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RE: Tables and the Summary attribute

From: Jamal Mazrui <Jamal.Mazrui@fcc.gov>
Date: Thu, 22 Sep 2005 10:31:30 -0400
Message-Id: <8C0103F2896CF143AA78F20B29FF281F08BCF54B@P2PXMB03.fccnet.win.fcc.gov>
To: "Terrence Wood" <tdw@funkive.com>, "WAI Interest Group" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>

As a blind screen reader user, let me respond, not with a clear answer
to your question, but with the feedback that I value both kinds of
information and usually find them lacking.  

Although my screen reader, JAWS, tells me something at the outset about
the table structure, it is only the number of rows and columns, which is
insufficient conceptually for all but small, simple tables.  More
structural information would include the row and column headings, if
any, and information about additional logical levels to be aware of in a
complex table.

Ideally, the content of the table should be conveyed within the
narrative text of the page for everyone's benefit.  Realistically,
however, I think it is sometimes obvious to someone visually or would
occupy too much space on the page to describe what the table content
conveys in the regular page text.  

A summary attribute may be useful for both structual and content
information, though if the information is of significant length, a
usability problem results.  There is not an easy, well-understood way of
skipping a long summary description if it is too verbose at that time.
Technically, there may be a screen reader command to do this, but I do
not recall it, which says something about its ease of use, since I am
probably an advanced screen reader and web user.

I have not liked the long description approach instead of a summary
because of the cumbersome, time consuming process of opening a new web
page and then returning to the previous position once read.
Theoretically, however, I think a screen reader could be programmed to
offer a special command to read a long description efficiently, perhaps
placing it in what JAWS calls a temporary, virtual buffer.

Thus, I think you have identified some practical problems in eed of an
elegant solution.  If others know of one, please share.


-----Original Message-----
From: w3c-wai-ig-request@w3.org [mailto:w3c-wai-ig-request@w3.org] On
Behalf Of Terrence Wood
Sent: Wednesday, September 21, 2005 8:05 PM
To: WAI Interest Group
Subject: Tables and the Summary attribute

What is the best use of the table summary attribute to (A) summarize the
content of the table, or (B) provide a descriptive narrative on the
structure of the table?

kind regards
Terrence Wood.
Received on Thursday, 22 September 2005 14:32:03 UTC

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