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Guy
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I am currently looking into accessibility issues on the web for those with visual disabilities. I am interested to find view points on the use of tables for layout purposes in websites. You may know from my previous posts that i am quite a strict user of xhtml and css and believe strongly in the logical layout of data inside a webpage. However, whilst researching into WAI, i notice that there are plenty of websites who claim to be great on the accessibility side and yet still use tables for their pages, and therefore only just conform to the WAI double-A standard (checkpoint 5.3 in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT-TECHS/#tech-table-structure).

I am confused as to the state of table design vs css positioning in web page layouts. Even the WAI homepage uses tables! Is this because of the number of browsers that will not support css positioning? But even if browsers don't support it, at least the data is still logically organised! Any views/comments/answers much appreciated!

Guy

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the time? - Billy Connolly

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Hugo
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Hm it's interesting isn't it looking at that WAI homepage really makes me wonder, I suppose that they have followed that 5.3 checkpoint , the table is essentially a wrapper to position the page elements rather than used for visual layout which reminds me of a point raised by Gary in respect of centering a single div on a page where he argued that a single table wrapper would do the job without being too semantically incorrect and I probably would agree with him on the point .
The problem I have is why have they used a table for a layout that could quite easily have been achieved with pure CSS , this is a W3C affiliated site and they are the guardians of CSS and standards so why the h*ll can't they produce a tabless design , is it for maximum browser stability , I tend to think that would be a feeble excuse really, I get the feeling of double standards here. surely these people are capable of writing to accessibility guidelines whilst following the perceived wisdom in layouts that they champion. Then again they have a page that isn't even complying with 'Standards' as they have used an incomplete DTD which somewhat beggars belief Shock

Once again I find my faith in all things W3C set back a bit. If they want to set 'Standards they bloody well ought to start following them Oups oh and get someone who has a modicum of visual flair to pretty up their pages slightly. Smile

We need Lorraine to chip in here really, to enlighten us with some accessibility words of wisdom Smile

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Lorraine
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Quote:
<snip>We need Lorraine to chip in here really</snip>

W.h.a.a.t.:?: Oh well, alright then Wink

I believe tables are suitable for tabular (as in numeric) data only, provided they linearize properly. There seems to me to be no real reason to *start a new site using tables for layout* - even the fix to use a single cell table to centre the layout on the page can be easily achieved with CSS.

The main problems with mega sites such as WAI are logistics and mind-sets, as in "we've always done it this way". The logistics are probably financially orientated... time, resources, additional expertise and all that sort of stuff. The mind-set problem is something I just cannot fathom, particularly in those who profess to be orientated towards accessibility.

I see Guy specifically mentioned visual disabilities and hails from the UK, so take the RNIB's web site for instance at
http://www.rnib.org.uk.
Now this should be a model of accessibility... have you ever seen such a conglomeration of nested tables, spacer gifs and such tortuous URIs? If you try to view the source code you'll have to scroll a long way down to get to the nitty gritty and it's not a wholesome sight. It gives anyone the impression they used CSS just for the pretty bits. This is the Royal National Institute of the Blind, for g**'s sake and they charge a lot of money to test other sites for accessibility and give them their approval, so they cannot be wrong.

This version of the site is about 18 months old only. I waited with baited breath for it to appear. When it did, I read all their rationale about the Guidelines saying tables *may* be used etc., etc. and for my sins I believed it. I'm better now Laughing out loud thanks to lists like this one and http://www.accessifyforum.com.

So why did the RNIB go through a complete re-design and come up with this. Was it for financial reasons? I hardly think so. I'm in the 'blind' business and know which organization is the recipient of the lion's share of 'blind' donations in the UK. Were there time implications? It still took a devil of a long time to produce in tables. What about the mind-sets of the external consultants? Your guess is as good as mine.

Whatever the reasons, it is my view and those of other people who have far more expertise in accessibility than I could ever aspire to, that the RNIB site set the whole accessibility movement in the UK back a long way. Read:
http://www.isolani.co.uk/blog/access/RnibRedesignWebstandardsDisaster
and
http://www.accessifyforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=559&highlight=rnib
This is a humongously long discussion. The first two pages are particularly relevant and the final page highlights some of the accessibility problems of the RNIB site - heaven forfend.

So what are we to do? Well the use of layout tables does not make websites inherently inaccessible, it just dates them back to the last decade no matter when they were developed. I suggest all new sites should dispense with dinosaur tables and concentrate on CSS and the incorporation of accessibility features that are relevant to the site. Don't try to make the site AAA compliant that is almost impossible any way. Even an acknowledged guru refuses to judge his site to be AAA.
http://www.autisticcuckoo.net/about/site/accessibility.php

Guy, you already have CSS in your armoury, so read as much about accessibility as you can and do what you think is right. One plea though, from someone who teaches visually-impaired people to surf the web, try to get the page contents first in the source code.

And - since I'm on my soap box.
IE is c**p. No contest. But did you all know that, to date, no piece of adaptive software works in any other browser? There are text only browsers, but they are not always suitable for screen-reader users because their keyboard combinations often override the specialized software. There has been a bit of an academic exercise to produce a screen-reader (I use the term loosely) extension for Firefox. The trouble is a totally blind person has to download and open Firefox, then download and install three files all before Firefox will talk to them through their JAWS software. Only then can the user access the Firefox Read Me file which tells them how to download and install. Well I did say an academic exercise.

So when web developers rubbish IE, I hope they realize that for some people, it's IE or nothing. That's got that off my chest then. Wink

co2
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Nice post Lorraine and Hugo. Smile

Your advice concerning IE or nothing else is such a valid point and dispells any sort of Utopian dream of the masses rushing to download alternatives. Particularly those with impairments.

The knub of your assertion:

Quote:

try to get the page contents first in the source code

...is THE root to accessibility enlightenment.

Coming from a design background first and foremost, I can already see those of a more aesthetic persuasion utilising new-found CSS and standards skills to do some tricky stuff with layouts, that I'm not sure is twisting the code in the same ways table layouts evolved.

Hence, if the content can be semantically asserted from the off, sans CSS, then the foundation is solid.

I'm shocked that the RNIB site is as bad as you say it is, have never really kept a lookout for it (visited it, and assumed it was table-less). This really is appalling.

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Hugo
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This is the problem that we do live in a utopian dream, one that realists should see is never going to be achieved , Firefox will reach a peak level of user and they are mainly amongst the enlightened I'm sorry to say , IE will continue to dominate for a lot of reasons not least of which is the point that lorraine makes about IE being the only browser that fully works with adaptive software.
We will continue to deal with IE for a very long time .

In many ways the dream is starting to look like just that, a dream. Microsoft seem to be aligning themselves for a battle with the W3C rather than to work with them citing the W3C continued inability to produce 'Test cases' for the CSS specs as hopeless and seem to have basically decided that their support for the CSS has gone as far as they are going to take it. It looks as though there will be little further development with IE on this score.(wish I'd kept the link)

I think that your right to some extent that CSS is being twisted in the same way as tables were to hack layouts, it will always happen people still see the web as a design medium that needs to impress visually forgetting everything else that is involved and of the purpose behind the darn thing in conveying information.

That's why it's important that a page is designed from the semantic structural point of view first and that it is correct and makes sense as you say, sans styling; after all it is just that styling and not absolutely necessary.
The core of a page is the structural markup!

That site Shock :? Oups what's going on, it seriously disheartens me when I see stuff like that it makes it harder for all of us. Sites like that should be shining examples, leading the way .

Hugo.

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co2
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I had a peak a minute ago... it truly is unbelievable.

However, I am guessing the contract for the work went to a fairly heavyweight dev company. These people were probably not aware of half the stuff that gets done by the more dynamic of CSS etc. inclined people. It would've been more important to the RNIB to get a firm that could prove it's profits and longevity than one that could deliver cutting-edge accessibility (feels kind of strange calling accessibility cutting-edge!)

You could even say that perhaps there is a skills gap in the market for fully competent standards and accessibility developer-designers? A problem the web designer faces (when up against deadlines and clients) is translating what is presented as a design, into decent code. Some just will not submit to the torture that can be CSS development, purely because of time and cost pressures etc.

As a wild guess, as a specification to the RNIB site, it had to be fully scaleable (text, graphic devices such as panels etc.). The company charged with the RNIB site design where perhaps not even aware that such a thing is achievable without tables. They could've employed/contracted the right (knowledgeable) people, but if their existing staff pull the wool over management's eyes and still deliver a half-decent job, who's to complain.

Maybe the RNIB will change their site again soon. Hope so.

By the way, big congrats on the 1000th! You are truly in a special place now! O:) \:D/

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Quote:
I had a peak a minute ago... it truly is unbelievable.

I stopped visiting the site after the great fanfare launch but took another look a minute ago to see if it was truly as bad as I remembered.

Guess what? The site you see today is immeasurably "better" than the original. I only wish I'd kept the original home page html doc to show you now. Thereare a few less tables, several more divs and not nearly as many spacer gifs, but they could not bring themselves to ditch the corner gifs and stuck with HTML 4.01 transitional. It seems that gradual changes are being made, but this time there is no fanfare or wide-spread publicity. Hopefully, the RNIB has taken on board some of the criticisms levelled at the original.

From the ridiculously long URIs the word 'xpedio' stands out. Now there's a word for Google if ever there was one. Give it a try and be amazed at the number of gov.uk sites that use Xpedio CMS. Does that explain something about the low level of accessibility of some UK Government sites, I wonder?

Then visit http://www.stellent.com and check out their consulting pages. If you can wait for the .pdf to download click on View the Stellent Consulting Overview. They've crammed in as many buzz words as possible - what chance does the poor client have eh?

Quote:
Maybe the RNIB will change their site again soon. Hope so.

Modern web developers may send their donations in support of this project to ... Laughing out loud

Well done, Hugo and every post a gem =D>

co2
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Modern web developers may send their donations in support of this project to ... Laughing out loud

I can about spare a DOCTYPE? If anyone can chip in for an unordered list or two, it'll go a long way! Laughing out loud

Hmm, you're right though, seems as some people at the government have been suckered into believing some hype. Like I said, a service provider's capability sometime comes a meagre second when vying for government work. :roll: It's all politics I tells ya! Tongue

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\:D/ just having a little celebration ,thank you for all your kind words of congratulations ....I've had this little speech prepared to mark the occasion and would just like to say that it's been an honour and a privilege to ser[edit] Moderators Note: rest of this entry deleted due to tiresome nature of rambling self congratulatory post; clearly designed to propel member onto the next millennial milestone[/Edit]

Amazed to here that this version of the RNIB site is an improved one Shock

As co2 says it's all politics, our governments always seem to have an infallible ability to balls up anything to do with IT .
Hugo.

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Guy
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Great speech Hugo Laughing out loud !

Thanks for all your contributions, especially that long post by Lorraine, nice to have my thoughts re-enforced!

You might also like to take a look at this site which claims to be triple-A compliant - http://www.cam.ac.uk/cs, which i myself feel only scrapes a single A! Is there any action that the w3 can take to stop such outrageous claims?

Guy

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Quote:
only scrapes a single A!

For starters:
The use of deprecated attributes stops it getting past Priority 2 that's for sure. No skip link? Well there's nothing to skip over really. I drilled down three pages before I found just a smidgeon of content. Then there's the breadcrumb trail that sometimes persuades you to return to a page you've never actually been on before. And... notice the cute way they've tried to get around the use of <abbr> or <acronym>.
Just another academic exercise then Wink
Quote:
Is there any action that the w3 can take to stop such outrageous claims?

Nah - just another advisory body. It's down to the masses. Email the webmaster - I have. If they get enough 'constructive' criticism, you never know, they may do sumfink about it.

Guy
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Whilst doing a little research i found a quite superb site that may be of interest to some of you. So just in case you have not come accross it before - vischeck.com - this site displays how a colour-blind user would see the site. Although in it's eary stages, and not a great example of web design itself, i do feel it could be a useful tool here and there. Laughing out loud

Guy

Who discovered we could get milk from cows, and what did he THINK he was doing at
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