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Improving Accessibility on Wikia

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One of the big goals of the Wikia redesign was to make wikis more engaging and accessible to a wider range of users -- including those with disabilities. Our engineering team looked at how keyboard-only users and the visually impaired use the web, and also how they recognize and interact with wikis. They came up with some interesting ways to improve access to important links and relevant content, so that users with disabilities would be able to read and participate on Wikia much faster than they do now.

Keyboard-only users

Because of physical limitations, some people don’t have the ability to navigate around Wikia using a traditional mouse or trackpad. They have to rely entirely on their keyboard to navigate the site. If you’ve ever tried to do this, you know how difficult it can be! Unfortunately, many pages and functions were never accessible to these users because Monaco’s sidebar menu doesn’t drop down when you use only the keyboard.

When designing the new look, we wanted these wiki navigation areas to be not only accessible, but easy to find. Now, when you use your keyboard to explore a wiki, you can flip easily right through those sub-navigation links, greatly increasing the ability to find important links as well as navigate quickly through the site.

Screen readers

It’s hard to imagine surfing the web, reading email, and having online conversations without being able to see everything in front of you. But being visually impaired doesn’t mean not being able to do all of these things. Among other tools -- such as Braille keyboards, sound maps, and voice activated data entry software -- people with poor or no vision can use screen readers, such as JAWS, to read and participate on the web.

These screen readers convert what is on the screen into synthetic speech so the user “hears” what is in front of them. In Wikia’s new look, we’ve enabled invisible "skip links" at the top of each document, or page. The screen reader lists these first, so the user can quickly navigate where they want to go and find the content they want to read. We’re developing this tool using JAWS and Voiceover as our primary readers, and we’ll continue to improve the interface to better serve the visually impaired community.

Moving Forward

We plan to invest more engineering time and support into developing our accessibility tools. If you are interested in participating in this process, please let us know.

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