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RE: [wcag2] Layout tables

From: <oedipus@hicom.net>
Date: Sun, 18 Apr 2004 17:07 +0100
Message-Id: <200404182107.i3IL7NYs038558@ns1.hicom.net>
To: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Cc: Maurizio Boscarol <maurizio@usabile.it>

maurizio wrote, quote:
Can anyone explain to me what kind of  handicap layout tables are for 
people using website with any technology we can imagine?
unquote

it ain't a question of imagining, maurizio -- turn off your monitor, unplug your mouse, unplug your keyboard fire up voice-input and voice-output software and then you will be able to explain to everyone else who doesn't understand quote what kind of handicap unquote a uni-modal construct with exceedingly poor flow control such as a TABLE can impose, especially in the realm of ecommerce or news, or, better, yet, try and fill out a table-ized form -- even those which populate W3C space, whose layout is controlled by TABLE, lack such simple binding/orientational mechanisms as LABEL, FIELDSET, and LEGEND -- making anything other than the simplest 1 or 2 field form maddeningly difficult to complete, let alone submit with any sense of confidence that it has been completed correctly...

if WCAG is to have any utility whatsoever, imagining has no place in our deliberations as a working group -- what is needed is proof of concept, both from the markup point-of-view (and a thorough reworking of W3C space to bring it up to Level Triple-A compliance would be a good start) and from a testing point of view -- empirical evidence rather than addressing issues in theory is what is needed in addressing these issues -- quote if only assistive technology X implemented W3C TR Y, then the problem would be solved unquote is hardly the basis for providing quote real life unquote guidance...  there are more barriers to accessibility and more limits to the capacity of assistive technologies than are dreamed of in all our philosophies, so to base our conclusions and recommendations upon our limited knowledge slash imaginations is not only folly -- it is sheer madness...

when it comes to tables, remember, all of you with eyes to see, that there is NO such thing as a gestalt view for anyone processing information either linearly or in small discrete chunks...  tables, in particular layout tables, rely upon the brain's ability to construct a gestalt view via the agency of sight and the logical processing of symbolic markers (font weight, differences in background color, the visual order in which items appear, etc.) -- when one looks at a table, one is actually making a series of decisions as to the relative importance of discrete items, the proper flow of text, the relationship between non-textual elements and textual elements, etc. -- one can skip sidebars or read them in context or at a time of one's choosing -- without the gestalt view, such things are impossible, despite the best efforts of assistive technology developers and table-unrolling scripts -- what you see is very rarely what one hears or feels...

and for those who can see but who have difficulty processing too much information in too small a space or who cannot construct and/or maintain chains between related pieces of information because they are geographically separated, tables are equally pernicious...

as for the oft-quoted quote reality unquote of clients demanding layout tables for backwards compatibility here's a counter-reality check: if the concern is quote graceful degradation unquote, then how can one justify the use of tables in the name of quote older browsers unquote when such quote older browsers unquote include table-incapable browsers, such as lynx and other text-based browsers...

if marquee and other such obscenities can be deprecated, derided, and suppressed, why not TABLE?  all of the quote real world unquote and quote practical unquote objections to the use of layout tables strike me as spurious -- would the same people who complain that you didn't use tables on their web site because of backwards-compatibility issues also complain that you relied on a flash object to convey content?  javascript commands to reveal navigational options or to refresh content?  java applets and ActiveX controls?  no, of course not, and yet, the aforementioned often have difficulty (if not outright incompatibility issues) playing well with quote older browsers unquote, so the quote use tables for the sake of older browsers unquote argument simply doesn't hold water...

slavery in the united states was long justified on the basis that quote too many people slash too much of the economy relied upon it for it to be abolished unquote as well on the basis that it is easier than performing the work oneself unquote -- the equivalent of the quote simpler coding unquote argument advanced in defense of layout tables...  all of the arguments which have been advanced for the preservation of tables as a structural element are equally spurious and indefensible...

continued use of TABLEs for layout is no different than excusing the lack of an accessible entrance to a physical building simply because quote the developers didn't want to ruin the aesthetics of the facade unquote, or provide an accessible bathroom stall simply because it takes too much work, expense, and -- perish the thought -- forethought to install...

either the WAI and GL takes a stand on issues such as this, our work is less than meaningless -- it is merely a sick, tasteless joke and a massive waste of the time and talent of all who have contributed to the effort, formally and informally...

gregory.
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ABSURDITY, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent 
with one's own opinion.
                -- Ambrose Bierce, _The Devils' Dictionary_
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          Gregory J. Rosmaita, oedipus@hicom.net
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Received on Sunday, 18 April 2004 17:07:43 GMT

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