[PHP] Re: -less layouts; Ideas welcome

Thu, 21 May 2009 10:49:20 -0700

On Thu, 2009-05-21 at 09:54 -0400, tedd wrote:
> My thoughts are -- my understanding the reason why tables have
> received such bad-press is that designers have abused tables in
> holding designs together with nested tables AND in doing so made it
> difficult for the visually disabled to pull content from the site.
> Screen readers do not read the screen but rather read the source and
> pull out of it what they (the screen reader program) think is
> content. Translating nested tables becomes an impossible job for them.

I've heard a rumor this is exaggerated, and I buy it to some extent.
Lynx had an algorithm for distinguishing simple tabular data from more
complex (and probably layout) tables back in 1999. I'd assume a
serious screen reader with more development resources behind it could
do better, and I don't think heuristics for working with this would
even be particularly hard.

This isn't to say tangled table markup is never a problem. It is, both
for human and machine readers. But as much as I like CSS -- and as
much as it simplifies many designs -- there are some cases for which
table layouts are easier and/or more robust, so I almost just wish
we'd accepted the horse was out of the barn and tried to figure out an
easy way to signal distinctions between layout tables and semantic
tabular data, rather than trying to get the entire internet to
completely retool.

A few years ago, I started marking my layout tables with
class="layout". Not always a perfect solution, but makes the
distinction easy (and turns out to be a useful styling convention as
well), and if table-based layouts really are a significant obstacle to
machine readers, my guess is something like this would get us over
that hurdle a lot faster than waiting for everyone to give up those

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