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Re: 48-Hour Consensus Call: ARIA-DescribedAT & Longdesc

From: Geoff Freed <geoff_freed@wgbh.org>
Date: Sun, 1 Apr 2012 13:53:41 +0000
To: Matthew Turvey <mcturvey@gmail.com>, HTML Accessibility Task Force <public-html-a11y@w3.org>
Message-ID: <CB9DCC34.105E0%geoff_freed@wgbh.org>

Without intending to pointlessly reignite the longdesc debate, I offer the
following inline observations.

On 3/30/12 7:06 AM, "Matthew Turvey" <mcturvey@gmail.com> wrote:

>On 29 March 2012 17:45, Janina Sajka <janina@rednote.net> wrote:
>> Colleagues:
>> On 29 March last the HTML-A11Y Task Force teleconference meeting
>> reached consensus as follows:
>> RESOLUTION: The HTML-A11Y Task Force confirms that ARIA-DescribedAT will
>> not be ready for HTML 5 in HTML 5's currently published timeframe, and
>> therefore reaffirms its support of Laura's authored CP to reinstate
>> longdesc (Issue-30).
>> The TF resolution, together with minutes of the discussion leading up to
>> it, is logged at:
>> http://www.w3.org/2012/03/29-html-a11y-minutes.html#item03
>> As usual, if there is objection to this consensus position, please
>> respond by replying to this message no later than close of business,
>> Boston Time, on Monday 2 April.
>I object to this consensus position. I don't see any benefits in
>keeping longdesc conforming in HTML5 when:
> - Support for longdesc in browsers and AT is poor and has been so for
>many years.

True, but there *is* support, and it isn't new-- it has been available for
years.  Ask anyone who uses JAWS (anecdotally speaking, the most popular
screen reader in use today) in combination with IE or Firefox (anecdotally
speaking, the two most popular browsers in use today).  Better yet, try it
yourself.  It works, and it works every time.

> - Adding a longdesc without an alternative method of access to the
>long description results in many users with disabilities being unable
>to access the content or even being aware that the content is there.

No argument here, but it that reason to remove it from the spec before
replacing it with something better?  Does the W3C intend to punish
screen-reader users, who have easy access to long descriptions, because
non-screen-reader users do *not* have equal access to long descriptions?

>as previously noted by Steve Faulkner on this list:
>Also note RNIB and WebAIM already recommend using a normal link
>instead of longdesc and have done so for many years, and authoring
>reference sites like SitePoint and W3Schools already advise authors to
>use a normal link instead of longdesc and have done so for many years.
>So I don't see any benefits in the W3C delaying officially obsoleting
>longdesc any longer. Most of the web sector has already obsoleted
>longdesc and moved on years ago anyway.

I disagree.  Removing longdesc from the spec before it has been replaced
with something more useful gives authors no reasonable, simple option for
conveying long descriptions in a manner that doesn't force a visual
encumbrance on everyone.  Not only that, but from an outsider's view (and
even from an insider's viewŠ) it appears that the W3C is torpedoing a
primary rule in its own accessibility philosophy.  The solution is simple,
and everyone eventually gets what he or she wants:  just put longdesc back
in the spec now, then remove it when describedat (or whatever it's going
to be called) replaces it.  Then everyone in the industry can make the
slow transition from old to new.

I don't know who or where "most of the Web sector" is, but I can tell you
that in NCAM's sector, there are still plenty of reasons to use longdesc.
I recently spent two days with a major international textbook publisher,
training developers and authors there in Web-accessibility techniques.  At
least half of each session I conducted was consumed with approaches to
describing complex STEM images.  This publisher, and many others in the
industry, wants to convey image descriptions to users that need them (also
see https://www.w3.org/Bugs/Public/show_bug.cgi?id=13461).  Believe it or
not, visual design still matters and so using visible links and/or using
visible descriptions are not options.  longdesc *is* the only option at
this point, and it's a workable option (see above) even though it's
unevenly supported and targets a single, specific audience.  At least,
it's workable until a better solution comes along.

>Using a normal link with appropriate link/alt text, optionally
>enhanced with aria-describedby or rel=longdesc where required, is the
>only practical, reliable and effective way to provide accessible
>off-page long descriptions at the current time and this will remain
>the case for the foreseeable future. In my view, this is the approach
>the HTML-A11Y-TF and WAI should be recommending.
Received on Sunday, 1 April 2012 13:54:13 UTC

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