Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Skip Navigation - I think we have that backwards

I was recently listening to a blind person explain how he goes about reading a news article online. He said that he looks for a link to print the article so his screen reader won't have to deal with navigation, sub-navigation, ads and other things that get in the way of getting to the desired content - the news story.

This got me to thinking about the general approach to Skip Navigation. The one I am most familiar with is, basically, to add functionality to the top of the page, or any navigation that resides in the page, to skip over it and into the main content. Now, let's say we have a big site. It has a top level navigation and sub-navigation based on what section you are in. Would I skip from the main navigation to the sub-navigation, then skip to the content? For the disabled user this sounds like a lot of work and can be potentially confusing.

So, I started to think about this in terms of what is the real desired outcome of skipping navigation. When I click on a link, I'm want to read the content that is behind that link. I don't want to read the navigation again, or read the next level of navigation, or the ads on the page. I use secondary navigation as a next step, or last resort, if I didn't find what I was looking for.

So, what if, instead of building pages that have lots of skip navigation code, we build pages that automatically put cursor focus on the content, and there's a way to 'skip' to the navigation? Like the finding a stripped down version of the content, the print version for instance, this method just puts out a simple rule: Drop the cursor where the content starts. The user doesn't even have to know about the extra stuff on the page, until they go looking for it. Now they don't have to spend time skipping over stuff, and not knowing where they might land.



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