Weblogs: Web Accessibility

Spacer Image - Disney Store's number one gift idea this Christmas

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The UK Disney Store pushed web standards into the limelight. It was an imaginative blend of open standards and creative design. A site that any designer could be proud of. Unfortunately, Disney has seen fit to replace their successful site with a shambolic poor imitation.

What forced Disney to allow this to happen? Their feedback pages are hosted on a Windows reseller account (typically means shared hosting), and their infrastructure is nothing more than a nonexistent Access database. Its clear the developers behind this new site have no experience in e-commerce or enterprise level service.

Talk about Mickey Mouse web design. Did they learn nothing from Andy Clarke and his company?

Discriminatory Practice

The attention to accessibility looks to be non-existent. Where there's evidence of an attempt being made, it has been handled with complete thoughtlessness. For example - take the encouraging sign of a contact telephone number embedded in an image:

For orders or queries talk to real people. Call 0870 759 1701

This phone number leads to an answering machine that declares that it is outside office hours, and please call back at an appropriate time. Fair enough. But, this information is contained in an image - something a screen reader won't find. So we have to rely on the alternative text of the image.

The web designers seem competent enough to insert some alternative text. For this particular image, the alternative text is:

For orders or queries talk to real people. Call 0870 759 1710

(Note the last two digits have been transposed). Calling this number gets a short message stating that this service is no longer available. There is no mention as to which service is being referred to in the message, so perhaps I've misdialed. Dial again, this time dialling slowly, and I get the same message.

Technical considerations

Its obvious that the developers are at a complete loss about proper HTML authoring, modern CSS styling, and unobtrusive JavaScript. Perhaps travelling back in time is Disney's current theme. The quality of the markup smacks of a Frontpage drag-and-drop operator rather than a skilled web designer.

Designers can blame the tools as often as they want - but its no excuse for such shoddy workmanship. Inexperience would explain it. Imagine browser sniffing in JavaScript - a complete no-no in modern scripting - and using it to workaround bodges in even more badly written script?

When you see a website with href="javascript: liberally scattered throughout the document, you just know accessibility isn't even on the list of requirements. Have these developers ever heard of accessible links - use JavaScript to enhance functionality. Here it is being used as a barrier to the login and register functions. If Disney are not interested in people logging in or registering, its probably a better idea to remove the options entirely. That would start to sort out the lack of information architecture and navigation problems.

Further down, there are repeated violations of document.all - an object construct that only works in Internet Explorer 6 and earlier. No other browser properly supports it. Modern browsers support the W3C's Document Object Model.

Screen reader viability

What's with the "spacer image" all over the place as text equivalents to images? What possible benefit is a screen reader user going to have hearing those two words repeated over and over?

The select drop down menu is nigh-on unusable. Screen reader users (as well as motor-impaired users) are prevented from navigating the lengthy list of options by narrowing down options by entering the first letter of the category they are looking for. Every single category starts with two dashes instead of letters. You are forcing them to listen to over fifty entries, one at a time.

This is a usability and accessibility disaster of note. The Disney Store has plummeted from the very highest levels of quality down through to the basement of mediocrity. The end result is a shambolic and frustratingly unusable website.

Disney: Get a refund

I strongly suggest that Disney have some rather loud words with their developers. The rubbish currently published under the Disney trademark warrants a full explanation and a full refund. How this passed even the most cursory of peer reviews, I have no idea.

I'm more disappointed in Disney for even considering launching a website devoid of any quality or structure. I'm exceptionally surprised Disney have allowed themselves to take a gigantic step backwards in terms of website development. They've degenerated at least a decade with this website.

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