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22 December, 2004

That one? Maybe that one?

Having spent all morning wrestling a departmental website into a form which might scrape through accessibility legislation, though certainly not an aesthetic awards ceremony, I'd like to make an appeal to all web authors.

When preparing a navigation structure, please use intuitive, unambiguous titles.
A visitor can normally scan down a menu bar quickly, identify likely routes to the required information, and judge which of two similar-sounding options is the more appropriate. However, anyone using a screen reader (blind/partially-sighted) or tabbing through a drop down menu (typically because of an inability to use a mouse or other pointing device) will only 'see' menu items one at a time. As soon as a credible option is reached, that link is followed, whereas an item further down the list might have been better.

It might be argued that the visitor should check all possible choices before selecting one, but:
a) the responsibility for sensible links should really lie with the designer, not the visitor, and:
b) there might be 30-40 links on a page - it can be needlessly onerous to tab through them all twice.

It should be obvious (but plainly isn't) that links should be intuitive to the visitor, not only the site owner.

A basic example is the phrase 'current year'. To anyone already in the UK higher education sector, the year runs from October to September, not January to December. It's fairly common for someone speaking in, say, September 2004, to refer to October 2004 as 'next year', probably confusing anyone operating outside the university system.
Worse, anyone working in undergraduate admissions, again speaking in September 2004, might refer to October 2005 as 'this year', since the admissions cycle works at least 13 months ahead, maybe even 21 months if one counts the pre-application stages.
At the time of writing, December 2004, my boss' current project is the undergraduate prospectus for Entry 2006; her 'current year' is 2006. That's October 2006, not January. Obviously.
Still clear on the definition of 'current year'? Imagine when this sort of ambiguity accidentally reaches a web page for external publication....

"Apply now for funding opportunities for the coming year!"
When is 'now' - the reader doesn't know the date of publication. The page could be weeks or months old.
If 'current year' is problematic, what the **** does 'coming year' mean? The one already started? The next one? The next recruitment cycle?

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