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Re: Expanding longdesc use

From: Laura Carlson <laura.lee.carlson@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2012 12:10:25 -0500
Message-ID: <CAOavpvcWQqi4kTR51ODcpQiOPXEnbCf1HDzvGm0p-qUr98QKnQ@mail.gmail.com>
To: Silvia Pfeiffer <silviapfeiffer1@gmail.com>
Cc: LĂ©onie Watson <lwatson@nomensa.com>, Joshue O Connor <joshue.oconnor@cfit.ie>, HTML Accessibility Task Force <public-html-a11y@w3.org>, W3C WAI-XTECH <wai-xtech@w3.org>, Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis <bhawkeslewis@googlemail.com>
Hi Silvia,

Thank you very much for your email. Nice to hear from you.

> I couldn't agree more with the general sentiment of this thread - a
> general solution to off-page linked long descriptions is necessary for
> multiple elements, not just img.

That's great. The Change Proposal does state that "It would possibly
allow longdesc to be used on other elements that need descriptions."

> I personally don't think that
> @longdesc is going to be the name of that solution, simply because it
> has too much baggage, but I'm pragmatic about it and just want to see
> a consistent, well-thoughtout solution that is applicable to multiple
> elements.

The name is important for backwards compatibility. I considered
seriously considered renaming the attribute but realized that breaking
both compatibility with existing best practice (and documentation of
the same), as well as requiring a wide range of tools, content, and
authoring guidance to be updated in order to achieve compatibility
with a replacement for longdesc - for something meant to solve the
same problem, is an intolerable cost. It would be an illogical undue
burden and unacceptable to authors and organizations that have already
made investments in the use of longdesc.


Longdesc is implemented in authoring tools [1], assistive technology
[2], and user agents [3]. A renamed longdesc would have zero

Even when/if tools do come along, not everyone will be able to afford
to throw away existing tools to get the newest model. People rely on
existing tools to author and test long descriptions [4]. It has been
well established that WYSIWYG tools simplify authoring longdesc. An
array of tools exists to author longdesc [5] and to check that the
longdesc works [6]. Two browsers (Opera and iCab) natively support
this testing (three if we count Home Page Reader which is currently
still in use in Japan). Longdesc has a growing arsenal of extensions,
configurations, and plugins that are used for testing. A renamed
longdesc will have zero existing support tools.

Longdesc-related features in existing authoring tools should continue
to output valid content: both authors and users have perfectly
reasonable expectations that longdesc will continue to be supported by
existing tools, and will continue to have its current (i.e., intended)
effect in existing content.


It has been substantially evidenced via the documentation of over
FIFTEEN HUNDRED real world examples [7]  of longdesc that authors do
indeed use longdesc in practice to improve accessibility. This is a
non-negligible number of examples elements that utilize longdesc in
meaningful ways. All of the images in those examples would be
significantly less accessible (some even totally inaccessible) without
it. By using longdesc these real world examples provide
programmatically determinable long descriptions of content in
accordance with a target audience's needs.

For a page that is fully accessible and compliant today to suddenly be
flagged as non-compliant is counter to the backwards-compatibility and
interoperability objectives of HTML5.

During the past year alone, numerous organizations such as the A11y
Bugs Project, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Axel
Schafer, SPD Abgeordneter im Deutschen Bundestag fur Bochum, CSS
Squirrel, Canadian Department of Justice, Canadian Space Agency,
Correctional Service Canada, Department of Transportation (Taiwan),
Courts Administration Service (Canada), Daegu Metropolitan Office of
Education (South Korea), Office of the Superintendent of Financial
Institutions Canada, Elections Canada, Environment Canada, Griffith
University (Australia), Hipocampo, HTML Accessibility Task Force,
HTML5 Multimedia, Kyungpook (South Korea), Marine National Park
(Taiwan), Michigan State University, National Center on Birth Defects
and Developmental Disabilities, Object Description, Ohlone College,
University (South Korea), Oracle, Oriental Hospital of Daejeon
University (South Korea), Panel on Responsible Conduct of Research
(Canada), Paris Web, Parliament of Canada , Public Safety Canada,
Public Works and Government Services Canada, Rebuilding The Web,
Social Security Online, Special Education Support Center (South
Korea), Statistics Canada, Statistique Canada, Substance Abuse &
Mental Health Services Administration, tech.burningbird, Treasury
Board of Canada Secretariat, Texas State Library, U.S. Department of
Health & Human Services, and the University of Minnesota have used it
in reports and publications.

Notably the two sister sites Statistics Canada and Statistique Canada
[9] are consistently using longdesc in "The Daily" publication. "The
Daily" produces statistics on a business-day basis that help Canadians
better understand their country, its population, resources, economy,
society and culture. Please refer to Statistics Canada and Statistique
Canada for detailed evidence. [8]

On July 29, 2011 Suzanne Taylor and Ed McCoyd, Esq., of the
Association of American Publishers attested:

"We are using longdesc increasingly in our products." [10]

Content owners should not have to re-author content, already being
delivered to legacy devices as well as to today's leading-edge
browsers and assistive technology, in order for it to be valid and
accessible HTML5.


Obsoleting and renaming longdesc would result in mixed messages
between existing documents and HTML5. Such messages can serve only to
confuse. Those who encounter the array of books [11], online tutorials
[12], guidelines, laws, policies and standards [13] that have already
recognized longdesc's importance to accessibility will expect longdesc
to continue to function as described.

Materials such as these have a way of living on; they will not be
obsoleted in the foreseeable future.

Anyway, Silvia, re-branding to a new name would destroy all of this.
That is why I did not re-brand and pursue bug 10455 [14]. Instead I
stayed with the longdesc name.

Best Regards,

[0] http://www.w3.org/html/wg/wiki/ChangeProposals/InstateLongdesc/Conclusion
[1] http://www.d.umn.edu/~lcarlson/research/ld.html#atools
[2] http://www.d.umn.edu/~lcarlson/research/ld.html#at
[3] http://www.d.umn.edu/~lcarlson/research/ld.html#browsers
[4] http://john.foliot.ca/wysiwyg_longdesc/
[5] http://www.w3.org/html/wg/wiki/ChangeProposals/InstateLongdesc/Implementation#Recent_Research_on_Authoring_Tools
[6] http://www.d.umn.edu/~lcarlson/research/ld-ua.html
[7] http://www.d.umn.edu/~lcarlson/research/ld.html#wild
[8] http://www.d.umn.edu/~lcarlson/research/ld.html#statcan
[9] http://www.d.umn.edu/~lcarlson/research/ld.html#statcanf
[10] https://www.w3.org/Bugs/Public/show_bug.cgi?id=13461#c1
[11] http://www.d.umn.edu/~lcarlson/research/ld.html#books
[12] http://www.d.umn.edu/~lcarlson/research/ld.html#tutorials
[13] http://www.d.umn.edu/~lcarlson/research/ld.html#glps
[14] https://www.w3.org/Bugs/Public/show_bug.cgi?id=10455
Laura L. Carlson
Received on Thursday, 15 March 2012 17:11:00 UTC

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