Accessibility Events

“There isn’t some way to know when—…?”

There is always a pause here. The client knows what they’re asking, and I know what they’re asking, but putting it into words—saying it out loud—turns unexpectedly difficult.

In the moments before the asking, it was a purely technical question—no different from “can we do this when a user is on their phone.” But there’s always a pause, because this question doesn’t come easy; not like all the other questions about browsers and connection speeds did. A phrase like “in an assisted browsing context” doesn’t spring to mind as readily as “on a phone,” “in Internet Explorer,” or “on a slow connection.” The former, well, that’s something I would say—a phrase squarely in the realm of accessibility consultants. The latter the client can relate to. They have a phone, they’ve used other browsers, they’ve been stuck with slow internet connections.

“There isn’t some way to know when—… a user is… using something like a screen reader…?”

An easy question that begets a complicated answer is standard fare for almost any exchange with a web developer. This answer has, for a long time, been a refreshing deviation from that norm: “no, we can’t.”

The matter is, I’ll offer, technically impossible; computers, you see, can’t talk to each other that way. Often, there’s a palpable relief here: “no” to the technical part; “no” to the the computers part. That is, of course, all they had meant to ask. I truly believe that.

Even if we could, I’ll explain, we wouldn’t really want to. Forking our codebase that way would put more burden on us maintainers, not less. There’s an easy parallel to the “when they’re on a phone” conversation, here; one we’ve surely had already. We can never know a user’s browsing context for certain, and making assumptions will only get us and our users into trouble. Whenever a feature, component, or new design treatment was added or changed, we’d be left having all the same conversations around how to translate it over to the “accessible” experience. If those features aren’t essential in the first place, well, are they worth having at all? If those features are essential—well, we’ll still need to find a way to make them work in both contexts.

It could seem like an enticing option for our users, at first glance: an enhanced, fully-featured website, on the one hand, a fully accessible alternative experience on the other. That unravels with even the slightest examination, though: if the fully-featured website isn’t accessible, the accessible website won’t be fully featured. By choosing to have the “accessible experience” deviate from the “real website,” we end up drawing a sharper line between those two definitions, and we nudge the “accessible experience” closer to an afterthought—limited and frustratingly out-of-sync with the “real” website, like so many dedicated mobile sites quickly became.

There’s never any disagreement, here. Again: this is all relatable. We’ve all found ourselves inescapably opted into using the “mobile” version of a website at some point. We’ve been here before as users; we’ve made these mistakes before as developers. We know better now.

But this isn’t a strictly technical question. This isn’t as simple as browser features and screen sizes—a question of one privileged browsing context or another. Technical questions come easy. Partway through the asking—in the hesitation, in the pause, in the word stumbled over—what was meant to be a mundane development question became something much more fraught. Because there was a word that fit.

“Is there a way we can know when a user has a disability?”

The easy “no” felt empowering; a cop-out. “It doesn’t matter; it can’t be done” in response to a deeply fraught question was an unexpected balm for both the asked and the answered. There was, again, that palpable relief—”no” to the technical part; “no” to the the computers part. That was, of course, all they had meant to ask.

We no longer have that easy answer. In iOS 12.2 and MacOS 10.14.4, a toggle switch has appeared in Apple’s VoiceOver preferences, innocuously labeled “accessibility events.” It was rolled out to no fanfare—short of a brief mention in Apple’s iPhone User Guide—and we’re still not sure how it’s meant to be used. The most generous interpretation of the intention behind this feature is that it was developed with the same intention as a “UA string”-style identifier for users browsing via VoiceOver.

We do know this much: when this setting is enabled—and it is, by default—your browser will identify you as using VoiceOver to help you browse the web. If you’re using Apple’s VoiceOver, both your phone and your computer will broadcast your assumed disability to the entire internet, unless and until you specifically tell it to stop.

If you’re not furious at this change, you should be—not just for what it means for users, but what it foists upon you. Apple has burdened you with the knowledge that, now, yes, you can know whether a user has a disability. We can use this information to serve up a limited alternative version of a website, into which we can very easily opt people of a protected class. And once we choose to start listening for “accessibility events,” well, we can capture that information, as anything else broadcast to the web. A user’s disability can and will be reduced to a single data point—a cold, impersonal true, inexorably bound to their name, stored in a database, perhaps destined to be sold, leaked, passed along to insurance providers, reduced to a targeted marketing opportunity. All under the auspice of inclusivity.

At some point, the developers responsible for the “accessibility events” feature were, I’m certain, asked whether such a feature were possible. Their answer was “yes.” I don’t doubt that they meant well. I’m just as certain that, in the moment, it felt like the right answer; a technical solution to a technical problem, and a simple matter of browsing context.

Someday—not far in the future, I trust—I’ll be asked a similar question. It will be asked hesitantly, haltingly. The pauses will ring all too familiar. I will no longer have the easy, familiar comfort of technical impossibility—no easy “no” to insulate me from the uncomfortable conversations I should have been having with clients all along. Now, there’s no technical reason that I can’t know whether a user is using “something like a screen reader.” I—my clients, their databases, their organizations, their parent companies, their partners, their VC funders, their advertisers, and so on unto infinity—can absolutely know when a user is disabled.

But I won’t play a part in helping to propagate the mistake Apple’s developers made. I’ll let my answer hang heavy and uncomfortable in the air: no. Not because we can’t—we can. Not because we shouldn’t, though, no, we still shouldn’t. No—now, I will allow the word to become as coarse as I had always wanted it to be, because I no longer have the cold comfort of “well, technically” to hide behind.

No.

 

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Using for Menus and Dialogs is an Interesting Idea

One of the most empowering things you can learn as a new front-end developer who is starting to learn JavaScript is to change classes. If you can change classes, you can use your CSS skills to control a lot on a page. Toggle a class to one thing, style it this way, toggle to another class (or remove it) and style it another way.

But there is an HTML element that also does toggles! <details>! For example, it’s definitely the quickest way to build an accordion UI.

Extending that toggle-based thinking, what is a user menu if not for a single accordion? Same with modals. If we went that route, we could make JavaScript optional on those dynamic things. That’s exactly what GitHub did with their menu.

Inside the <details> element, GitHub uses some Web Components (that do require JavaScript) to do some bonus stuff, but they aren’t required for basic menu functionality. That means the menu is resilient and instantly interactive when the page is rendered.

Mu-An Chiou, a web systems engineer at GitHub who spearheaded this, has a presentation all about this!

The worst strike on <details> is its browser support in Edge, but I guess we won’t have to worry about that soon, as Edge will be using Chromium… soon? Does anyone know?

The post Using <details> for Menus and Dialogs is an Interesting Idea appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

See No Evil: Hidden Content and Accessibility

There is no one true way to hide something on the web. Nor should there be, because hiding is too vague. Are you hiding visually or temporarily (like a user menu), but the content should still be accessible? Are you hiding it from assistive tech on purpose? Are you showing it to assistive tech only? Are you hiding it at certain screen sizes or other scenarios? Or are you just plain hiding it from everyone all the time?

Paul Hebert digs into these scenarios. We’ve done a video on this subject as well.

Feels like many CSS properties play some role in hiding or revealing content: display, position, overflow, opacity, visibility, clip-path

Direct Link to ArticlePermalink

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CSS Variables + calc() + rgb() = Enforcing High Contrast Colors

As you may know, the recent updates and additions to CSS are extremely powerful. From Flexbox to Grid, and — what we’re concerned about here — Custom Properties (aka CSS variables), all of which make robust and dynamic layouts and interfaces easier than ever while opening up many other possibilities we used to only dream of.

The other day, I was thinking that there must be a way to use Custom Properties to color an element’s background while maintaining a contrast with the foreground color that is high enough (using either white or black) to pass WCAG AA accessibility standards.

It’s astonishingly efficient to do this in JavaScript with a few lines of code:

var rgb = [255, 0, 0]; function setForegroundColor() { var sum = Math.round(((parseInt(rgb[0]) * 299) + (parseInt(rgb[1]) * 587) + (parseInt(rgb[2]) * 114)) / 1000); return (sum > 128) ? 'black' : 'white';
}

This takes the red, green and blue (RGB) values of an element’s background color, multiplies them by some special numbers (299, 587, and 144, respectively), adds them together, then divides the total by 1,000. When that sum is greater than 128, it will return black; otherwise, we’ll get white. Not too bad.

The only problem is, when it comes to recreating this in CSS, we don’t have access to a native if statement to evaluate the sum. So,how can we replicate this in CSS without one?

Luckily, like HTML, CSS can be very forgiving. If we pass a value greater than 255 into the RGB function, it will get capped at 255. Same goes for numbers lower than 0. Even negative integers will get capped at 0. So, instead of testing whether our sum is greater or less than 128, we subtract 128 from our sum, giving us either a positive or negative integer. Then, if we multiply it by a large negative value (e.g. -1,000), we end up with either very large positive or negative values that we can then pass into the RGB function. Like I said earlier, this will get capped to the browser’s desired values.

Here is an example using CSS variables:

:root { --red: 28; --green: 150; --blue: 130; --accessible-color: calc( ( ( (var(--red) * 299) + (var(--green) * 587) + (var(--blue) * 114) / 1000 ) - 128 ) * -1000 );
} .button { color: rgb( var(--accessible-color), var(--accessible-color), var(--accessible-color) ); background-color: rgb( var(--red), var(--green), var(--blue) );
}

If my math is correct (and it’s very possible that it’s not) we get a total of 16,758, which is much greater than 255. Pass this total into the rgb() function for all three values, and the browser will set the text color to white.

At this point, everything seems to be working in both Chrome and Firefox, but Safari is a little cranky and gives a different result. At first, I thought this might be because Safari was not capping the large values I was providing in the function, but after some testing, I found that Safari didn’t like the division in my calculation for some reason.

Taking a closer look at the calc() function, I noticed that I could remove the division of 1,000 by increasing the value of 128 to 128,000. Here’s how that looks so far:

:root { --red: 28; --green: 150; --blue: 130; --accessible-color: calc( ( ( (var(--red) * 299) + (var(--green) * 587) + (var(--blue) * 114) ) - 128000 /* HIGHLIGHT */ ) * -1000 );
} .button { color: rgb( var(--accessible-color), var(--accessible-color), var(--accessible-color) ); background-color: rgb( var(--red), var(--green), var(--blue) );
}

Throw in a few range sliders to adjust the color values, and there you have it: a dynamic UI element that can swap text color based on its background-color while maintaining a passing grade with WCAG AA.

See the Pen
CSS Only Accessible Button
by Josh Bader (@joshbader)
on CodePen.

Putting this concept to practical use

Below is a Pen showing how this technique can be used to theme a user interface. I have duplicated and moved the --accessible-color variable into the specific CSS rules that require it, and to help ensure backgrounds remain accessible based on their foregrounds, I have multiplied the --accessible-color variable by -1 in several places. The colors can be changed by using the controls located at the bottom-right. Click the cog/gear icon to access them.

See the Pen
CSS Variable Accessible UI
by Josh Bader (@joshbader)
on CodePen.

There are other ways to do this

A little while back, Facundo Corradini explained how to do something very similar in this post. He uses a slightly different calculation in combination with the hsl function. He also goes into detail about some of the issues he was having while coming up with the concept:

Some hues get really problematic (particularly yellows and cyans), as they are displayed way brighter than others (e.g. reds and blues) despite having the same lightness value. In consequence, some colors are treated as dark and given white text despite being extremely bright.

What in the name of CSS is going on?

He goes on to mention that Edge wasn’t capping his large numbers, and during my testing, I noticed that sometimes it was working and other times it was not. If anyone can pinpoint why this might be, feel free to share in the comments.

Further, Ana Tudor explains how using filter + mix-blend-mode can help contrast text against more complex backgrounds. And, when I say complex, I mean complex. She even goes so far as to demonstrate how text color can change as pieces of the background color change — pretty awesome!

Also, Robin Rendle explains how to use mix-blend-mode along with pseudo elements to automatically reverse text colors based on their background-color.

So, count this as yet another approach to throw into the mix. It’s incredibly awesome that Custom Properties open up these sorts of possibilities for us while allowing us to solve the same problem in a variety of ways.

The post CSS Variables + calc() + rgb() = Enforcing High Contrast Colors appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

How do you figure?

Scott O’Hara digs into the <figure> and <figcaption> elements. Gotta love a good ol’ HTML deep dive.

I use these on just about every blog post here on CSS-Tricks, and as I’ve suspected, I’ve basically been doing it wrong forever. My original thinking was that a figcaption was just as good as the alt attribute. I generally use it to describe the image.

<figure> <img src="starry-night.jpg" alt=""> <figcaption>The Starry Night, a famous painting by Vincent van Gogh</figcaption>
</figure>

I intentionally left off the alt text, because the figcaption is saying what I would want to say in the alt text and I thought duplicating it would be annoying (to a screen reader user) and unnecessary. Scott says that’s bad as the empty alt text makes the image entirely undiscoverable by some screen readers and the figure is describing nothing as a result.

The correct answer, I think, is to do more work:

<figure> <img src="starry-night.jpg" alt="An abstract painting with a weird squiggly tree thing in front of a swirling starry nighttime sky."> <figcaption>The Starry Night, a famous painting by Vincent van Gogh</figcaption>
</figure>

It’s a good goal, and I should do better about this. It’s just laziness that gets in the way, and laziness that makes me wish there was a pattern that allowed me to write a description once that worked for both. Maybe something like Nino Ross Rodriguez just shared today where artificial intelligence can take some of the lift. But that’s kinda not the point here. The point is that you can’t write it once because <figcaption> and alt do different things.

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Using Artificial Intelligence to Generate Alt Text on Images

Web developers and content editors alike often forget or ignore one of the most important parts of making a website accessible and SEO performant: image alt​ text. You know, that seemingly small image attribute that describes an image:

​​​<img src="/cute/sloth/image.jpg" alt="A brown baby sloth staring straight into the camera with a tongue sticking out." >

A brown baby sloth staring straight into the camera with a tongue sticking out.
📷 Credit: Huffington Post

If you regularly publish content on the web, then you know it can be tedious trying to come up with descriptive text. Sure, 5-10 images is doable. But what if we are talking about hundreds or thousands of images? Do you have the resources for that?

Let’s look at some possibilities for automatically generating alt text for images with the use of computer vision and image recognition services from the likes Google, IBM, and Microsoft. They have the resources!

Reminder: What is alt text good for?

Often overlooked during web development and content entry, the alt​ attribute is a small bit of HTML code that describes an image that appears on a page. It’s so inconspicuous that it may not appear to have any impact on the average user, but it has very important uses indeed:

  • ​​Web Accessibility for Screen Readers: Imagine a page with lots of images and not a single one contains alt​ text. A user surfing in using a screen reader would only hear the word “image” blurted out and that’s not very helpful. Great, there’s an image, but what is it? Including alt​ enables screen readers to help the visually impaired “see” what’s there and have a better understanding of the content of the page. They say a picture is worth a thousand words — that’s a thousand words of context a user could be missing.
  • Display text if an image does not load: The World Wide Web seems infallible and, like New York City, that it never sleeps, but flaky and faulty connections are a real thing and, if that happens, well, images tend not to load properly and “break.” Alt text is a safeguard in that it displays on the page in place of where the “broken” image is, providing users with content as a fallback.
  • ​​SEO performance: Alt text on images contributes to SEO performance as well. Though it doesn’t exactly help a site or page skyrocket to the top of the search results, it is one factor to keep in mind for SEO performance.

Knowing how important these things are, hopefully you’ll be able to include proper alt​ text during development and content entry. But are your archives in good shape? Trying to come up with a detailed description for a large backlog of images can be a daunting task, especially if you’re working on tight deadlines or have to squeeze it in between other projects.

What if there was a way to apply alt​ text as an image is uploaded? And! What if there was a way to check the page for missing alt​ tags and automagically fill them in for us?

There are available solutions!

Computer vision (or image recognition) has actually been offered for quite some time now. Companies like Google, IBM and Microsoft have their own APIs publicly available so that developers can tap into those capabilities and use them to identify images as well as the content in them.

There are developers who have already utilized these services and created their own plugins to generate alt​ text. Take Sarah Drasner’s generator, for example, which demonstrates how Azure’s Computer Vision API can be used to create alt​ text for any image via upload or URL. Pretty awesome!

​​See the Pen
​​Dynamically Generated Alt Text with Azure's Computer Vision API
by Sarah Drasner (@sdras)
​​on CodePen.
​​

There’s also Automatic Alternative Text by Jacob Peattie, which is a WordPress plugin that uses the same Computer Vision API. It’s basically an addition to the workflow that allows the user to upload an image and generated alt​ text automatically.

​​Tools like these generally help speed-up the process of content management, editing and maintenance. Even the effort of thinking of a descriptive text has been minimized and passed to the machine!

Getting Your Hands Dirty With AI

I have managed to have played around with a few AI services and am confident in saying that Microsoft Azure’s Computer Vision produces the best results. The services offered by Google and IBM certainly have their perks and can still identify images and proper results, but Microsoft’s is so good and so accurate that it’s not worth settling for something else, at least in my opinion.

Creating your own image recognition plugin is pretty straightforward. First, head down to Microsoft Azure Computer Vision. You’ll need to login or create an account in order to grab an API key for the plugin.

Once you’re on the dashboard, search and select Computer Vision and fill in the necessary details.

Starting out

Wait for the platform to finish spinning up an instance of your computer vision. The API keys for development will be available once it’s done.

​​Keys: Also known as the Subscription Key in the official documentation

Let the interesting and tricky parts begin! I will be using vanilla JavaScript for the sake of demonstration. For other languages, you can check out the documentation. Below is a straight-up copy and paste of the code and you can use to replace the placeholders.

​​var request = new XMLHttpRequest();
request.open('POST', 'https://[LOCATION]/vision/v1.0/describe?maxCandidates=1&language=en', true);
request.setRequestHeader('Content-Type', 'application/json');
request.setRequestHeader('Ocp-Apim-Subscription-Key', '[SUBSCRIPTION_KEY]');
request.send(JSON.stringify({ "url": "[IMAGE_URL]" }));
request.onload = function () { var resp = request.responseText; if (request.status >= 200 && request.status < 400) { // Success! console.log('Success!'); } else { // We reached our target server, but it returned an error console.error('Error!'); } console.log(JSON.parse(resp));
}; request.onerror = function (e) { console.log(e);
};

Alright, let’s run through some key terminology of the AI service.

  • Location: This is the subscription location of the service that was selected prior to getting the subscription keys. If you can’t remember the location for some reason, you can go to the Overview screen and find it under Endpoint.
  • ​​

Overview > Endpoint : To get the location value
  • ​​Subscription Key: This is the key that unlocks the service for our plugin use and can be obtained under Keys. There’s two of them, but it doesn’t really matter which one is used.
  • ​​Image URL: This is the path for the image that’s getting the alt​ text. Take note that the images that are sent to the API must meet specific requirements:
    • File type must be JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP
    • ​File size must be less than 4MB
    • ​​Dimensions should be greater than 50px by 50px

Easy peasy

​​Thanks to big companies opening their services and API to developers, it’s now relatively easy for anyone to utilize computer vision. As a simple demonstration, I uploaded the image below to Microsoft Azure’s Computer Vision API.

Possible alt​ text: a hand holding a cellphone

​​The service returned the following details:

​​{ "description": { "tags": [ "person", "holding", "cellphone", "phone", "hand", "screen", "looking", "camera", "small", "held", "someone", "man", "using", "orange", "display", "blue" ], "captions": [ { "text": "a hand holding a cellphone", "confidence": 0.9583763512737793 } ] }, "requestId": "31084ce4-94fe-4776-bb31-448d9b83c730", "metadata": { "width": 920, "height": 613, "format": "Jpeg" }
}

​​From there, you could pick out the alt​ text that could be potentially used for an image. How you build upon this capability is your business:

  • ​​You could create a CMS plugin and add it to the content workflow, where the alt​ text is generated when an image is uploaded and saved in the CMS.
  • ​​You could write a JavaScript plugin that adds alt​ text on-the-fly, after an image has been loaded with notably missing alt​ text.
  • ​​You could author a browser extension that adds alt​ text to images on any website when it finds images with it missing.
  • ​​You could write code that scours your existing database or repo of content for any missing alt​ text and updates them or opens pull requests for suggested changes.

​​Take note that these services are not 100% accurate. They do sometimes return a low confidence rating and a description that is not at all aligned with the subject matter. But, these platforms are constantly learning and improving. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The post Using Artificial Intelligence to Generate Alt Text on Images appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

The Elements of UI Engineering

I really enjoyed this post by Dan Abramov. He defines his work as a UI engineer and I especially like what he writes about his learning experience:

My biggest learning breakthroughs weren’t about a particular technology. Rather, I learned the most when I struggled to solve a particular UI problem. Sometimes, I would later discover libraries or patterns that helped me. In other cases, I’d come up with my own solutions (both good and bad ones).

It’s this combination of understanding the problems, experimenting with the solutions, and applying different strategies that led to the most rewarding learning experiences in my life. This post focuses on just the problems.

He then breaks those problems down into a dozen different areas: consistency, responsiveness, latency, navigation, staleness, entropy, priority, accessibility, internationalization, delivery, resilience, and abstraction. This is a pretty good list of what a front-end developer has to be concerned about on a day-to-day basis, but I also feel like this is perhaps the best description of what I believe my own skills are besides being “the person who cares about component design and CSS.”

I also love what Dan has to say about accessibility:

Inaccessible websites are not a niche problem. For example, in UK disability affects 1 in 5 people. (Here’s a nice infographic.) I’ve felt this personally too. Though I’m only 26, I struggle to read websites with thin fonts and low contrast. I try to use the trackpad less often, and I dread the day I’ll have to navigate poorly implemented websites by keyboard. We need to make our apps not horrible to people with difficulties — and the good news is that there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit. It starts with education and tooling. But we also need to make it easy for product developers to do the right thing. What can we do to make accessibility a default rather than an afterthought?

This is a good reminder that front-end development is not a problem to be solved, except I reckon Dan’s post is more helpful and less snarky than my take on it.

Anywho, we all want accessible interfaces so that every browser can access our work making use of beautiful and consistent mobile interactions, instantaneous performance, and a design system teams can utilize to click-clack components together with little-to-no effort. But these things are only possible if others recognize that UI and front-end development are a worthy fields.

Direct Link to ArticlePermalink

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Keyboard-Only Focus Styles

Like Eric Bailey says, if it’s interactive, it needs a focus style. Perhaps your best bet? Don’t remove the dang outlines that focusable elements have by default. If you’re going to rock a button { outline: 0; }, for example, then you’d better do a button:focus { /* something else very obvious visually */ }. I handled a ticket just today where a missing focus style was harming a user who relies on visual focus styles to navigate the web.

But those focus styles are most useful when tabbing or otherwise navigating with a keyboard, and less so when they are triggered by a mouse click. Now we’ve got :focus-visible! Nelo writes:

TLDR; :focus-visible is the keyboard-only version of :focus.

Also, the W3C proposal mentions that :focus-visible should be preferred over :focus except on elements that expect a keyboard input (e.g. text field, contenteditable).

(Also see his article for a good demo on why mouse clicking and focus styles can be at odds, beyond a general dislike of fuzzy blue outlines.)

Browser support for :focus-visible is pretty rough:

This browser support data is from Caniuse, which has more detail. A number indicates that browser supports the feature at that version and up.

Desktop

Chrome Opera Firefox IE Edge Safari
No No 4* No No No

Mobile / Tablet

iOS Safari Opera Mobile Opera Mini Android Android Chrome Android Firefox
No No No No No 62*

But it does have Firefox support, and as Lea Verou says:

… once Chrome ships its implementation it will explode in a matter of 1-2 months.

That’s generally how things go these days. Once two major browsers have support — and one of them is Chrome — that’s a huge enough slice of the web that can start using it. Especially when it can be done as safely as this property.

Safely, as in, there is an official polyfill, meaning you can nuke default focus styles and just use :focus-visible styles:

/* Remove outline for non-keyboard :focus */
*:focus:not(.focus-visible) { outline: none;
} /* Optional: Customize .focus-visible */
.focus-visible { outline: lightgreen solid 2px;
}

But, as Patrick H. Lauke documented, you can do it even without the polyfill, using careful selector usage and un-doing styles as needed:

button:focus { /* Some exciting button focus styles */ }
button:focus:not(:focus-visible) { /* Undo all the above focused button styles if the button has focus but the browser wouldn't normally show default focus styles */
}
button:focus-visible { /* Some even *more* exciting button focus styles */ }

Seems like a nice improvement for the web.

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Nested Links

The other day I posted an image, quite literally as a thought exercise, about how you might accomplish “nested” links. That is, a big container that is linked to one URL that contains a smaller container or text link inside of it that goes to another URL. That’s harder than it might seem at first glance. The main reason being that…

<!-- this is invalid and won't render as expected -->
<a href="#one"> Outside <a href="#two"> Inside </a>
</a>

Eric Meyer once called for more flexible linking, but even that doesn’t quite handle a situation where one link is nested inside another.

Here’s what happens with that HTML, by the way:

The nested link gets kicked out.

My first inclination would be to simply not nest the links in the markup, but make them appear nested visually. Some folks replied to the tweet, including Nathan Smith, who shared that same thought: have a relatively positioned parent element and absolutely position both links. The larger one could fill up the whole area and the smaller one could sit on top of it.

See the Pen “Nested” links by Nathan Smith (@nathansmith) on CodePen.

It’s finicky, as you’ll need magic numbers to some degree to handle the spacing and variable content.

My second inclination would be to deal with it in JavaScript.

<div onclick="window.location='https://codepen.io'" style="cursor: pointer;" tab-index="1"
> Outside <a href="https://css-tricks.com"> Inside </a>
</div>

I have literally no idea how kosher that is from an accessibility perspective. It looks gross to me so I’m just going to assume it’s bad news.

Speaking of accessibility, Heydon Pickering has a whole article about card components which is a popular design pattern where this situation often comes up. His solution is to have a relatively positioned parent element, then a normally-placed and functional main link. That first link has an absolutely positioned pseudo-element on it covering the entire card. Any sub-links are relatively positioned and come after the initial link, so they’d sit on top of the first link by way of z-index.

Demo with author link.

And speaking of stacking pseudos, that’s the approach Sean Curtis uses here:

See the Pen Pretend nested links by Sean Curtis (@seancurtis) on CodePen.

Other solutions in the “crafty” territory might be:

  • Using a <form> element where the action attribute acts as a link.
  • Using an <object> element to wrap the inner link.

Sara Soueidan responded with her own post!

I had the same requirement a couple of years ago when I was building the front-end foundation for Smashing Magazine. So I thought I’d write my response to Chris’s thread out in the form of a blog post.

Sara has written about this with much more detail and care than I have here, so definitely check that out. It looks like both she and Heydon have landed on nearly the same solution, with the pseudo-element cover that contains sub-links poking above it as needed.

Have you ever done it another way? Plenty of UX and a11y to think abbout!

The post Nested Links appeared first on CSS-Tricks.

HTML elements, unite! The Voltron-like powers of combining elements.

Guides, resources and discussions about Semantic HTML are often focused around specific elements, like a heading, or a sectioning element, or a list. It’s not often that we talk specifically about how we can combine HTML elements to increase their effectiveness.

Normally, when we introduce HTML, we talk about how it is used to apply meaning to content in a document, and we do this by using examples like:

  • “Is it a paragraph?”
  • “Is it a heading?”
  • “Is it a numbered list”
  • “Is it a button”

We use these examples because they are easy to understand — it’s a single piece or chunk of the same content that needs to be represented in a particular way. This is useful, but it only scratches the surface of how we can use and combine elements to provide more context and meaning.

You remember Voltron, right? Each member of the Voltron force was powerful in their own right, but it was when they combined together to form a towering figure that their mighty powers became unstoppable.

The same is true of HTML elements. I have a few favorite combinations that I’ll take you through. They may seem obscure, but you’d be surprised at how often they come up when you take the time to think outside of divs and spans.

Abbreviations and Definitions

<abbr> and <dfn> are two of my favorite HTML elements. I particularly like them because they work really well together.

You can combine the abbreviation and definition elements to allow browsers, search bots, and other technologies to recognize that something is being defined and that the acronym is associated to that phrase.

<p> The <dfn><abbr title="International Good Dog Association">IGDA</abbr></dfn> is an international, not-for-profit organization responsible for determining that all dogs are good.
</p>

In the above example, I’m defining that the acronym “IGDA” as “International Good Dogs Association.” I do this by wrapping the acronym in an <abbr> element with a title attribute defining the full name. By adding the <dfn> element around the abbreviation, it indicates that the surrounding paragraph defines the term “International Good Dogs Association.”

The <abbr> element is useful because it can tell screen readers what they should read, while also providing a useful visual representation in the form of a tooltip explaining what the abbreviation is.

Visual representation of <abbr> and <dfn>.

Keyboard, Sample and Variable

If you haven’t heard of these elements, then get ready to have your socks blown off, because they are awesome.

First up, the <kbd> element is used to represent text for a textual user input (e.g. from a keyboard). You can also nest multiple <kbd> elements to represent multiple keystrokes. I love this because, as developers, we find ourselves (hopefully) writing documentation, blog posts, and guides on a regular basis and HTML provides us with native ways to represent this content straight out of the box!

If I wanted to tell someone how you copy and paste with the keyboard, I could mark it up like the code below.

<p>I like to <kbd><kbd>Ctrl</kbd>+<kbd>C</kbd></kbd> and <kbd><kbd>Ctrl</kbd>+<kbd>V</kbd></kbd> a lot.</p>

It looks a bit nuts but the above code, when rendered, looks like the following without any styling applied to it. If you are wondering why kbd is nested inside another kbd element, what this does is specify that the key or input is part of a larger input. Even more combined superpowers!

See the Pen rZpNPy by CSS-Tricks (@css-tricks) on CodePen.

You can further target the <kbd> elements with CSS to make it look more like little keyboard controls. (Note: Browsers tend to render this by default with a monospace font.)

See the Pen gdoOqE by CSS-Tricks (@css-tricks) on CodePen.

If you’re wondering what the difference is between using <kbd> versus a span, I believe it comes down to information. I will repeat this sentiment a lot: we do not know how someone is going to consume our HTML, so give your content it’s best chance by representing it in the most meaningful and contextual way possible. If you are still not on board, then please go read my post about HTML as told by TypeScript.

The <samp> element is really cool because you can nest it inside the <kbd> element and vice versa. WHAT? I know, so versatile! Let’s have a look at some examples from MDN.

The following code is an example of nesting a <samp> element inside a <kbd> element. This is used to mark up content that represents input based on the text displayed by the system (e.g. button names).

<p>To save the image file, select <kbd><kbd><samp>File</samp></kbd> - <kbd><samp>Save as...</samp></kbd></kbd>.
</p>

See the Pen YOYzbJ by CSS-Tricks (@css-tricks) on CodePen.

In the above code, we define our keyboard shortcuts the same as our previous example, but we also determine that the menu and menu item names (contained within both <kbd> and <samp>) are an input selected from something displayed by the system, e.g. a dialog or widget.

In other words, this piece of text is a message from the system which has some user inputs that you need to follow (like File and Save as…).

Whereas, when we nest <kbd> inside <samp>, we determine that the input has been echoed back to the user by the system.

<p><samp>yarn start:theproject does not exist, did you mean:</p>
<blockquote><samp><kbd>yarn start:the-project</kbd></samp></blockquote>

Finally, the <var> element! This is used to mark up the name of a variable in math or programming, for example:

<var>E</var> = <var>m</var><var>c</var><sup>2</sup>.
<samp>Error: <var>console<var> is undefined.</samp>

Here you can start to see how combining <var> with other elements like <pre>, <code>, <kbd> or <samp> starts to make your content’s markup more explicit by adding more context. Anything that interprets your HTML markup can start to derive more meaning from the elements you are using rather than just assuming that it’s all standard text.

If you put this content in a paragraph with some spans, there is no way for technology to distinguish this from any other old text on your page. You don’t have to resort to <span> or a <div> to represent this content because HTML already provides us with more semantically accurate elements we can use. HTML is not just about presentation; it’s about meaning. Various technologies outside of visual rendering engines rely on this meaning to make decisions about how to communicate our content in the most meaningful way (e.g. screen readers, text to voice, reading apps, bots, or the next big thing in the future).

Figures

Figures (<figure>) are a great example of a power combination element. Unfortunately, I think it is widely misused and under appreciated (much like <aside>, which I could talk about for hours). The obvious combination you are probably familiar with is using <figure> and <figcaption> together. We often use this duo to represent graphical content like images, illustrations and diagrams — but it can also be used for things like code, poems and quotes!

Because a figure is so flexible in what kind of content it represents, there are a bunch of different HTML elements you can use within a figure to provide more context around the type of content you are putting in your page.

Figcaption

The <figure> element is often seen with an optional <figcaption> which represents a caption or legend for a figure. It should be the first child or last child of the <figure> element. You can also use any flow content (e.g. paragraphs, headings, etc.) in the <figcaption> to provide more context and you can have multiple images inside a <figure> represented by a single <figcaption>.

<figure> <img src="jello.jpg" alt="Golden Retriever Puppy" /> <figcaption>Jello the Golden Retriever enjoying being carried home.</figcaption>
</figure>

Preformatted Text

The <pre> element is used to display preformatted text or code and is usually rendered using a monospace font. While <pre> can be used on its own, it can also be combined with <figure> and <figcaption>. By doing this, the content inside the <pre> element becomes more accessible to assistive technologies, like screen readers, since it allows us to use <figcaption> as a label for the text or code.

We can go even further by combining the <pre> and <code> elements to identify the pre- formatted content as code.

See the Pen QVaWVW by CSS-Tricks (@css-tricks) on CodePen.

Because <code> is considered flow content, it can also be used inside a <figcaption> to mark up inline references to code (i.e. a single phrase or line).

Cite and Blockquote

Quotations are something I use a lot and it honestly didn’t occur to me it could be used as part of a figure. But it still makes sense to use cite or quotation if the content they contain is relevant to the overall content, even if it is not part of the main document flow.

I like the example of using a figure for poems, mainly so I could share the amazing poem I wrote about my dog. Here I use the <cite> element inside the <figcaption>:

<figure> <p> Jello - A little fluffy dog. Hello! Squishy Jello - you little fluffy fellow. BOUNCY yellow Jello. A very mellow fellow. EATING MY MARSHMALLOW. </p> <figcaption><cite>Eating my Marshmallow by Mandy Michael</figcaption>
</figure>

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the figure element is just for images or image-like content, but you can use it for content like audio, video, charts, poems, quotations or even tables of statistics. Because the element is so versatile you can combine it with so many other elements to provide more and more context about the figure for assistive technology, browsers, and other technologies consuming your website.

Wrapping Up

These are just some of the ways HTML elements can be combined for better context. HTML elements are indeed useful and valuable on their own when used as isolated pieces — and using them this way is a good first step. But, like Voltron, when you combine HTML elements together, the individual pieces form a greater whole and gain much more meaning and power. It’s important that we don’t think of HTML as individual pieces of code, but parts of a whole because HTML is really a mass of totally amazing combinations.

You can combine and use HTML elements in any number of ways to best represent your content. Don’t simply stick to the same old things you know; take the time to explore HTML and learn about all it has to offer. Like any language, we should make the most of it and use it to its full potential.

The more accurate you are in marking up your content, the better that content will be represented across technologies, and the more prepared it will be for any anything else that is used to interpret your HTML in the future.

So, go forth and HTML elements, unite!


Resources

In my opinion, the best resource for learning and understanding how to use HTML (outside of the spec itself) is the MDN Web Docs. It lists all the HTML elements you could ever need.

The following are among the elements covered in this post:

  • <abbr>
  • <cite>
  • <code>
  • <dfn>
  • <figure>
  • <figcaption>
  • <kbd>
  • <samp>
  • <var>

If you are a TypeScript fan and don’t understand why Semantic HTML is important, I wrote this post just for you: Understanding why Semantic HTML is important as told by TypeScript.

The post HTML elements, unite! The Voltron-like powers of combining elements. appeared first on CSS-Tricks.