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

From: Ben Boyle <benjamins.boyle@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, 22 Aug 2008 00:59:50 +1000
Message-ID: <5f37426b0808210759s74efa496hb73e88355cebf4a4@mail.gmail.com>
To: "Ian Hickson" <ian@hixie.ch>
Cc: "HTML WG" <public-html@w3.org>

On Thu, Aug 21, 2008 at 7:21 PM, Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch> wrote:
> On Wed, 6 Aug 2008, Al Gilman wrote:
>> On 23 Jul 2008, at 7:27 PM, Chris Wilson wrote:
>> > Any update on this request from the PF group?
>> Here is a summary of how PFWG sees the situation as regards @summary on
>> <table> in HTML:
>> 1. @summary should stay
>> 2. It provides a needed service
>> 3. element content providing this info, *if linked by markup to the table*
>> offers growth to even better practice
>> 4. Don't have the linking markup yet; is a developmental item
>> 5. evolution not revolution says: keep @summary at least until alternatives
>> are deployed and stable

is this an opportunity to suggest <summary> again? it is proposed in
XHTML2 [1] as a child element of tables (like caption), as opposed to
the attribute from HTML4. Is this what Al is suggesting as "growth to
even better practice" ?

I see two key benefits in a summary element for authors:
1. it's a way to associate summary information that you want to be
shown (visually) with the table (as opposed to having summary
information contained in a sibling of the table). caption works this
way. this is accessible to all. I have concerns that using @summary
today is, by default, inaccessible to the average sighted user. I
intentionally avoid it for this very reason and encourage other
authors to do the same. (Sorry folks, that's what I do).
2. it is easier to educate authors to care about what they can see.
Element content trumps attribute content any day (for ease of
authoring, reviewing etc.). We can talk about the ideal
professionalism of authors if you want, but the low barrier to
authoring HTML is a huge contributor to its success. I'd like to
embrace it.

The bad: summary elements aren't supported in existing UAs and AT (my

I know @summary can be made visible via css/scripting, however I think
that raises the barrier to quality authoring (and relies on those
technologies for progressive enhancement, and accessibility should not
be dependent upon those layers). I have a firm belief that we should
be making it easier for authors, and making elements that contain key
content visible will help, imo. (Likewise, I hope the introduction of
figure/legend helps reduce the number of images with poor/missing

I know a visible summary doesn't address the need to place additional
information in an attribute that is more or less 'reserved' for screen
readers. Personally I don't agree there is any such need. If a summary
is useful, it's useful to everyone. I try to keep my approach true to
universal design. My opinion aside, I respect other authors have
different needs and trust them to exercise their own judgement
accordingly. There are a few ways I can think of to support this
"reserved summary":
a. retain @summary, in addition to the introduction of <summary> -
authors can choose to use one, both or neither.
b. allow @alt on table elements
c. use css to "hide" the <summary> from visual display

Simply put, I am asking for flexibility in the HTML language,
specifically a container element for summary information. Of course, I
can whack it in the caption:
  Table title goes here
  <small>A visible summary can go in here</small>

Anyway, I have a feeling I have emailed this suggestion before so I am
sure it is in the pipes somewhere. Seemed relevant again. Whatever the
decision, there will be a way to markup what we want. There always is.


[1] http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml2/mod-tables.html#sec_30.3.
Received on Thursday, 21 August 2008 15:00:27 UTC

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