Frame Overview

Overview

Frames possess inherent problems for accessibility. Fundamentally, it is difficult to restyle content within frames since even simple restyling, such as increasing text size, often results in clipping or the need for horizontal scrolling. Titling of frames by authors (when done at all) is usually so ambiguous that it remains difficult for speech users to know the potential contents of a frame. It is also difficult for speech users what the potential changes will occur to all frames when they select a link in one particular frame. In general, most web developers appear to be staying clear of frame-based content, a trend that supports accessibility.

The one notable exception to this trend is with web application developers who use "hidden" frames to setup server/browser communications. These communications can include information about user interactions and/or automatic notifications of new information that might be useful to the user. One of the major problems with the use of hidden frames for automation is that it is often confusing to screen reader users. If the screen reader interprets the automation activity as new information to the user, it can cause weird screen reader behaviors which lead to screen reader users being unable to access the content of a web resource.

Benefits to People with Disabilities

  1. Titling frames helps screen readers navigate the content of a website.
  2. Frames typically cause problems for screen reader users when they are used to dynamically update web pages. When content changes dynamically, the screen reader may abruptly change focus to the beginning of a document. This is very disorienting to screen reader users.

Benefits to All Users

  1. Frames cause problmes for all users since the back button does not reliably return the user to the previous content of frames.

Benefits to Developers

  1. Frames may be convenient to the developers, but cause many problems for users and sometimes increase development and maintenance cost of website due to the complexities of frame content interaction.

Related Resources

  1. W3C WCAG 1.0 frame techniques
  2. 18: HTML links - Frames and Popups (Opera Web Standards Curriculum)

HTML Markup Details

title attribute
The title attribute of a frame should provide a short description of the purpose of a frame in a frameset.

Related Accessibility Requirements

Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Standards
12.1 Provide concise, unique, and understandable titles for frames.
12.2 Avoid using hidden, empty, or non-essential frames.
Section 508
1194.22 (i) Frames shall be titled with text that facilitates frame identification and navigation.
W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0
1.3.1 Info and Relationships
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0)
12.1 Title each frame to facilitate frame identification and navigation. [Priority 1]
12.2 Describe the purpose of frames and how frames relate to each other if it is not obvious by frame titles alone. [Priority 2]