Posts Tagged ‘longdesc’


Monday, September 10th, 2012
CSSquirrel #98: Disembodied

John Foliot reprises the role of the Scarecrow and Matt May takes a turn in the role of the Wizard in today’s Ozian look at the HTML5 Issue of the Week, and represents the frustration I’m sure accessibility experts face every damn day when trying to deal with the nonsense that is getting people to adopt proper accessibility support in the web.

Today we’re looking at ARIA’s role (no pun intended) in HTML5. More accurately, whether ARIA would have a role in HTML5. Now, typically my posts about idiocy involving HTML specs tend to involve Hixie and the WHATWG. This time, sadly, I’m discussing the W3C, and specifically actions of the co-chairs of their HTML WG.

And here I thought we were besties.

I’ll recap:

For entirely too long now the W3C has been debating whether or not to include the longdesc attribute in HTML5. This debate, which has been pretty rancorous since at least 2008 (jinkies!) is known as Issue-30. Longdesc is an attribute that you can attach to an image tag to inform capable devices of looking to a specific URL for a longer description of the image for the visually impaired. We’re not talking about a simple alt tag of “girl under tree” for every college campus in the world. We’re talking about a genuine effort to impart the information about an image to a viewer who can’t properly see the image, if at all.

Here at CSSquirrel I use the longdesc attribute to link to the transcripts for the comics.

To me, this is a big deal. I have blind readers, many of which want to enjoy the comic that the sighted readers can see. I’ve received numerous requests in the past to put transcripts up, so I’ve built the site to serve that need. Is it a sizable percentage of my readership? No. Does that matter? No! If we’re letting lazy implementation of available solutions get in the way of us helping one visitor with accessibility needs, then what does that say about us as people?

During a standoff between the W3C groups responsible for HTML and ARIA, Sam Ruby (Co-Chair of the HTML WG) suggested that the entirety of ARIA be removed from the HTML5 spec until sometime in the future when Issue-30 could be amicably resolved. This is absurd! It’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater!

There is a lot of ARIA that is seeing author implementation in HTML right now, most notably ARIA roles. Their inclusion provide real assistance for visitors with accessibility issues in navigating and understanding the content of a website, and in some cases provide extra helpers for non-human agents to crawl the content as well. (I’ve even used them as clever hooks for tricky bits of CSS).

A debate ensued.

Well, re-ensued.

At one point, John Foliot dropped in with a detailed examination of statements being made by the HTML Co-Chairs about the situation, correcting falsehoods and reinforcing how important this issue is. This is a man who’s spent years as an accessibility expert watching bureaucratic process and non-expert interference getting in the way of providing solutions to genuine accessibility needs. He gets direct and to the point, as time and again it’s been proven over and over that anything short of that will fail to sink in.

Their detailed response to the situation thus far?

A slap on John’s wrist for his tone.

It’s been a few days since, and that’s as far as it has gone.

I’m sorry blind folks. The bad man’s mean tendency to call them out when they’re being bureaucratically false while defending their indefensible suggestion of removing major accessibility support from HTML5 is more important than your ability to use the 21st century’s most important communication medium.

But that’s OK, I’m sure your seeing-eye dog can navigate websites for you, right?

Steve Faulkner recently tweeted the following to me on the topic (good man, fights hard, really should be put in one of my comics ASAP): I think the suggestion to move ARIA out of HTML5 was misguided tactic of the chairs to force progress on an issue. – won’t happen

I appreciate that Issue-30, which has gone unresolved for years, is annoying. But threatening to pull out the entirety of ARIA from HTML5 in some sort of chicken head-on-collision maneuver is a new low in the entire HTML5 spec authoring process.

And that is saying a lot.

Are you an accessibility expert or a web developer that uses ARIA? Are you a person with an opinion about longdesc or ARIA roles? What do you think of this whole mess? What suggestions do you have for the W3C to get this mess fixed? Did I get something wrong? Please help educate me by responding via one of the methods below?

W3C Control To Major Tom

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
CSSquirrel #81: W3C Control To Major Tom

In the past I’ve made it fairly clear that I disagree with a lot of the decisions that HTML5 editor Ian Hickson has made in the past, such as the movement of the WHATWG version of HTML5 into Last Call (well before the W3C has done so, creating an oddball situation where arguably the spec exists in two different states). I felt that he was making a decision to move the spec forward to meet an arbitrary timetable, and not because it was mature enough to deserve that state.

Now that the WHATWG has gone onto its version-free HTML Utopia, leaving the W3C to make sure there’s a benchmark for browser vendors to compare against with what us mere mortals are still calling HTML5, I had hoped that at the very minimum we could rely on a standard that would properly address all the issues before declaring itself an adult.

I was wrong.

Accessibility is an issue that gets me worked up at times. While observing the various battles in the mailing lists of the W3C, it becomes clear that often those most aware of good practices for accessibility are given the least amount of attention by decision makers. Right now we’re witnessing the W3C’s chairs pushing for HTML5 to move to Last Call while ignoring a massive lump of requested data about an accessibility issue.

AKA: They’re moving the spec forward without addressing existing, outstanding issues.

Today’s comic highlights my opinions on that.

It seems that as a result we’re going to end up with a standard that will only address best practice for accessibility as some sort of later patch. This is a load of crap.

For some reason, several smart people think the longdesc attribute is hard to use. So hard to use that we’d best not even bother keeping it in HTML5 as a means to provide alternate text for images to sight-challenged web users.

I’m going to tell you how to do it in a detailed fashion, and you can decide if it’s hard: 1. Put a longdesc attribute on your image with a value that points to a url of a page with a detailed description of the image. 2. At that destination, write the description.

Pretty hard stuff, right? I don’t know if you can remember all that.

This culminated last August as Issue 30, where the working group chairs decided to leave longdesc out due to a lack of data, and they encouraged people to feel free to get more data and approach them again.

In fact, I quote:

This issue can be reopened if new information come up. Examples of possible relevant new information include: use cases that specifically require longdesc, evidence that correct usage is growing rapidly and that that growth is expected to continue, or widespread interoperable implementation.

Laura Carlson took them at their word, creating a research document with over 150 examples harvested from the “wild” and compiled into several use cases, along with relevant local laws and policies from governmental and corporate entities using the attribute.

Armed with a treasure trove of the requested data, she asked the chairs to re-0pen the issue to consider it before Last Call.

Sam Ruby, W3C HTML5 Co-Chair, says “Thanks for all the data. I know I asked for it. But no. Focus on other important stuff instead. Ha ha.” (That might be a bit flavored of a paraphrasing…)

I couldn’t help but read into that an unspoken “Addressing the needs of blind people should take a back seat to getting the spec out the door.”

Class act, guys.

Comic Update: Alone In The Pitch Black Dark

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Today’s comic features the chairs of the W3C HTML WG, Sam Ruby, Maciej Stachowiak and Paul Cotton as they and the Squirrel try to deal with the dangers of a cave monster in the dark. You’ll have to take my word for it, however, unless you follow the instructions on the comic to read the transcript. In a reversal of what is the norm, my sighted readers will have to take some extra effort to experience the joke; my visually impaired readers should be able to access the transcript like normal through the longdesc attribute on the comic.

Recently, these three personages made a Working Group decision about the fate of the longdesc attribute which you can read over here. The summary is this: the longdesc attribute, which is a method of serving detailed alternate text for complex images to visually impaired web users, is now obsolete and not a part of HTML5.

So much for backwards compatibility.

Almost a full year ago I addressed the issue of blind web users, encountering the topic on a personal level when I found that my commentary CAPTCHA at the time was challenging for a reader of mine because he was blind. A reader, at a web comic, who couldn’t even see the comics that my commentary accompany. I made a change to the site, setting up transcripts for every comic starting with that one, which can be accessed via either the longdesc attribute or an aria-describedby attribute, both attached to the comic’s image. I’ve been uneven at times in keeping the transcripts synchronized, but every comic since then has that alternate text so you don’t need operational eyes to be in on the joke.

I’m a bit confused to why it’s an issue for non-experts in the accessibility field to constantly be pushing against the presence of accessibility features that pre-exist HTML5 like longdesc. The most common arguments are that it’s largely unused. I know this is true. But that doesn’t seem like a reason to throw validator warnings for those sites that correctly use it for their users (like myself.)

Here’s the validator results for my comic page in HTML5 mode. Mind you, the page isn’t HTML5 yet (I’m really behind on a site redesign), but the one warning that shouldn’t be present is the last one: “The longdesc attribute on the img element is obsolete. Use a regular a element to link to the description.”

Excuse me?

Since when does a validator need to tell me how to design my site? The premise of a link on an a element is plausible (I’ve heard it a million times by now), but it seems to disregard the consequences for sighted users in some design experiences. In the case of the current comic page, I could wrap the comic in a link to the transcript, I suppose. That won’t work in the future design of the page due to interactions that I’ll be adding, however. Furthermore, for many sites, complicated images often have other functionality attached to a link around the image, like loading a larger version of the image or popping open a lightbox gallery. The only alternative at that point is add a separate link by putting an additional element on the page, aka, modify the design based on validation needs.

The fact is, most sighted users don’t want to click on an image description for alt text, because they can see the image. And non-sighted users have access to the accessibility features like longdesc. If a web developer is going to be providing alternative text for complex imagery to the point that he or she would actually create a description hyperlink, why wouldn’t this same person go an extra three inches and just use the longdesc attribute? The premise that a simple hyperlink is somehow more likely to be used is false: lazy people will be lazy no matter what.

I don’t expect this decision to somehow change. Not because I think it shouldn’t. I think it’s an incredibly stupid choice made to please punditry who largely don’t use any sort of alternate text for their sites whatsoever. I just think the issue’s been fought over for so long that those in the position to have the final say will gladly sit on the wrong decision just to move forward.

As a website owner who does make use of accessibility features for my actual blind users, I’ll take my validation error. The code was valid, it does work, and I don’t see any reason to clutter the visual design to implement a less elegant solution.

Accessibility: Take 2

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

As I first discussed here, and then officially announced here, I’ve been upgrading CSSquirrel with accessibility features to help make this site more accessible for the vision-impaired. I first considered the idea several months back, when John Foliot approached me with a code sample that I could use to give the comic an alternative long description for screen readers. I’ll admit that I didn’t act on it at the time, though, because it seemed like a low priority. How many blind people read comics?

I realized the mistake in my complacency when I received my first blog comment from a blind user here, where he was testing his ability to post despite the CAPTCHA that was present. At that point I realized that if even one person was visiting my site and incapable of at least knowing what was happening in the comic, they were getting a severely degraded experience, which was a disservice on my part.

My growing awareness of how frustrating such a thing would be is borne out in my Squirrel in the Dark post. As a result of this, I went about adding an aria-describedby attribute to my comic’s image tag. Later, based on feedback from a JAWS-10 user and with another suggestion by John, I doubled up with the addition of the longdesc attribute to the image. In both cases, the value for the attributes is an URL for a separate transcript page.

Thinking all was well, I congratulated myself and went back to poking fun at the HTML5 process and spent a lot of time drawing people in spandex.

Of course, it wasn’t that easy.

First, a new accessibility problem had reared its ugly head. When I built the site’s CAPTCHA, I had actually taken vision-impaired users into consideration and provided description text of each image to allow them to select the proper one for the CAPTCHA (mind you, not including the word that the CAPTCHA asked you to match with the image). However, when someone tabbed through the page’s links and fields, the tabbed indexing would go out of order, going through the other input fields for the comments at a different time than the CAPTCHA itself, making the whole affair confusing.

Secondly, I learned that the aria-describedby element isn’t meant to direct to other pages (which I think is a bit silly of a limitation, but I’m not an expert at these things), but rather should contain the ID of an element on the page containing a description. It’s quite a difference, and one I’ll admit I made by failing completely to do enough homework on the matter in advance.

I’d thank Henri Sivonen for his “bug report” on the aria-describedby issue, but he chose to use the issue to draw a comparison to the Super Friends‘ list of concerns (and its initial posting to a blog instead of the WHATWG mailing list) and neglected to mention it to me directly. So instead I’ll thank Laura Carlson for drawing my attention to my error, Arve Bersvendsen for sharing his opinions on alternate techniques, and Steven Faulkner for suggesting a way to use aria-describedby to link validly to off-page content. I know others contacted me about the error, but I’m sorry to say I don’t remember all the names at the moment.

My solution, therefore, was what Steven suggested in the W3C mailing list. The aria-describedby attribute on the image tag now has a value that is the ID of an anchor on the page. That anchor then links to the comic’s transcript page. The anchor is hidden by CSS to avoid distracting sighted users. You can examine a recent comic, like this one on the Super Friends, to see it in effect (if you’re on a normal browser you won’t notice much unless you view the page source).

The CAPTCHA’s messed up tabbing issue turned out to be an easy fix as well. Stéphane Deschamps pointed out in a comment that there was tabindexes on the form’s fields, which was causing the tab order to go screwy. I didn’t know these existed, having failed to examine the blog software’s default fields very much. Now that he’s pointed it out, I’ve taken them off, hopefully making the CAPTCHA less burdensome.

As I’ve stated in the past, I’m a non-expert at pretty much everything that doesn’t involve vector squirrels. However, I have an appetite for absorbing as many web-related skills as possible to help better the web through direct effort or comic-related advocacy. One of these areas of the web that I realize that I need a great deal more knowledge about is accessibility, and it’s a deficit that I seem to share with almost every designer or developer I meet.

Having admitted my deficiency, I’d like feedback on this issue, if you have it. Does the updated aria-describedby technique for serving the transcript actually use the attribute properly? Is the CAPTCHA usable by vision-impaired visitors with approximately the same level of annoyance all people feel when they use a CAPTCHA? Is there another feature on the site that causes accessibility issues that I haven’t mentioned or considered?

To those who contact me with these problems, thank you. I’m in your debt.