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Date: 30 Oct 2014

W3C in Overdrive

The W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium, do a marvellous job of guiding the different browser vendors, persuading them all to toe a collective line. They set excellent standards for we web developers as well, so we can make our sites Accessible, readily available to the disabled. But I do wonder, when I read the ideas and documents that W3C come up with, how they manage it.

Sometimes I wonder what, exactly, W3C are on.

This question comes to mind, for instance, when I read their Technique document G57: Ordering the content in a meaningful sequence. It's about the problems disabled people experience, on web pages in which the order of the content visually, on screen, differs from the order it appears in the underlying HTML markup.

Take two paragraphs, A followed by B, with paragraph B referring back to things mentioned in A. But suppose that paragraph B actually appears before A in the HTML script. Absolute positioning allows this, because it allows us to take something from the foot of the HTML script and display it at the top of the page. Using tables for layout can also result in an illogical order of presentation.

In this situation blind users of screen readers, and people using other assistive aids, will be confused because their software will present paragraph B first. Screen readers, and the like, simply read through the HTML sequentially from start to end. So the users could find paragraph B referring to something that hasn't been mentioned yet.

Cue for an example to demonstrate this, I think. You might, at this point, be expecting a simple example of absolute positioning to demonstrate the bad ordering problem. But here is the example W3C actually present in the above document:-

For example, when mixing languages with different directionality in HTML, the bidirectional algorithm may position punctuation in the wrong location in the visual rendering. The visual rendering problem could be corrected by moving the punctuation in the content stream so that the bidirectional algorithm positions it as desired, but this would expose the incorrect content order to assistive technology. The content is both rendered in the correct order visually and exposed to assistive technology in the correct order by using markup to override the bidirectional algorithm.

Now don't tell me that was done on just baking powder.

The thought that immediately occurs to me, keen as I am to spot the humour in any situation, is that this comes from the same organisation that advocates using clear and simple language (W3C's own words). That is another of their Accessibility principles, intended to keep things simple for those with cognitive or learning disabilities, and for web developers like me.

Or, to use plain and simple language myself, I'm a cynical ol' so and so and I got lost in the above quote shortly after the words, "For example..."

Well, we all have our off days. W3C, being the experts, just seem to have more of them that most of us.

By Guy Hickling

I would welcome your thoughts on this subject...

Please speak your heart here:-

- No need to prove you're a human being. I'll just take your word for it.

It is another of their principles of Accessibility, intended to keep things simple for those with cognitive or learning disabilities, and for web developers like me
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