Include your advertising policy when considering website accessibility

Today I was reading a couple of interesting articles on Sitepoint. More accurately I was trying to read a couple of interesting articles on Sitepoint but struggling due to the fact that banner ads on the top and to the right of the content area were constantly flashing and animating. Sitepoint of course aren’t alone in this, many websites – including most UK newspaper sites – also include animated advertising.

For reasons I’m not entirely sure of – although I think it may be linked to the focal migraine I occasionally suffer from – I can’t read text if there is something moving in my peripheral vision. I’m not alone with that problem, people with ADHD or other cognitive issues can also find it hard to read text when there is something moving on the same screen, distracting them from the main content.

This is an accessibility issue. WCAG 2.0 deals with the problem thoroughly in Understanding Success Criterion 2.2.2 making the suggestion that if moving content is required the animation should pause after 5 seconds:

“Moving content can also be a severe distraction for some people. Certain groups, particularly those with attention deficit disorders, find blinking content distracting, making it difficult for them to concentrate on other parts of the Web page. Five seconds was chosen because it is long enough to get a user’s attention, but not so long that a user cannot wait out the distraction if necessary to use the page.”

Going on to mention advertising specifically when describing examples of meeting this success criterion:

“An advertisement blinks to get viewers attention but stops after 5 seconds”

After posting to Twitter mentioning how annoying these advertisements are, several people suggested that I just block ads. I don’t want to block ads. Many of the sites I enjoy using are ad supported, I often find interesting products and services via ads and my own product Perch is promoted by (non-animated) advertising. Some ad blocker products do enable “whitelisting” of certain sites, however that is shifting the problem onto me, the user. More importantly, I’m not a typical user, I can find ways to stop these ads showing and animating, as annoying as it might be to have to do so. Can someone who is using a computer at school or in a library do so? Or someone who doesn’t know much more about using a computer than which icon to click to get “the internet”?

I would like to encourage sites to consider advertising when they are checking the accessibility of their site. If you are including advertising space then consider what your policy will be for that space. We purchase advertising for Perch through BuySellAds.com and they allow advertisers to specify that advertising be non-animated. If your content is important I strongly suggest that you require advertisers to submit non-animated artwork. Or at the very least restrict them to an initial 5 seconds of flashing, scrolling or other animation as outlined in the WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion quoted above.

Do you allow animated advertising and think I’m making a fuss about nothing? Have you had experience of advertisers refusing to take out an ad if they cannot use animation? Do you simply block all ads so don’t care? Do you have any examples of sites that ought to be awarded a special prize for the number of animated ads on one page? Let me know in the comments.

Cheryl on the 24 Nov 2011:

I concur! When I look for affiliate advertising I always choose the non-animated ones. One can be creative with advertising:
- rollover actions
- invitations to play an animation/video

A page full of twirling, flashing ads sends me on my way quickly.

Thanks for your post, Rachel. I’m tucking it in my Delicious under ‘advertising’ for future reference.

Gordon McLachlan on the 28 Nov 2011:

Well said. It’s just unfortunate that the ‘most successful’ ads are the big, silly, annoying blinking ones that make content hard to read. I’ve got nothing against advertising as it allows for a lot of great free content to be created that otherwise wouldn’t exist but sometimes it’s so poorly worked into the design and layout of a site that, I feel, it’s ultimately detrimental to the usability and overall success of the product. I’d be curious to see how removing adds on a site like Sitepoint affected readership levels.

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