[uf-discuss] Re: Putting microformats on the BBC iPlayer

Toby A Inkster mail at tobyinkster.co.uk
Tue Mar 4 07:53:12 PST 2008

Adam Craven - Four Shapes wrote:

> Does anyone have suggestions how this can be worked around whilst still
> keeping relatively good screen reader support?

You mentioned hiding the ABBR with CSS as a solution, but IE6 (which 
plenty of screen readers hook into) ignores the ABBR element entirely and 
will not apply styling to it. (It's not even in the DOM tree.) So that 
technique may prove to be of limited utility.

The fact is that the microformats datetime design pattern (and to a lesser 
extent, the ABBR design pattern) suffers from major accessibility 
problems. This has been known about and discussed for over 18 months, with 
various alternatives being proposed, some of which have been pretty bad, 
but others which look very sensible. Probably my favourite so far was Andy 
Mabbett's recent suggestion on this very list <http://microformats.org/
discuss/mail/microformats-discuss/2008-February/011583.html> which I have 
implemented <http://buzzword.org.uk/cognition/> and found to be no more 
difficult to parse than the ABBR pattern.

However, despite a lot of proposals having been put forward, the community 
seems to have been very reluctant to actually bless one. It is fair enough 
to take time to consider these things carefully before issuing an edict 
(perhaps if that had been done to begin with we would have never ended up 
with a broken datetime design pattern), but while the community dithers 
over deciding upon a replacement, more and more instances of this 
inaccessible pattern are deployed.

For what it's worth, the empty anchors in your example code could also 
cause accessibility problems -- amongst other issues, they can interfere 
with the tab sequence when keyboard navigation is used.

If I were in your place, with as big an audience as the BBC has, I'd go 
with an accessible alternative datetime pattern and wait for the parsers 
to catch up with me.

Toby A Inkster BSc (Hons) ARCS
[Geek of HTML/SQL/Perl/PHP/Python/Apache/Linux]
[OS: Linux, up 34 days, 21:38.]

                               Bottled Water

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