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RE: How Much Of A Problem Are Tables Used for Design?

From: Bruce Bailey <bbailey@clark.net>
Date: Wed, 17 Nov 1999 13:15:57 -0500
Message-ID: <01BF3104.DA31F300.bbailey@clark.net>
To: "'Gregory J. Rosmaita'" <unagi69@concentric.net>, "'Web Accessibility Initiative'" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
I agree with Kynn and Kelly that, at least for now, we should NOT be going 
after folks who use tables for layout.  Additional comments are in line.

On Tuesday, November 16, 1999 2:24 PM, Gregory J. Rosmaita 
[SMTP:unagi69@concentric.net] wrote:
> aloha, kelly!
> whilst i agree that the abuse of tables for layout purposes has been 
> by advances in user agent and adaptive technologies, i would caution 
> the quote the tools at my disposal allow me to decolumnize tables that 
are used
> for layout, so how big an accessibility issue is the use of tables for 
> unquote train of thought...
> why?
> 1. expense:  the tools you listed all represent a significant investment 
on the
> part of individuals who belong to a demographic category (those with less 
> 20/200 vision) which is plagued by an unemployment rate (in the U.S.) of 
> least seventy percent (the 70% figure i cited is derived from research
> performed by the American Foundation for the Blind)
> adding this extra expense to what is already (for most) the considerable
> investment that is required to purchase a computer upon which the 
software you
> listed will run efficiently and as intended, constitutes -- at least in 
my mind
> -- an undue burden on the blind/VI user...

Yep, it is not fair that blind/vi users have to buy expensive screen 
readers/magnification.  I also agree that issues of economic disadvantage 
ARE appropriate for discussion list.  But we can't do much at all about how 
expensive speech synthesis is.  It's not fair that some people are blind.

> 2. internationalization:  it often takes 6 months to well over a year for
> features that are built into the English version of adaptive software to 
> incorporated into non-English versions of software...  therefore, just 
> you and i (who happen, by accident of birth, to reside in the U.S.A.) 
> access to the cutting edge in both adaptive and mainstream applications, 
> not mean that a critical mass of other blind users have access to the 
> advances...  just a single (and well documented) case-in-point will 
suffice to
> illustrate this point...  when Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) was 
> released, applying it to a system which was running in non-U.S. English 
> caused the dialogs and messages generated by the system to be output in 
> English...

Well, its been over a year now since most screen readers learned to deal 
with tables used for layout.

> 3. mode of internet access: there are still a lot of cybernauts who are 
> antiquated technology with which to access web-based content...  there 
> myriad reasons for limitations upon an individuals ability (and 
willingness) to
> switch his or her mode of access, including:
> A. steep learning curvesf
> B. financial limitations
> B1) shell access, where available, is often far cheaper than a POP/PPP 
> and is a more cost efficient means of obtaining web-based content when 
one is
> accessing the internet over a phone line for which the user is being 
> per minute...  and, it is an unfortunate fact of life that most of the 
> who still use shell accounts are saddled with an older version of Lynx or 
> W3 browser, which may impose severe limitations upon the content 
available to
> that user...
> B2) many users with disabilities -- in particular the blind -- may not 
> access to computer systems that are capable of running the type of 
> necessary to unravel tables that have been used for layout purposes -- a
> significant number of blind users are using discarded or cast-off 
> that is incapable of running much (if not all) of the software you cited

Lynx (even a few revs. back) deals very well with tables (and frames). 
 (Better even than many current browser/screen reader combinations.)  If 
the version of Lynx native to a persons shell account does not cut it, 
there are many free current versions available by free with telnet.

Hardware speech synthesizers are still expensive, but recycled units can be 
found if one looks hard enough.  The Disk Operating System is free or very 
inexpensive (if you can even find it for sale) and the LATEST release of 
JAWS for DOS is FREE!  One can find 386 computers for free too.  There is 
plenty of good freeware, including the DOS version of Lynx.  Now, people 
who have the skills to put all this together into a workable system are 
rare.  Let me make it clear that I don't believe that just because someone 
is poor and/or disabled they deserve a second (or third) rate computer. 
 But I do want to make the point that lack of money is not (strictly 
speaking) a barrier to web access.  (It is a barrier to fun, fast, 
multimedia, modern access to the Internet, but that is a different 

Nowadays, most people, disabled or not, simply are not interested in 
text-only applications.  Their expectations, for understandable reasons, 
are too high for this.  People have the right to make the choice that 
old-but-serviceable is not good enough.  I also think the poor and disabled 
should be accommodated at their local library (or other public place) with 
(fairly) modern equipment.  Given these two reasonable alternatives 
(low-cost-but-old, or public accommodation) I have a hard time with either 
plan that we (1) give away modern computers to everyone; or (2) dumb-down 
everything to the lowest common denominator (html 2.0)!

> 4) interoperability -- the use of tables for layout is just plain wrong 
if you
> want your pages to be as universally accessible as possible...  tables 
> intended for the display of tabular data, not for imposing the desktop
> publishing paradigm upon the web, even though that is what they are most
> commonly used to do...  therefore, it is imperative that authoring tools
> encourage the use of stylesheets to control layout, and that authoring 
> developers and the users of authoring tools place pressure upon UA
> manufacturers to support stylesheets...

It IS wrong, but this is only a Priority 3 impediment.  As people have 
repeatedly pointed out, the positioning functions (and other features) of 
Style Sheets is STILL not supported by Netscape Navigator 4.7!  Until CSS 
is widely supported, authors have little PRACTICAL choice but to continue 
to use tables for layout.  So lets function on the Priority 1 and 2 goals 
of urging authors to use headers and summaries and make sure the table is 
intelligible when decolumnized.

> i could go on ad nauseam, but i think that the reasons enumerated above 
> to illustrate that, despite recent advances in technology, the use of 
> for layout is definitely still a barrier to accessibility...

I respectfully disagree.  Adding your four points together does NOT get us 
as much as it would cost to fight this battle.

Received on Wednesday, 17 November 1999 14:06:41 UTC

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