[PHP] Re: -less layouts; Ideas welcome

Thu, 21 May 2009 11:11:36 -0700

At 11:48 AM -0600 5/21/09, Weston C wrote:
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.

[1] 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.

[2] 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

[3] 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.

[4] 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


With regard to [1] -- while it might look like a simple problem to solve, let me present a simple example to show it's not.

Above is your text -- let's say that I create a table that is a simple 2 x 2 table. It's a table that has two rows and two columns.

Now, let me place your text in that table like so:

1 | 2
3 | 4

Or, I could do it like this:

1 | 3
2 | 4

Could you be certain that your algorithm would figure out which way it needs to present the text to a blind person? Remember, it should present the text in the correct order, namely 1, 2, 3 and 4. However, newsprint and layouts often uses both types of presentation.

Now compound that with cells holding images, place-holders, empty cells and cells with navigation elements, flash, videos, and such -- and you might have a better appreciation as to the problem screen readers face.



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