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[Bug 13666] New: Improve handling of footnotes and endnotes

From: <bugzilla@jessica.w3.org>
Date: Thu, 04 Aug 2011 03:09:40 +0000
To: public-html-bugzilla@w3.org
Message-ID: <bug-13666-2486@http.www.w3.org/Bugs/Public/>

           Summary: Improve handling of footnotes and endnotes
           Product: HTML WG
           Version: unspecified
          Platform: All
        OS/Version: All
            Status: NEW
          Keywords: a11y
          Severity: normal
          Priority: P2
         Component: HTML5 spec (editor: Ian Hickson)
        AssignedTo: ian@hixie.ch
        ReportedBy: gcl-0039@access-research.org
         QAContact: public-html-bugzilla@w3.org
                CC: mike@w3.org, public-html-wg-issue-tracking@w3.org,
                    public-html@w3.org, public-html-a11y@w3.org

The HTML5 spec does not have a dedicated mechanism for marking up footnotes and
endnotes, instead providing example of three different mechanisms that could be
used. I've not been able to find the rationale for this, including the decision
to drop the footnote link type, but as well as being a problem for the
publishing industry it is detrimental for accessibility.

My preference would be to use an element equivalent to aside, or aside with a
type modifier, which would give the user agent and therefore the user more
flexibility in how the reference and content are presented to the user, as well
as to the interaction used to view or hide the content. 

Use case: Roderick uses a screen reader. As a document is being read to him and
a footnote reference is encountered, he would prefer to hear a tone or simple
"Footnote", rather than something like "superscript fifty-three endsuperscript"
or worse, merely "fifty-three". In this case he does not need to know the
number; hearing that there's a footnote he could simply press a keyboard
command to jump to the footnote content. He would certainly not want the screen
reader to assume that anything in superscripts is a footnote reference, or else
things like <abbr>M<sup>lle</sup></abbr> Gwendoline</span> would be interpreted

Use case: Raymond finds context changes disorienting, so installs a browser
add-in (or user style sheet) that attempts to reduce the number of jumps and
links he needs to take. Ideally this would move footnotes from a section of
their own (or wherever the author chose to put them) to follow the paragraph in
which they occur. However, it only wants to do this with notes and perhaps
abbreviation expansions, not with other types of links. To do this it would
need to be able to identify footnote references as well as the block of
associated footnote content. When reading the footnote content, it could
automatically stop at the end rather than continuing to read the following
notes until Raymond manually stops it.

Note that the convention of putting footnote references in hard-coded brackets
is not appropriate for documents that are attempting to replicate the look and
feel of print. Neither is the spec's recommendation of putting notes in the
aside element.

If links are still used as footnote references, the text should recommend and
the examples should show the link pointing to an element that encloses the
entire footnote content, rather than just to a link at its beginning.

Authors should be able to mark up footnote references to indicate whether the
recommended presentation is as footnotes or endnotes, for user agents that want
to take advantage of this either when printing or when emulating a printed

Keep in mind that some users with low vision will need to override the small
size of superscript and subscript in order to keep them legible, for example
with a user style sheet or by turning off their browser's option to let content
override the default font size. However, they will still need to visually
distinguish them in some other fashion.

If an element such as aside is used for notes, it could also provide a
convenient way to let the user agent assign the note reference character,
symbol or string (as with the ol element) should the author not want to specify
their own.

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Received on Thursday, 4 August 2011 03:09:41 UTC

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