-----Original Message-----
From: li...@webstandardsgroup.org [mailto:li...@webstandardsgroup.org] On
Behalf Of Kat
Sent: 02 November 2009 01:35
To: wsg@webstandardsgroup.org
Subject: Re: [WSG] Complex data tables, accessibility and XHTML Basic 1.1

Steve Green wrote:
> I am tempted to say that this is a moot point. In my experience 
> complex data tables are inaccessible to screen reader users because 
> they have great difficulty forming a mental model of them. Marking 
> them up perfectly semantically doesn't help.
> If you use 'normal' means of navigating, the table cell contents are 
> read sequentially. Each cell is usually understandable but you get no 
> sense of the structure and relationships with the column and row headings.
> If you use the table navigation commands, the column and/or row 
> headers are read in addition to the cell contents. This provides 
> structural information but the user has to mentally separate the 
> header and cell data before adding them to their mental model. This is 
> difficult enough with simple tables but I don't recall even highly 
> proficient screen reader users successfully navigating complex tables
during user testing.
> What I can't say is whether any other user group derives any benefit 
> from the correct semantic markup of tables. Off the top of my head I 
> can't think of any. I also cannot think of any applications (e.g. 
> search engines, news scrapers etc) that programmatically access 
> websites that would benefit from this either.

Thanks for that Steve! :)

Then would the answer, perhaps, be to give a small succinct paragraph about
the tabular data, with the most important points (if they exist), and
perhaps a link to contact details if the user wanted to know more? 
And not worry about thead, tfoot, tbody, col, colgroup, etc? Would that be
an acceptable accessibility alternative?


It depends on what your objectives are. Many of my clients have a
contractual obligation to meet the letter of the WCAG, in which case using
the correct semantics meets their objectives even though it results in a
poor user experience. The same would be the case if you were concerned about
the tables being programmatic accessible.

If your objective is legal compliance, providing the information by
alternative means is certainly an option, and the provision of contact
details may well be sufficient depending on the prevailing legal
environment. You would need to put in place a procedure to deal with
requests for help, and there would likely be a cost - might it just be
cheaper to fix the tables?

If your objective is a good user experience, don't use complex tables.


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