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RE: Success criteria speak for themselves

From: Bourne, Sarah (ITD) <sarah.bourne@state.ma.us>
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2014 10:31:24 -0500
To: "w3c-wai-ig@w3.org" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <BCBE0B5B00FF6D4C875E3DED1BC8B87E013D3C199E8F@ES-MSG-EMB-002.es.govt.state.ma.us>
There are semantics and there are semantics.  The essence of this debate is that HTML has some very rudimentary handling of what I'll call "content semantics" - using tags to impart information about the nature of the content.  Headings, lists, tables, etc., deal with how the information is organized, which I'll call "architectural semantics".  (And I'm sure there are those in the semantics field who would like to debate those terms. <smile> But those are the terms I'm using here.)

Architectural semantics has very good support in screen readers overall, blithely ignoring product-specific glitches. General browser support - to benefit all users - is lagging, but there has been progress, such as Firefox extension(s?) to expose headings and ARIA landmarks.  And there have always been keyboard shortcuts to discover links and form fields.

Content semantics is not well supported by either AT or browsers. Serious use of content semantics - harvesting and analysis - is pretty much limited to machine use of content, rather than human use.  An example of this that should be familiar is Google and Bing using tagged content for enhanced content display in search results. The rudimentary tags in HTML are insufficient for anything very interesting.  For this type of use, other W3C specifications are pulled into play, such as RDF.  And work is continuing outside the W3C, as well.  See for instance schema.org and http://lov.okfn.org/ (Linked Open Vocabularies.)  The W3C recently re-organized some of their efforts in this area into a new "W3C Data Activity" (see at http://www.w3.org/2013/data/ .)

Rather than fretting about browser and AT handling of ancient but rudimentary content semantics tags, we might better look at what support for discovery and display of the more advanced technologies in the content semantics area would benefit any user, whether they use AT or not.

Sarah E. Bourne
Director of Assistive Technology 
Information Technology Division
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
1 Ashburton Pl. rm 1601 Boston MA 02108
Received on Friday, 21 February 2014 15:31:49 UTC

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