DES 1.8 Avoid frames and pop-up windows, and be careful with image maps

Frames and pop-up windows violate many accepted web standards and cause a variety of accessibility problems. The problems they cause outweigh the limited advantages of using them.

Image maps must be constructed so that their use does not require people to see them, or to make very fine movements to use them.

  • Do not use frames - use a well-designed non-frame navigation structure instead:
    • If you must use them, make sure you supply the developer with appropriate names that describe their function e.g. 'main menu', 'page contents' - the developer will code these in so that they will be more accessible.
  • Do not specify pop-up windows unless essential:
    • Forgivable usage - links to help information about the underlying page, for example on forms, but:
      • Always provide a warning on the link that a pop-up will result (you can use text or an icon with 'alt' text see SWS 4.1);
      • On the pop-up always provide an explicit 'close' button;
      • The pop-up should avoid obscuring the original page - make it smaller in your designs - and communicate this to the developer.
  • Be careful with image maps:
    • Do not use for the sake of it - consider specifying separate images instead;
    • If using then:
      • Ensure the clickable regions are not too small such that they may be difficult to accurately locate and click - this is particularly a problem for people with motor disabilities or visual impairments,
      • Ensure you supply a name for the map as a whole and each individual region (this will be used as 'alt' text - see DES 4.1,)
      • Add a cue to each area to show that it is clickable, e.g. borders on geographical maps, rollover effects etc.

What is so wrong with frames?

  • Drames can confuse users, often causing the following:
    • Printing problems;
    • Book-marking problems;
    • Navigation to not work as expected:
      • Breaks the 'forward' and 'back' buttons;
    • Frame nesting - frames within frames within frames within frames;
    • Problems for screen reader or braille users.
  • Some additional problems (and there are more!):
    • Not all browsers are frames capable;
    • People generally do not like them;
    • Search engines can have problems;
    • They are more difficult to update;
    • They can cause issues when trying to link to them.

What is so wrong with pop-ups?

They cause an unnecessary break in the typical page-based flow of information and, amongst other things, they:

  • Cause disorientation;
  • Disrupt the history of visited pages;
  • Break the 'back' button;
  • Are often blocked by pop up blockers;

Poor: a 'framed' site  Poor: popup windows all over the place
Good: link indicating popup by adding text (opens new window) and an illustrative icon  If forced to use a popup then make it small, with a good title, and explicit close links
A client side map with alt text, rollover, clear visual hotspots - with cues indicating they are clickable