Accessible dropdown menus

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I kind of like dropdown menus.  When the homepage of my gov't office's
website redesigned without them, I complained a bit.  I was told that
when they'd surveyed their customer base the majority didn't like dropdowns.

Later, I learned about Section 508 (US gov't accessibility requirements)
and took the Cool Menus dropdown off of my website (tho I seem to be in
the minority for actually following this law).  I tried building
"accessible" dropdown menus like suckerfish, but just couldn't get what
I wanted.  Using what I learned surfing Suckerfish and similar sites, I
developed my own solution that isn't quite dropdown, but is easy to
navigate and works well (according to my customers, not me).

So, I move.  I'm now webmaster of a different site on the same network,
which of course I'm rebuilding using what I learned building the
previous one.

First problem I run into?  The person I'm supposed to be taking
direction from (who is not web savvy) is quite put out I'm not designing
dropdowns into my website.  He's pretty insistent, so I wanted to do my
research before proceeding.

So, what's the consensus?  Do your customers prefer dropdowns, or flat

Or are there accessible javascript dropdown menus available out there?

If accessible dropdowns are the way to go, can you suggest decent sites
for designing them?  Most likely I'll do a horizontal menu, but it's
possible it might end up vertical in the end.

Thanks for any help!


Re: Accessible dropdown menus

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The "dirty secret" about Section 508 is that no government agency, to
date, has been sued for violating it. Therefore, unless the agency's 508
Coordinator is really on top of everything, nobody *really* cares about
it, as your experiences have already demonstrated. Therefore, in cases
like yours, it is probably a waste of time to even talk to your
supervisor about 508.

That said, what you can tell him/ her is this:
People in usability studies HATE dropdown/flyout/dhtml/whatever-you-
want-to-call-it menus.  In usability studies, they're called "slippery"
by even able-bodied, young participants.

Take a brief look at Fitt's Law, for the reasons why

When you tell your supervisor this, and they scoff at you because they
think they know better, tell them I know this, because I've sat in on
dozens of usability studies for about US Gov't agencies, ranging from
State Dept. to Postal Service, to NIST, HHS, I could go on...   ;-)

Karl Groves

Re: Accessible dropdown menus

Suddenly, without warning, Karl Groves exclaimed (21-Jul-06 10:04 PM):
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Well, fortunately he's not my supervisor, so I don't really *have* to
follow his guidance (but I'm new and will have to work with him), which
is why I worded that the way I did.  Interesting information, though I'm
not surprised, as even in the intranets I work in, Section 508 isn't
followed very consistently.  I use it, because in many cases, Section
508 compliance = usability, and I'm a big proponent of that as well.

Good article about this:

While looking for that, I found this one, which I thought was
informative as well:

Fitt's Law, and Hick's Law... learned something new tonight, thanks.

Anyway, thanks for the ammunition.  It equates to my experience as well,
though as I said I kind of like dropdowns (but then I have good motor
control and excellent eyesight, which probably helps), but mainly I
supposed because they maximize the amount of space where you can put
other things rather than links.   However, I recognize that just because
*I* like something, doesn't mean even a majority of other people do; a
good webmaster doesn't need dropdowns to craft decent site navigation.


Re: Accessible dropdown menus

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Above and beyond the actual issues of operating the menus, dropdowns are
also a bad idea because they don't offer the user a clear idea of where
they are within the site structure. They typically fly back out, the user
selects them, then they fly away.

Users often look at the navigation menu as an indicator of where they are.

I recently assisted a company called Air Flow Research in migrating AWAY
from frames and a javascript menu.  I was rather limited in the fact that
they wanted to retain the current site's design, but one of the things I
did was change their menu a little.  Take a look at , then click on "Small Block Chevy".  Notice that
the additional menu items appear and *stay* there?  Even if you click an
item within that section, the sub menu appears.  Click a different main
option and new sub options appear, etc.

I would love to have been able to provide an even more concrete visual clue
about the users' location, but that would have deviated too far from what
they wanted. Nevertheless, you get the idea. If the menu disappears, it
eliminates that visual cue of the user's location.

Karl Groves

Re: Accessible dropdown menus

Suddenly, without warning, Karl Groves exclaimed (21-Jul-06 10:53 PM):
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Good point, and one which I hadn't thought of like that.  I do realize
the importance of "where am I?" to the visitor, so I do something very
like this - with the addition of a grey background, bold and italic on
the menu item that corresponds with the actual page you are on.

I used the same method for another reason too - the visitor can see
where they are in the hierarchy, but because the menus are collapsed for
everyplace but the current section, the menu stays small and manageable.


Re: Accessible dropdown menus

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I kind of like them too, in theory. But I've encountered so many
badly-implemented ones that (a) don't work with my browser, (b) play
hide and seek as the menus react to some non-obvious events, (c) don't
allow me to easily peruse my options or (d) all of the above, that I
generally cringe when I see one.

Philip /
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