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Summary of Thursday's IRC conversation about @summary

From: Shelley Powers <shelleyp@burningbird.net>
Date: Fri, 05 Jun 2009 08:52:23 -0500
Message-ID: <4A292317.80909@burningbird.net>
To: public-html@w3.org
Sorry this isn't attached to any of the previous threads on the topic. 
I'm not part of the HTML WG and can't reply directly to the emails.

John Foliot asked for links to the research that led to the decision to 
drop @summary. Henri has posted links to the IRC entries, and they're 
good, but they lead to the actual information. Mark Pilgrim, Ian 
Hickson, and Philip Taylor all provided information, so if I miss 
anything, I hope they'll provide correction:

There seems to be two separate sources of data that led to the decision. 
The first was a set of videos discussing all of the accessible markup. 
These can be found at http://www.cfit.ie/html5_video/. Note the sound 
quality is bad, and for someone with some loss of hearing, like myself, 
they were very hard to hear.

The key to the second set of research can be found in a WhatWG blog post 
that Mark Pilgrim did a few years back, at 
http://blog.whatwg.org/the-longdesc-lottery. We find out in this post 
that Ian has been performing tests of data in the Google index, to look 
for instances of @summary @longdesc et al use, and then examine how 
they're being used. It's from this analysis that Ian, and presumably 
other members of the WhatWG effort, formed their decision to remove the 
accessibility markup.

I have a "tweet" into both Ian and Mark to ask what is probably the same 
question many of you have: is this same raw data accessible to everyone 
to perform tests, or evaluate the testing method? Because if not, then 
of course the test results have to be invalidated. Tests that can't be 
reproduced outside of Google cannot be independently verified and are 
therefore, nothing more than additional anecdotal evidence.

Philip uses the dmoz directory for testing, but again, this site is not 
representative of the web, as a whole, as the entries in dmoz tend to be 
self-selecting, and therefore not an especially good test subject. Not 
if we're really looking at "web scale"--a term that was referred to 
several times in the IRC discussion.

The other concern expressed in the IRC, rather emphatically, too, if one 
looks at the exclamation points, is the fact that we don't see 
widespread use of @summary after ten years! Half the web! (Those are 
more or less direct quotes from the discussion.)

Of course, I'm not an accessibility expert, just an interested 
bystander, but I've noticed that--and this is unfortunate--changes in 
general behavior in order to provide support for a minority, in this 
case those with physical challenges, tends to happy very, very slowly.

In fact, rather than look at the web for determining expectations as to 
the eventual success of @summary et al, one should look at other 
accessibility efforts, the time it took for them to take hold, and the 
problems they have today. Efforts such as handicap parking, ramp access 
to sidewalks and commercial buildings, walk signs that provide an audio 
signal and so on. Again, though, I'm not an accessibility expert but 
measurements based solely on markup usage ignore the larger issue of 
society's reluctance to expend the effort in order to assist those who 
need the assistance.

Another individual in the IRC discussion mentioned about using the ARIA 
describeby capability. I don't know if a discussion about providing an 
alternative approach has been broached. But mention of this also seemed 
to touch on concerns that both Mark and Ian had: that @summary was being 
pushed when other options would be better. Or at least, less 
problematical. Perhaps the accessibility folks can specifically address 

All in all, the IRC discussion was very informative. I know that IRC 
isn't necessarily 100% accessible, and not altogether easy to use, but I 
would recommend that other folks jump into the #whatwg discussions to 
ask more direct questions in the future. It's not the proper venue to 
make decisions, but it is a good place to address some 
misunderstandings, and find out additional info.

Received on Friday, 5 June 2009 13:53:07 UTC

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