.
  5. We got into the longest section of the talk which was about “Forms”. I explained that you need “Fieldsets” and “Legends” to group similar content together and say what it was. The next idea was to put “Labels” and “Input Controls” in either “UL” or “OL”, so screen readers will tell you how many items are there and people will know how many fields they need to fill in. I also explained all the other “Input Controls” in a form and their attributes.
  6. I explained how the “Search” box needs to have the word “SEARCH” in front of it so you can tell what it is, along with using the word “Required” on fields. This is done using the same technique that you used for “Skip Nav”.
  7. The last thing I talked about before questions putting error messages in the label, such as “User name can not contain spaces”.

A lot of the slides have examples of code or links to other articles or my examples of items in use.

The busy technology week did not end with my “Accessibility” talk, no I attended the “DC Adaptive Technology“ talk at the MLK library Saturday afternoon. Because of the issues with Metro maintenance I was not able to stay for the whole talk. The part I did see was about using “Dragon Naturally Speaking“ some scripting code to allow people with visual issues to use Microsoft Word and other products much easier. It was cool watching the guy giving the presentation talk into his microphone and then seeing the words on the screen. By using certain commands he could start, stop, or edit the files that he was in. He could even get software to open and close.

This has been a long week in technology for me and it probably will not be the last one like it. I have also been working on a few different accessibility blog posts to be posted in the next week or so.

Please tell me of similar weeks like this you have had or if you enjoyed my presentation.