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Re: [#925] mandatory H1

From: Michele Diodati <michele@diodati.org>
Date: Thu, 26 Aug 2004 11:11:54 +0200
Message-Id: <200408260909.i7Q99kX7056645@mail2.mclink.it>
To: "w3c-wai-gl" <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>

Michael Cooper wrote:

>1) Not require any specific headings at all
>2) Require that if heading elements are used, the H1 be used
>	2a) Require that H1 be the first heading on the page
>	2b) Require that H1 simply be present on the page, even if not the first heading
>3) Require that no more than one H1 be present, that is, one and only one H1 must be present
>4) Make no specific requirements about H1 vs. other heading elements
>I personally lean towards option 4, and failing that, option 2b. But I would like to know what others think.

I think that a web page should start with a H1 heading and that one and only one H1 heading should be present on the same page. If we consider the page content as a whole, H1 should be the label for that whole (really a duplication of the TITLE element). Every other content should be considered a subset of the content labeled from the first H1 heading. If we need a second H1 heading, maybe we can split the content on two different web pages. However I know that the above is not a perfect solution. Admittedly, a web page is a complex entity and it is not easy to determine a right heading level for every page content, especially if we assume that the whole page content is to be subsumed under the same H1 heading. For example, could (or should) a navigation menu or a credits block or a copyright notice be considered subsets of the same H1 as the main page content is? And if so, which is their level of heading (H2 perhaps)? 

Moreover, in the real world an information block may not begin with a heading. For example, a newspaper article typically begins with a lemma or with an abstract. So the main heading can be the second or even the third element in an information block. On a printed paper this is not a problem at all, but on the web it is. Blind people, navigating contents via keyboard, implicitly assumes that each heading in a page is the beginning of the related information block. Consequently, web authors need to put headings at the very top of the related information block, if they want that lemmas, abstracts, half-titles, subtitles, etc. will be red from every kind of user. A solution, for visual users, could be to position absolutely via CSS those elements that should be seen first, even though in the markup they follow their heading. But it is not a perfect solution, because absolute positioning makes difficult resizing the page content without hiding some blocks under other blocks.

All this considered, I think it is very difficult to write an universally valid recommendation for accessible use of headings. However, suggesting to use only one H1 per page (and that H1 has to be the first content in a page) is probably a minor damage for accessibility beside letting authors free to choose without a rule a way to handle headings on a web page.

Michele Diodati
Received on Thursday, 26 August 2004 09:09:52 UTC

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