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concerns with the Web Content guidelines

From: Heather Swayne <hswayne@microsoft.com>
Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2000 18:28:42 -0800
Message-ID: <3C3175FCC945D211B65100805F1580890D3D1EB2@RED-MSG-07>
To: "'w3c-wai-gl@w3.org'" <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Cc: Heather Swayne <hswayne@microsoft.com>
I've recently taken ownership of Office and FrontPage's compliance to the
WAI Authoring Tools guidelines.  I will be attending the authoring tools
working group meeting on Sunday March 26, but I have some concerns about the
Web Content guidelines that I was hoping this working group could address.

Microsoft has publicly announced its dedication to creating and supporting
Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) as the standard for communication
between applications and accessibility related software.  Rob Sinclair, of
the Microsoft Accessibility and Disabilities Group, is currently working
with accessibility software vendors to define the next version of MSAA that
is scheduled to include text and table support for all windows applications.
The Web Content guidelines 5.1 and 5.2 describe how data tables should be
correctly marked up to enable "Future browsers and assistive technologies
[to] automatically translate tables into linear sequences or navigate a
table cell by cell if data is labeled appropriately."  Does this imply that
accessibility software vendors will be required to support MSAA (to access
information from non HTML applications) and the HTML object model defined by
the W3C?

Web Content guideline 6.3 "Ensure that pages are usable when scripts,
applets, or other programmatic objects are turned off or not supported..."
does not allow for the fact that scripting can be used without creating
dynamic client side pages. 

Microsoft Office 2000 made a strong commitment to its users by not requiring
IE 5 to be used to view its HTML output.  Most Office users live in a mixed
browser environment, and cannot rely on users to have the most recent
browser.  Web Content guidelines 5.3 and 5.4 specifically asked authors to
avoiding using tables for layout, regardless of the benefit of using tables
for down level browsers and localization (when leveraging automatic text
layout within tables).  The techniques document section 4.5.2 "Avoid tables
for layout" suggests that the user use style sheets for layout, positioning,
and all formatting, which would require a level 4 browser or above and
additional localization costs.  The fact that tables are being so widely
used to support down level browsers and to simplify localization efforts,
further emphasizes the need for a global text and table solution that does
not rely on linearizing tables.

I became aware of, and interested in, the Web Content working group because
the Authoring Tools guidelines directly point to several Web Content
guidelines.  I strongly believe that the role of an authoring tool is to
make it easier for the user to create great HTML.  I define great HTML as
accomplishing the users objectives, readable by the users target browser,
and of course accessible.  The largest difficulty Office, and other HTML
authoring tools, will have complying to the WAI's guidelines will be
handling users that do not know or care about accessibility.  The current
Web Content guidelines do not take into account that authoring tools will
need to supply most of this information for the author, and without the
author's knowledge.  Again discussing Web Content guidelines 5.1 and 5.2, it
will be impossible to be 100% accurate in guessing what the row and column
headers should for all tables, and when an authoring tool guesses wrong we
will create a scenario that is worse than having done nothing (the author
will feel that their page is accessible, not tool will be able to auto
detect the mistake, and the end-user suffers).  Both the Web Content and
Authoring Tools working groups need to account for an imperfect user.

Summary of issues:
1) Web content guidelines, in regards to tables, do not fit with current
efforts to address accessibility software vendors' needs for a global (not
just HTML) method to access text and tabular information.
2) Web Content guidelines should not condemn scripting just because it could
be used to create dynamic content.
3) Web Content guidelines and techniques need to address down level browsers
and localization usage of tables.
4) In general, the Web Content guidelines appear to assume an author with
perfect knowledge of accessibility.

My objective for writing this alias and participating in any further
discussions on this subject is to make you aware of and help you to address
the concerns product developers (specifically FrontPage and the rest of
Office) will have with your guidelines.  If it's appropriate I could attend
the WAI Web Content guidelines meeting on March 20th in Los Angeles.  

Thank you,
Heather Swayne
Program Manager
Microsoft Accessibility and Disabilities Group
Microsoft Office Liaison
Received on Wednesday, 15 March 2000 21:29:20 UTC

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