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RE: abbr, acronym and working examples

From: Jukka Korpela <jukka.korpela@tieke.fi>
Date: Wed, 6 Nov 2002 13:27:55 +0200
Message-ID: <621574AE86FAD3118D1D0000E22138A95BDF35@TIEKE1>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

John Foliot wrote:

> By experience the <abbr> tag does not render the Title 
> attribute in IE,

Right, and we can even check from Microsoft's documentation that IE doesn't
even _recognize_ <abbr> markup.

> however the <acronym> tag works well.

Well, for some values of "work". If the markup for abbreviations is not
recognized, should we use markup that is defined for a different purpose?

We can use <acronym title="...">...</acronym> to get a "tooltip" effect. But
we can also use <span title="...">...</span>. It's shorter :-) and it does
not give false information. (I'm presuming that you would use <acronym> for
something that is an abbreviation, not a word.) Similarly, you can use style
sheet rules for <span> just as for <acronym>.

> Quite some time ago I recall a detailed discussion/treatise on the
> differences between abbreviations and acronyms and their place in web
> authoring.

It's been discussed fairly often on different fora. For one of the
discussions, you might check

> if the acronym element delivers practical functionality 
> versus the apparently ignored (or at least less supported) <abbr> tag 
> then who am I to quibble?

What practical functionality? The "tooltip" effect and styling possibilities
are nice, but they can be achieved using <span> as well, and, besides, they
are not that relevant to accessibility. Especially since the "tooltip" text
is by default in tiny size and stays on the screen for a few seconds only.

What if some browser with speech capability _really_ treats <acronym> markup
according to its definition? That would mean trying to pronounce its content
as a word. How would "HTML" sound that way?

> Do you *really* care if UNICEF is an abbreviation 
> or an acronym?

I do. Every author should. It's apparently a pronounceable word, and
normally read that way, so <acronym>UNICEF</acronym> is adequate markup.
Using <abbr> would not be wrong, in the sense that it is _also_ an
abbreviation, but it is natural to use as specific markup as possible.

Instead of discussing the risks of <abbr> and <acronym> more, I'd just like
to emphasize what is most essential for accessibility as regards to
abbreviations and any expressions that might be unfamiliar to visitors:

Explain them in prose. Don't rely on any markup. Explain any special
abbreviation, technical term, code, or other special expression when it
first appears.  If you expect most visitors to be familiar with the
expressions, it might be sufficient to put the explanations "behind links"
(i.e., the first occurrence is a link to an entry in a glossary, perhaps
with a suitable title attribute that gives a quick hint). 

Jukka Korpela, senior adviser 
TIEKE Finnish Information Society Development Centre
Diffuse Business Guide to Web Accessibility and Design for All:
Received on Wednesday, 6 November 2002 06:28:26 UTC

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