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RE: Table Questions

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Fri, 11 May 2001 13:14:39 -0700
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
re: http://www.geocities.com/lizdesign/tables.html

Steven McCaffrey wrote:
"The only minor difficulty is to figure out which comes under property and
which under description but I think all the important information is clear."

In the example, the entire table is a description of a [real estate]
property, thus the heading, "Property Description." Steve, hearing these
words spoken and then followed by a list of "properties" and their values
(descriptions), assumed that Property and Description were separate column

That he could misinterpret this table so is a superb example of just how
difficult it can be to construct tables that make sense when read aloud by
screen readers without actually hearing them read aloud. As a visual user, I
would never have guessed that someone could misinterpret Property
Description. But after seeing the output of Steven's screen reader, I can
easily see how one might, especially in the context of a discussion of

This also gives support to my conclusion below...

Liz Roberts wrote:
"I feel like I'm using a table for layout... but if I think about the data
logically, it seems like there are logical headers, etc."

I would have to say that you *are* using the table for layout. Yes, there is
a logical relationship between the data, but then there usually is a logical
relationship between the items on a page. What you are really building here
is more of a list. If you want to structure it in tabular format, a better
way would be to use fields and records (like a database table):

Property         Type    Level   Bedrooms
123 Main Street  Duplex  Ground  5
456 Elm Street   Duplex  Ground  3

Now you have a data table.

The way your page is currently set up, you could just as easily structure it
this way:

<h1>Housing Search Detail Page</h1>

<h2>123 Main Street</h2>

    <li>Type: Duplex</li>
    <li>Level: Ground</li>


Or even like this:

<h2>123 Main Street</h2>


(Some might object to this use of DL, but I think it's appropriate.)

Thus, I conclude that your use of an HTML table is not so much to organize
the data into fields and records, as to format your list into two columns. I
think that this is the source of your feeling that you are really doing
layout. (Another hint is your use of colons after Address, Type, Level,

But the most important question here is, Does it work? And with the
exception of Steven's misinterpretation of Property Description (pretty
harmless), it seems to. My complaint would be not with the use of a table
per se, but with the overall aesthetic. The "properties" and their
associated values are equally weighted. To my eye, that makes the table
difficult to read (easier, in fact, to hear read aloud). Using the list
format above, particularly the one with the definition list, would result in
a more readable output while using a structure that better represents the
key=value pair nature of the data.

Just my two cents...

Charles F. Munat
Seattle, Washington
Received on Friday, 11 May 2001 16:14:34 UTC

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