Do you find table summaries helpful?

On the W3C HTML Working Group’s mailing list there's been plenty of discussion about the future of the table element’s summary attribute. Should it be allowed at all in HTML 5? Should it be allowed but only “semi-valid”? Should other ways of providing information about the structure of a data table be encouraged?

One question that I have seen being asked is if people who use screen readers actually are aware that data tables may have a summary attribute and if they find the information provided in it useful.

I haven’t seen a lot of answers to that question, so I would be very interested in hearing from people who regularly use a screen reader when browsing the Web. Here are a few questions:

  • What screen reader do you use?
  • Do you regularly look for summary information when you encounter a data table?
  • If you do look for table summaries, does the information you find help you understand the data in the table?
  • Can you provide examples of data tables that you think use the summary attribute in a good way?
  • Do you have any suggestions for better ways of helping screen reader users understand and navigate non-trivial data tables?

Thanks in advance for any input.

Posted on November 17, 2009 in Accessibility, HTML 5