Toggle is a simple user interface component that lets users update preferences, settings, and other types of information. It’s an essential element of modern web design, and is used in every type of options menu found across software applications. However, despite its relatively straightforward implementation, toggles are often made inaccessible in one way or another. This article will explore the common accessibility problems associated with toggles and how they can be easily fixed using a few best practices.
In the context of user interfaces, toggles are essentially glorified checkboxes that enforce a binary state and provide immediate results when pressed. While this makes them very easy to use, there are some instances where it might be better to use a different type of user interface control. For example, if the toggle will be used in an application that requires the user to submit a form before it takes effect, then a button might be more appropriate than a toggle.
The word “toggle” has a number of definitions, from an 18th century pin that was passed transversely through an eye or loop in a rope, to a hardware device that switches a particular function on and off (like the caps lock key), to the verb of switching between two actions (like toggling between tabs during a video chat). However, the most important aspect of the toggle is its role as a switch that can change a process or behavior from one state to another.
Toggles can be used in a variety of ways, from making changes to user preferences and settings, to enabling or disabling features that have been deployed as part of a product launch. Toggles can also be used in experiments to compare different codepaths to see which produces the most effective outcome.
When designing toggles, it’s important to think about color and contrast. Choosing high-contrast colors for the on and off positions of the toggle helps make it obvious what state the control is in, while a clear label on the right side can help users understand which option the toggle is currently selecting. It’s also important to evaluate societal and cultural context to determine if certain colors might have unintended implications or be difficult for some users to understand.
Managing toggle configuration can be challenging at scale. The most common method is to hardcode them in static files, but this is not ideal when a toggle must be re-configured during a deployment cycle. Instead, many organizations opt to move the toggle’s configuration into a centralized store, typically an existing application DB. This is accompanied by some sort of admin UI which allows system operators, testers and product managers to view and modify the toggle’s Features Flags.
While toggles can be used to perform a wide variety of experiments, they’re usually only retained for a short period of time. Ideally, they should only be retained for a week or two, although product-centric toggles may be required to remain in place longer.