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WCAG 2.5.1: Pointer Gestures


Let's imagine for a moment that you need to look up driving directions to Disneyland. (By the way, did you know Google lists Disneyland as "Good for kids"? Go figure!) On your phone, as you'd expect, you can manipulate the map using the touchscreen, dragging your finger to shift the map in a given direction and pinching with two fingers to zoom in.

[Source: Google]

The finger drag and the two-finger pinch are examples of path-based and multipoint gestures, respectively. Path-based gestures, specifically, refer to interactions where the user must move their pointer in a certain way in order for the action to work. These can include dragging (this does not include drag-and-drop), swiping (important for the single and/or looking among us), thumb sliders, or gestures where the user must trace a prescribed path, such as drawing a particular shape. Multipoint gestures are those that require multiple fingers, like the two-finger pinch zoom, a two or three-finger tap or swipe, or a split tap, where the user must rest one finger on the screen and tap with another.

Path-based and multipoint gestures have become increasingly common with the advent of handheld devices, like smartphones and tablets (although, it's worth noting, path-based gestures can also involve a mouse or joystick). However, they can pose some challenges from an accessibility standpoint, which we will discuss in the following section.

Single-Point Activation

Path-based and multipoint gestures can provide an elegant, dynamic solution for operating websites and apps, but they may prove too complex for users with impaired fine motor control, cognitive disorders, or if they use alternative input devices like a speech-controlled mouse emulation, header pointer, or eye-gaze system. For this reason, if your content utilizes such complex gestures, you must ensure that users can operate the same functionality by single-point activation. Single-point activation can include, on a touch screen, taps, double taps, and long presses, and with a mouse, trackpad, or alternative input device, single click, double click, or click-and-hold.

Going back to our example from the beginning of this post, let's take a look at Google Map's view of Disneyland on a desktop.

[Source: Google]

You can see that, instead of the two-finger pinch zoom, users can click the plus and minus buttons in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen to control the magnification. Users can also zoom in on a point by double-clicking the map on the desired spot (it should be noted, this feature is also available in the mobile app by double tapping a spot). There doesn't appear to be an immediate alternative to the drag gesture for repositioning the map, but Google could add directional buttons to the controls as an option. You hear that Google? You're on watch!

A Few More Things to Note (a.k.a., Caveat Catchall!)

There are some sidenotes and exceptions that are worthy of mention here.

First, do not rely on macros to fulfill this criterion. Some operating systems may provide means to define macros to replace path-based and multipoint gestures, but it is not available on all touch-enabled platforms. Furthermore, while macros can work well for gestures the user can anticipate or predefine, it may not always work with author-defined gestures.

Second, this rule only applies to author-created content. Complex gestures that are a function of the user's operating system or browser don't count, since they're out of your control.

Third, and finally, this rule does not apply to situations where a complex gesture is deemed essential. Now, WCAG likes to throw the term "essential" around, but it's not always clear what this would refer to. One example in this case would be if the user had to sign their signature as a means to confirm their identity. Basically, use your best judgment when deciding if something is "essential", and don't be a lazy-bones about it.