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Formal Request for Re-Instation of @longdesc into the HTML 5 specification (was RE: How to add/reinstate dropped accessibly features in HTML5 (was Re: longdesc="" in HTML5))

From: John Foliot <foliot@wats.ca>
Date: Sun, 7 Sep 2008 13:02:07 -0700
To: "'Laura Carlson'" <laura.lee.carlson@gmail.com>, "'Michael\(tm\) Smith'" <mike@w3.org>, "'Chris Wilson'" <Chris.Wilson@microsoft.com>, "'Dan Connolly'" <connolly@w3.org>, "'Ian Hickson'" <ian@hixie.ch>
Cc: <wai-liaison@w3.org>, <public-html@w3.org>, <wai-xtech@w3.org>
Message-ID: <00e801c91124$9c493cb0$863c42ab@stanford.edu>

Mr. Hickson, Mr. Connolly, Mr. Smith,

It has been noted that there may indeed be a procedural shortcoming which
this note seeks to address.  Should the answer to Ms. Carlson's question,
"Is this WHATWG FAQ an official W3C HTML5 working group process/procedure?"
be yes, then we may have been remiss in addressing that requirement.

Thus, I here-by submit my request to have @longdesc re-instated into the
HTML 5 draft, based upon the published criteria at
http://wiki.whatwg.org/wiki/FAQ#Is_there_a_process_for_adding_new_features_t
o_the_spec.3F

Is there a process for adding new features to the spec? 

The process is rather informal, but basically boils down to this: 

1. Research the use cases and requirements by discussing the issue with
authors and implementors. 

	a)	Recap of discussion on the French-language ‘Accessiweb’
mailing list by Catherine Roy (2007-09-18):
http://www.catherine-roy.net/html5_feedback.html#longdesc

“So, essentially, the users wished, until something really better and well
supported comes along, that longdesc stay.”

“One user responded to this that while the idea of associating the long
description more closely to the image seemed attractive at first, it would
mean getting that information every time, which could be a pain for pages
visited often, especially if these pages had several images, so he preferred
longdesc as this way, he still had a choice to access it or not.” 

	b)	Creation of HTML Issue Tracker entry: “Should HTML 5 include
a longdesc attribute for images” by Charles McCathieNevile (2008-02-05)
State: RAISED http://www.w3.org/html/wg/tracker/issues/30

“So while some things (especially while they were not well supported) have
resulted in abuse, I don't think it follows that we should therefore assume
there is no baby in the bath, and just tip it all out - especially, if the
actual cost of the abuse is low, and in the longdesc case I claim that the
real cost of abuse compared to the benefit of good use is vanishingly small
even when most usage is incorrect.”  (Charles McCathieNevile / Opera
Software)

[on introducing a new method to “replace” @longdesc] “IMHO, the reason not
to do this is twofold.  One is that you have a new element that won't be
recognised by existing  authoring tools, user agents, assistive
technologies, educational  material, etc - so you slow down quite
considerably getting back to the  small but important gains longdesc has
given.
In addition, this is replicating what longdesc does, but a magical
parent-child relationship seems harder to deal with than an attribute that
is a pointer. For instance, if I had a full description page (rich media,
not just a few lines of text) describing my drawing of Guerníka, but  didn't
want to put that content in the same container element as the  image, what
would I do in the proposed model? In the existing longdesc, I  put it
somewhere else and add a pointer - people who want it get it, the  rest are
free to ignore it and see my drawing in its original visual  framing as god
and nature intended.”  (Charles McCathieNevile / Opera Software)

	c)	Creation of ESW Wiki entry: “HTML 5 Issue: Image Equivalent
Content” http://esw.w3.org/topic/HTML/LongdescRetention

Requirement:  In situations where images are not available to the user
(because of disability, choice, or UA limitation) there is a need for a
mechanism that presents equivalent content to the user, either as an
alternative to the image or in a side-by-side exposition. Equivalent content
is not, nor should it be, and either/or proposition, and its method of
exposition should be subject to user control, as some user groups may need
both the image and its detailed description in order to make sense of the
image or — in the case of a user with an extremely small viewport — to
follow the image's flow. 

Status: Unresolved

	d)	Numerous discussion threads on W3C mailing lists, WHAT WG
list and others:
(a few examples from the WHAT WG archives follow)

“I've spoken to a person who is blind about HTML5 and accessibility. I
thought I'd send some of his thoughts to the list.  ...He says that HTML5
shouldn't drop the longdesc attribute, because it is useful for people using
screen readers.”
http://lists.whatwg.org/htdig.cgi/whatwg-whatwg.org/2006-June/006669.html

“Perhaps a better method would be using the longdesc attribute to associate
a caption with an image.”
http://lists.whatwg.org/htdig.cgi/whatwg-whatwg.org/2006-June/006840.html


Conclusion: Research and Discussion is ongoing and feedback is forthcoming




2. Come up with a clear description of the problem that needs to be solved. 

“In situations where images are not available to the user (because of
disability, choice, or UA limitation) there is a need for a mechanism that
presents equivalent content to the user, either as an alternative to the
image or in a side-by-side exposition. Equivalent content is not, nor should
it be, and either/or proposition, and its method of exposition should be
subject to user control, as some user groups may need both the image and its
detailed description in order to make sense of the image or — in the case of
a user with an extremely small viewport — to follow the image's flow.”
http://esw.w3.org/topic/HTML/LongdescRetention

“HTML 4 includes a longdesc attribute for images, designed to allow authors
to provide extended textual alternatives to image content for users without
access to the image. It is unclear what the relative balance of merits and
problems with this approach is and hence whether it should be included in
HTML 5.” 
http://www.w3.org/html/wg/tracker/issues/30

“Need: Complex images require robust textual equivalents to ensure that they
can be perceived by users who cannot visualize a graphic.  Users in this
user-group are generally the visually impaired, but also included users of
text only terminals, or users who have disabled images (for whatever
reason).  SEO benefits can also be obtained through better descriptions of
images.

Need: Due to some (visual) design demands, links to longer tracks of text
that provide robust descriptions often need to be unobtrusive, yet easily
discoverable.  While using scripting or CSS techniques may provide partial
solutions, we cannot always rely on these solutions to be supported by
end-users/user-agents. (the phrase "progressive enhancement" comes to mind)

Need: A direct, programmatic link between the visual asset and the
description must exist (DOM), so that accessibility APIs can interact with
this link (see discoverable above). This is essentially the same problem
that was faced with @alt, except that in this case, the volume of
information that is contained in the alternative description is
significantly more extensive than the intent of the information supplied by
@alt

Statement of Fact: To date, the best solution proposed to address these
needs is @longdesc.  Currently however, User-agent support for this
attribute (with rare exception) has been poor to non-existent, an
acknowledged problem.  Because of this poor support, many developers simply
do not avail themselves to the attribute, or mis-use it due to poor
education surround usage of the attribute."

http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/wai-xtech/2008Sep/0097.html



3. Discuss your proposal with authors and implementors. Read the responses.
Listen to the feedback. Consider whether your ideas are good solutions to
the use cases and requirements put forward. Discussions here should be done
in public, e.g. on an archived public mailing list or documented in blogs.

See above. Public discussion is ongoing and feedback is forthcoming.



4. Get implementors to commit to implementing the feature. If you can't get
several implementors to implement the feature, then get at least one user
agent to implement it experimentally. Experimental implementations should be
publicly available.

"The alt attribute is no longer displayed as the image tooltip when the
browser is running in IE8 mode. The target of the longDesc attribute is now
used as the tooltip if present; otherwise, the title is displayed. The alt
attribute is still used as the Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) name.
If this attribute is not present, the title attribute is used
instead."
http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms534132(VS.85).aspx

"iCab [provides access to @longdesc] directly through the contextual menu's
Image-Description(which opens the @longdesc URL in a new window). In
Gecko-based browsers you need to, through the contextual menu, open the
image's "Properties" window, which lists the @longdesc URL as a
"Description". In the current Firefox the URL is just text, but I'm told
that in Netscape 6 and 7 it is a (clickable) hyperlink."
http://tinyurl.com/6ryq4u

- lack of native support for @longdesc in WebKit is considered and tracked
as a bug: 
https://bugs.webkit.org/show_bug.cgi?id=10448

- lack of support in Opera has been called a bug as well:
http://www.gtalbot.org/BrowserBugsSection/Opera9Bugs/

- evidence of individual developers trying to fix or improve support of
@longdesc (band-aids):
  * Longdesc Linker for Internet Explorer 6:
http://www.hackcraft.net/longdesclink/
  * Firefox Longdesc Extension:
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/273
  * Longdesc Acid Test: http://www.malform.no/acidlongdesctest/



5. Bring the experimental implementations to the attention of the spec's
editor.

See above, and by way of this note, specifically brought to Mr. Hickson's
attention.  As he has indicated that to date this has not happened (below),
and I wish to rectify this problem as quickly as possible.

 On 9/7/08, Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch> wrote:
 
> I hate to throw fuel on the fire here, but as far as longdesc="" is
> concerned, the reason it isn't in HTML5 is that there has never been
> any feedback sent that described a problem for which longdesc="" was
> even remotely considered as a solution.
> 
> As is described here:
> 
> http://wiki.whatwg.org/wiki/FAQ#Is_there_a_process_for_adding_new_feat
> ures_to_the_spec.3F 
> 
> ...and as has been previously described on this list, the way that
> any feature gets added is by first establishing a problem to solve,
> and then coming up with the best solutions to address the problem.
> To get on my radar, there has to be an actual problem we are trying
> to solve that isn't already solved in some better way. This has
> never happened for any problem where longdesc="" (or things like it)
> were a candidate solution. 

*************

I believe that the above shows that there is indeed a specific need for, and
as yet no other solution that delivers, the specific functionality that
@longdesc provides.  Further, emergent work is showing that implementors are
currently working on improving support for @longdesc today, and as such this
attribute should be reinstated into the HTML 5 specification.

Sincerely,

John Foliot
Received on Sunday, 7 September 2008 20:02:59 UTC

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