HTML 5 and accessibility

As I touched upon in Another look at HTML 5, probably the most worrying thing about the HTML Working Group is the lack of respect for differing opinions that some working group members have. The apparent disinterest in accessibility is another troublesome factor.

Bruce Lawson brings up the accessibility problems in A rant: HTML5, microformats and testing accessibility, and specifically asks about who the HTML WG expects will make sure HTML 5 enables accessibility:

After all, it's impossible to imagine that they would make arbitrary decisions to remove or retain certain elements, all with unknown accessibility side-effects, and put the burden to prove the usefulness of removed attributes on a small group of volunteers, isn't it?

We'll see. I'm not entirely sure the answer to that question is "yes".

One of the arguments for removing the headers attribute is that the scope attribute should be enough to associate table data cells with their corresponding header cells. To show that that is not enough, Gez Lemon provides an example of a complex overlaid table in The HTML Scope/Headers Debate.

That table cannot be made fully accessible with the scope attribute. The counter-argument is that such tables are very rare and that nobody marks up data tables properly anyway, so there is no reason to even make it possible to do so since it will just clutter the spec.

Well, the same can be said for lots of other things in the HTML 5 specification...

So it looks like we will need to fight for accessibility in HTML 5. That's why I was relieved to read Patrick H. Lauke's headers attribute debate message sent to the public-html mailing list. It clarifies that the HTML WG will not be able to simply ignore accessibility needs:

WAI's Protocols and Formats Working Group (PFWG) has, as part of its mission, reviewing specifications under development in other W3C Working Groups in to ensure consideration of accessibility-related needs.

And the HTML WG charter contains this:

The HTML Working Group will cooperate with the Web Accessibility Initiative to ensure that the deliverables will satisfy accessibility requirements.

And finally some good (I think) news: In the last couple of weeks, several HTML Working Group members have been doing a lot of work trying to save the headers attribute, among other things creating the HTML/IssueTableHeaders Wiki page. That is a major amount of research, references, and use cases. And just maybe it will be enough to save the headers attribute, ensuring that tables can be marked up in an accessible way no matter how complex they are.

I am looking forward to seeing similar amounts of work done to argue for each and every element and attribute in the rest of the HTML 5 specification.

Posted on June 7, 2007 in Accessibility, HTML 5