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RE: Request for PFWG WAI review of @summary for tabular data

From: Sailesh Panchang <sailesh.panchang@deque.com>
Date: Thu, 21 Aug 2008 09:48:04 -0400
To: "'HTML WG'" <public-html@w3.org>, "'W3C WAI-XTECH'" <wai-xtech@w3.org>
Message-ID: <48ad6f73.1b17400a.5703.1219@mx.google.com>

>I have seen a number of anecdotal assertions of its usefulness, but the 
>only actual usability study I have seen (courtesey of Joshue, who cannot 
>be thanked enough for his help here) showed a user dismiss the summary="" 
>information as uniformally useless for his needs (though again, the user 
>said that anecdotally, it could be useful for less advanced users).
>I am hesitant to include a feature like summary="" when all evidence seems 
>to point to it being widely misused by authors and ignored by the users it 
>intends to help.

Well  elements and attributes must be used properly and in the manner
intended. Then they serve their purpose. Using them incorrectly may appear
to some as anecdotal but frustrating to those to whom it matters. Same as an
alt="space" for a spacer.gif or where a list  / blockquoe markup is used
solely to indent some content. This affects at least screen reader users;
other users may not even notice it. 
The summary attribute serves a very important function for non-visual users
and could indeed be important to several sighted persons if it were rendered
visually by user agents. Certainly  things like summary="This is a layout
table" is the equivalent of alt="space". For simple data tables, layout
tables and the like a summary attribute could be null if it is a mandatory
attribute. The summary attribute is really useful: 
i. for complex data tables that use multiple level of column / row headers,
where rows are grouped like in financial tables or statistical tables etc. A
well written description of  the table's structure that tells a user how the
data is organized in the table helps a screen reader user quickly comprehend
it and use the appropriate navigation style. If not well written say, by
authors who do not know its purpose, then they will be anecdotal /
frustrating depending on ones perspective. 
ii. for revealing key  trends or cell values that can be discerned visually
or to direct attention to particular rows / columns of values. This could be
useful in complex tables as well as for large 2-dimensional tables  

The summary attribute is in the HTML4 specs for a purpose and untill there
is an alternative feature by which user agents and assistive technology can
expose that info to users for whom it is required, the attribute should not
be  shown the door.      
Sailesh Panchang
Accessibility Services Manager (Web and Software)
Deque Systems Inc. (www.deque.com)
11130 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite #140,
Reston VA 20191
Phone: 703-225-0380 (ext 105)
Cell: 571-344-1765
E-mail: sailesh.panchang@deque.com
Received on Thursday, 21 August 2008 13:37:37 GMT

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