[uf-discuss] The datetime screen reader problem is almost complete bollocks

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis bhawkeslewis at googlemail.com
Sat Mar 29 03:34:53 PST 2008

Adam Craven - Four Shapes wrote:
> He was adamant that the abbreviation title tag problem was hardly going 
> to affect any screen reader users. Why? Because by default, the title 
> attribute isn't used much. Users of JAWs 9, 7.1, Windows eyes 6.1, Hal 
> 9.91 have to edit the preferences to start reading the title tag in 
> abbr. 

Thanks for sharing this information with the list, though I did note 
that reading @TITLE was a non-default configuration option during the 
extensive discussion of this problem last year:


> And users who don't change the default settings are the most 
> important to accommodate - they're in the majority.

Sorry, but a problem being rare is not the same as it being "bollocks".

Actually, from lurking on mailing lists for screenreader users, changing 
settings seems commonplace. Of course, correspondents might be 
disproportionately expert on those lists.

However, as I again noted last year, changing the behaviour for @TITLE 
seemed unlikely to be a popular configuration choice. I don't recall the 
subject coming up on the lists I'm on since. Of course, someone 
encountering an accessibility issue with microformats might have no idea 
what was causing the problem.

Still, catering to the "majority" of screenreader users is reasonable if 
we're using the underlying (X)HTML standards in the right way.

I wasn't persuaded that the abbr-date-title pattern was a correct use of 
ABBR or @TITLE back in April 2007, and I'm still not persuaded today:

* I just don't buy that "Monday" is an "abbreviation" of 
"2007-08-08T12:12" in the same way as "W3C" is an abbreviation of "World 
Wide Web Consortium". Consequently, I don't think it's a correct use of 
ABBR. None of the alternatives suggested by the WASP Accessibility Task 
Force had this particular problem:


* More weakly: some versions of ISO date times are more human-friendly 
(and more screenreader-friendly) than others, but I'm not persuaded that 
publishers would normally choose such a representation if it weren't 
intended it for machine rather than human consumption, so I think it's a 
dodgy use of @TITLE. Given part of the rationale for using @TITLE is to 
make this data "visible" to end-users, it seems a tad inconsistent to 
bank on it not being rendered to screenreader users.

So I tend to regard abbr-title-date as a failure to live up to 
microformats' mission to build "upon existing and widely adopted standards":


> We'll have more in-depth tests and reports done in a month or so.

I look forward to these with interest.

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis

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