[thelist] Are you designing with CSS and web standards?

Ivo P ipletikosic at gmail.com
Wed Mar 16 12:34:04 CST 2005

> I have tested table based designs against most
> popular screen readers and we had significant user testing with blind,
> visually impaired, dyslexic and mobility impaired users. Not one - not
> ONE - problem was encountered in any testing owing to tables.

I've found that a lot of the complexity of tables, even for many
horrid table based layouts, is handled quite well by screen readers
and accessibility tools rather than because of careful table designs.

In my own testing I found that users that know their way around with a
screen reader could truly harness their potential to navigate even the
most difficult sites. A compliment really towards the accessibility
tool rather than the site design.

When it comes to site designs I favor CSS over tables,  in concept at
least since in practice there are additional considerations that
prevent me from dropping tables completely.

I found novice screen reader users, such as students starting out with
computers, find navigating tables challenging until with repeated use
(and a lot of frustration) they can configure screen readers in a
manner they can successfully use them. Even after they reached this
comfort zone with the accessibility tool it was apparent that a large
part of the site fell outside of their experience because it fell
beyond this developed comfort zone.

Further testing to bring these unexplored areas into the comfort zone
of the majority of blind users eventually drove me into pure CSS
design, where the site was presented in extremely linear fashion when
experienced thru accessibility tools but still taking advantage of
tested design concepts for the visual population.

So basically, using pure CSS was making the accessibility tools
capabilities to navigate complex sites unnecessary. A very good thing
I think since these tools can cost range in the hundreds of dollars &
can be very challenging to learn all their tricks. So in effect the
entry barrier  to experience web content & apps is lowered by use of
CSS for layouts.

Anyways, my two cents.

On Wed, 16 Mar 2005 17:01:11 +0000, Ian Anderson <ian at zstudio.co.uk> wrote:
> Pringle, Ron wrote:
> >For some of us, CSS isn't an option, its the rule. Part of my job
> >description includes coding to current web standards (HTML 4/CSS 2), and
> >accessibility is one of the primary goals.
> >
> >
> Brilliant - pleased to hear it! You must have a very satisfying job.
> >...
> >
> >Yes, I could have done the design in tables and it probably would have taken
> >less time to develop, but it would also be much less accessible.
> >
> >
> I'm sorry to be contrary, but "much less accessible"? I have to
> challenge that.
> [caution - accessibility rant follows]
> I have been specialising in web accessibility for a couple of years now,
> including nearly a year consulting with a major UK bank on their
> accessibility projects. I have tested table based designs against most
> popular screen readers and we had significant user testing with blind,
> visually impaired, dyslexic and mobility impaired users. Not one - not
> ONE - problem was encountered in any testing owing to tables. Of course,
> we designed the tables so there wouldn't be, but all the same...
> The site in question was a hybrid design - simple tables with lots of
> CSS, but we had up to three or four levels of nesting in some complex
> areas. Not a peep from the screen reader users; they reported it to be a
> very accessible site. The problems they had were with higher level
> issues such as the phrasing of instructions, and so on.
> Of course a site is more accessible with CSS-only layouts; PDA users
> appreciate them, I believe. But to throw statements like "much less
> accessible" around is not accurate. It's very much a marginal issue, in
> my judgement. CSS layouts are only *slightly* more accessible than good
> table layouts. Bad table layouts; well, there's no difference between a
> bad table layout and a bad CSS layout; clearly both are undesirable.
> Yes, you can have CSS-only layouts that have bad accessibility problems.
> Making too much about tables and accessibility somewhat ignores the fact
> that users with disabilities have adapted to the way the web is now
> (essentially table-based) and so have their assistive technologies.
> Tables don't give current users any really big problems; if they did,
> users would ditch their assistive technology for one that could cope.
> Accessibility tools and the people who use them are pragmatic; people
> have lives to get on with, and they use the web enthusiastically. There
> are things that are extremely serious barriers to users with
> disabilities on the web, but tables generally aren't amongst those things.
> If the content in the table doesn't make sense read in source order,
> that's an accessibility issue. If the content in a css layout doesn't
> make sense read in source order, that's an accessibilty issue too.
> If you have a huge list of links before your content, that's an
> accessibility issue - but it's an issue with having too many links, not
> how they are positioned. You need to provide a skip link, whether the
> design uses CSS or tables. The main problem with lots of links is for
> mobility impaired users; tables or CSS positioning is entirely
> irrelevant to them. They need a skip link and that's all there is to it.
> Excessive nesting *is* annoying to some screen reader users - but it
> isn't a huge access barrier.
> Hybrid designs, which tend to avoid nesting with very simple layout
> tables and CSS, are *highly* accessible.
> The most important issue with tables is does the page make sense when
> the content is linearised? This is exactly the same as with CSS layout.
> If the answer is yes, worry about something else, such as headings,
> avoiding excessive spans and classes and ensuring you're using good
> markup instead, grouping links together in structural containers like UL
> or OL, and so on.
> To put it across as firmly as I can; CSS does not make a site more
> accessible. HTML does that. Use HTML well, tables or no tables, and you
> get an accessible web site. CSS is important for accessibility, but it
> is important because it encourages more thoughtful HTML construction,
> and discourages harmful practices; it offers nothing positive to access.
> (And don't think of mentioning aural style sheets, which are a terrible
> idea, adverse to users interests, and it's a mercy no popular screen
> reader supports them.)
> >Hopefully standards compliant browsers enter widespread mainstream use. I
> >see IE as the single biggest factor holding back developers using CSS.
> >
> I agree, though the single biggest factor at any given moment is the one
> that's blocking your path at that moment. Yesterday it was Safari and IE
> Mac.
> Cheers
> Ian
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