XHTML vs. HTML 5 vs. Accessibility

From the W3C news archive for 2 July 2009:

XHTML 2 Working Group Expected to Stop Work End of 2009, W3C to Increase Resources on HTML 5
2009-07-02: Today the Director announces that when the XHTML 2 Working Group charter expires as scheduled at the end of 2009, the charter will not be renewed. By doing so, and by increasing resources in the Working Group, W3C hopes to accelerate the progress of HTML 5 and clarify W3C’s position regarding the future of HTML. A FAQ answers questions about the future of deliverables of the XHTML 2 Working Group, and the status of various discussions related to HTML. Learn more about the HTML Activity. (Permalink)

In terms of accessiblity, I believe that HTML 5 will do damage to our goals. However, HTML 5 won’t be widely adopted at first. Since there are some things about HTML 5 that baffle me this is a good thing. Since most Websites must be as compatible as possible we will continue using XHTML, probably for years to come. This will give us a chance to see if HTML 5 goes anywhere. It all comes back to supporting the functionality that we require to convey our messages in as accessible and usable a way as possible. At work at a large university we have a guideline we try to follow: current version minus 1. This keeps us from leaping on technologies before they are proven. When a reasonable percentage of Web materials are HTML 5 and we want the functions that HTML 5 provides, then we’ll think about moving to it. For now, XHTML provides us with a stable platform on which we can provide functional accessibility and usability for all.

4 Replies to “XHTML vs. HTML 5 vs. Accessibility”

  1. You should read the spec before making claims about it. Participating in the mailing lists is fortunately not necessary.

    Contextual headlines I would claim to be no less accessible than the existing ones (‘h1’-‘h6’), and ‘h1’, ‘h1’, ‘h1’ is no worse than the ‘h’, ‘h’, ‘h’ in XHTML2. Yes, the assistive tools will have to be upgraded to support this, but that they would have to do in any case, and ‘h1’+’section’ tells more of the document structure than ‘h1’-‘h6’.

    Canvas doesn’t strike me as particularly accessible, but it isn’t worse than PNG or Flash, though definitely worse than SVG (also supported through HTML5).

    I think table summaries and headers, and other unused/misused HTML4 accessibility features, have failed in HTML4. I would be looking for something with the same intent that works. Not sure that HTML5 has it either.

    By making ‘alt’ optional it is possible to discern the difference between alt=”” (has no functional alternative text) and no ‘alt’ (alternative text not considered). By making it mandatory alt=”” or equivalent would be forced everywhere.

  2. At least have the decency to read up on what you’re talking about, before you start circulating FUD and misinformation.

  3. @Jonny – I *do* follow the lists and am well acquainted with the current accessibility issues that are outstanding: if others want to see some of the current process, they might also check out the wiki at:

    And now the list:

    alt – its been a long drawn out battle, but the current detente sees @alt, in and of itself, as but one means of associating text to non-textual (visual) assets, however other means also exists, and using any of the means will render the image conformant(*). Pragmatically, we must accept that not every critical image will have alt text (although we can still mandate that through other means such as conformance to WCAG 2), and at least here we have multiple means of adding useful contextual data to images. Call it a draw… [http://esw.w3.org/topic/HTML/IssueAltAttribute]

    headings (h1, h1, h1) – The biggest problem here is that it goes against a stated goal of not re-inventing the wheel. Whether or not we will see widespread uptake of this ‘new’ pattern remains to be seen: there has not really been a compelling argument on why this is ‘better’ than what we currently have. I consider this to be ego code…

    table summary – this is likely to go to an actual vote. The author group wants to remove @summary, but have not proposed a better alternative, as they appear to not understand the real purpose of the summary attribute. Compounding the issue sadly is that there is not a huge body of usage to point to for them to ‘get it’ from. However, there is a need, and unless a better alternative emerges (and mushing it together with the on-screen caption *IS NOT* a solution). On the brights side, there is ongoing discussion now, so all is not lost.

    table headers – This one has shaken out as well as something of a compromise. The solution appears to be somewhat convoluted, but then again headers/id were difficult to code up as well, and so either/both will likely remain in the toolbox as an experts tool – mind you we need experts tools as well – however the need for good education here is paramount [http://esw.w3.org/topic/HTML/IssueTableHeaders]

    captioning and annotations – Until such time as they can work out which codec they will be supporting natively, the accessibility component is somewhat stalled as the ‘solution’ might be dependent on the codec.[http://esw.w3.org/topic/HTML/MultimediaAccessibilty] On the ‘Good News’ front, Mozilla has asked Silvia Pfeiffer back to continue work on accessibility with OGG, so again keep our fingers crossed [http://blog.gingertech.net/]

    canvas – we can all weep now. While some interesting workarounds are emerging, there are also some really hair-brained hacks being proposed as well. Many feel that due to the way that canvas actually works (it is procedural and does not appear in the DOM) that a true accessibility solution will never emerge. Given that both Flash and to a lesser extent Silverlight offer similar functionality *plus* better accessibility support, I believe that canvas will be next years – cool in the beginning, but not really that useful due to limitations.

    @mattur – at least have the decency to add to the discussion instead of once again taking pot-shots at others whilst saying absolutely nothing of value yourself.

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