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RE: using a form field for terms & conditions

From: Lauke PH <P.H.Lauke@salford.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 15 Aug 2003 10:13:01 +0100
Message-ID: <3A1D23A330416E4FADC5B6C08CC252B9787694@misnts6.mis.salford.ac.uk>
To: "WAI Mailing list \(E-mail\)" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>

Anthony,

in my opinion, using a form such as

<form action="whatever.php" method="POST">
<label for="tc">Terms and Conditions</label>
<textarea id="tc" readonly="readonly">
These are the Terms and Conditions for this site...
</textarea>
<input type="submit" name="submit" id="tcsubmit" value="I accept" />
</form>

or similar for the terms and conditions presents us with two problems:

1) obviously, screenreaders will announce that the user is currently
in a form. The tc textarea will be announced as "Edit - Terms and Conditions".
This can be slightly irritating. Moreover, the version of JAWS I used to test
this (4.02) did not announce that it was in fact a read only edit box, so when
entering the textarea, it will prompt the user to "type in text"...which obviously
they can't. Not sure how other screenreaders handle this...

2) textarea does not allow any markup for its content beyond pure text. You
can't add structure (headings, paragraphs) or things such as abbreviation/acronym
tags. Especially with long T&C, this can be very tedious and can potentially pose
a substantial accessibility problem.

So, IMHO it would be far better not to stick T&Cs into a textarea. You avoid confusing
and/or annoying at least certain users (1) and you can properly structure your text,
adding any relevant tags you need (2).

I would posit that at least one of the main reasons for the wide-spread
use of these forms is that the legalese T&C are in many cases overly long,
convoluted pieces of text (Microsoft's EULA springs to mind). By sticking these in
a multiline textarea with scroll mechanism, you can fit a huge ammount of text into
the page while still controlling (or, more precisely, limiting) its appearance so
the page does not become hundreds of lines of text long.
Sticking the T&Cs in a <div> with an "overflow:auto" CSS rule and set dimensions can
achieve the same effect whilst avoiding the problems outlined previously (although on older
browsers the styling might not work and the div will just grow vertically with the ammount
of text etc contained within...but at least it's still perfectly usable/accessible despite
the fact that it won't look that "pretty" anymore).
And once you stop using textarea, there is no reason anymore to actually use
a form (although without it, users won't be able to just skip to the submit button
quickly...but this could be addressed with a reasonable tabindex for the "I accept"
link/image).

Hope my weird ramblings made some kind of sense...it's still too early in the morning
and I haven't had my coffee yet...

Patrick
________________________________
Patrick H. Lauke
Webmaster / University of Salford
http://www.salford.ac.uk
Received on Friday, 15 August 2003 05:14:05 GMT

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