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Sorting table columns

From: Chris Kreussling <CHRIS.KREUSSLING@ny.frb.org>
Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 12:55:56 -0500
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Message-id: <s6cd5fe7.044@ny.frb.org>
I have an application to publish a directory of information - name, city, state, and so on - on the Web. My question is: How can I indicate the sort order of the information - in other words, by which fields the information is sorted - and allow the user to change the sort order, in accessible ways? Solutions must work with HTML 3.2; advanced solutions such as HTML4.0+CSS which degrade gracefully to HTML 3.2 are even better. This application is still under development, so unfortunately I can not yet provide a URL. 

DETAILS:

The application allows a user to search the directory for entries which match their criteria, for example: all the entries in the state of Ohio whose name contains "Smith". The search results page lists the matching entries, and each entry in the list links to the full details of that entry.

On the results page, a summary of the search criteria and results appears at the top of the page:

   There are 130 directory entries matching your search criteria:
   Name contains "Smith"
   State=OH
   Results: 1-25   26-50  Last 25  
   Sorted by: Name

The user can view 25 entries at a time. The "Results:" line lets them navigate through all the results and changes in response to the user's current position. In this example the user is viewing the first 25 matching entries; "26-50" and "Last 25" are hyperlinked to those blocks of entries, while "1-25" is not, providing an indication to the user of their current position. The "Sorted by:" line explicitly describes the sort order.

The matching entries are presented in a table. The table is structural: column headings provide field names - name, city and state - while the rows provide the values for each field. Each name links to the full contents in the deirectory for that name. The default sort order is by Name, and the columns are listed in sort order.

SOLUTIONS UNDER CONSIDERATION

These are *not* necessarily accessible.

1) Highlight the column heading(s) for the sort field(s) to indicate the sort order. For example, an arrow could be placed at the front of the column heading - ^Name or >Name - as an additional, visual signal that the rows are sorted in ascending order by Name. I don't know how this could be done accessibly.

2) Let the user set the sort order with a radio button selection on the search form. To change the sort order on the results page, they've have to go back to the search form, revise the sort order, then re-submit the form.

3) Let the user change the sort order on the results page. This could be done by:
2a) Providing a simple form at the top of the page which allows the user to change the sort order, again with a radio button selection.
2b) Letting the user directly manipulate the column headings to indicate the preferred sort order. For example: the column heading text could link back to the server with a URL parm indicating the new sort order. The server obliges by resorting the results and returning the page back to the user.

4) Any explicit and implicit sort indicators change to reflect changes in sort order:
- text description of sort order
- column order
- column heading highlighting

Thanks for any/all suggestions.

<author>Chris Kreussling</author>
<disclaimer>The views expressed are 
those of the author and do not necessarily 
reflect the position of the Federal Reserve 
Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve 
System.</disclaimer>
Received on Friday, 19 February 1999 12:59:42 GMT

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