Infinite Scrolling – Impact on Accessibility Series: #1 Common Issues

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This blog is the first of three in the “Infinite Scrolling- Impact on Accessibility” series.   Before examining the common issues, it is important to know the definition of infinite scrolling and the Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 standards that may impact users.

Definition and Standards

Infinite scrolling is a design practice in which content on the page continually load as a user navigates down the page or screen- eradicating the need for pagination.  Authors must take the following Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 standards in consideration when applying such technique into their application.

  • Section 508 1194.22(l)“When pages utilize scripting languages to display content, or to create interface elements, the information provided by the script shall be identified with functional text that can be read by assistive technology.”
  • Section 508 1194.31(f)“At least one mode of operation and information retrieval that does not require fine motor control or simultaneous actions and that is operable with limited reach and strength shall be provided.”
  • WCAG 2.0 AA 2.4.5“The intent of this Success Criterion is to make it possible for users to locate content in a manner that best meets their needs. Users may find one technique easier or more comprehensible to use than another.”

Analysis of Common Issues

Issue Description
Focus is lost when navigating back While this is common when navigating through sites without infinite scrolling, the impact is greater with sites using such navigation techniques.

When activating an element in the feed, users must be able to return to that element activated the page or window.

When focus is lost, keyboard-only users, including screen reader users, must be able to re-orient themselves on the page.   Otherwise, users are forced to re-navigate through all of the content to locate the element activated.

Unable to access footer content The footer usually contains copyright and contact information that is located at the bottom of the page. With infinite scrolling, assistive technology users will have difficulty identifying and navigating to the footer. This can be argued as a user experience concern as it impacts all users.  However, for assistive technology users, the work around may be much more challenging.
Inability to quickly navigate Even when structured using heading elements, users still have to navigate through all of the content.  Many contain news feeds with additional links, forcing users to navigate through the active elements for each feed. While sites may contain proper heading structures, when there are a lot of headings and links within each feed, navigation becomes cumbersome.
Difficulty locating content When content moves off screen, screen readers may not render that content. Therefore, screen reader users may have difficulty locating content using the software’s search feature or navigation techniques.

In addition, the browser’s scroll bar is not an indicator of the content’s location as the page continually loads.  Sighted keyboard-only users may be unable to locate content based on the position of the scroll bar.

Inability to get to the end While this can affect user experience, the inability to navigate to the end impacts accessibility. For example,  keyboard-only users are not able to use the Ctrl+End keyboard commands to navigate to the end of the page.

In conclusion, while infinite scrolling is a new practice authors are using to eliminate pagination, authors must consider the impact on users with disabilities including those who use assistive technology. The next blog will examine these common issues on three popular web sites using various assistive technologies.

References

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