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

Toby A Inkster mail at tobyinkster.co.uk
Sat Mar 29 09:51:05 PST 2008

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis wrote:

> Actually, from lurking on mailing lists for screenreader users, changing
> settings seems commonplace.

I was going to reply to Adam's message last night, but was too tired so 
went to bed instead. Ben has beaten me to it, and my thoughts on the 
matter are very much in line with his.

Yes, it is true, that for the most part, people do not change their 
software's initial settings. However, there are a certain class of 
settings that many people -- perhaps even *most* people (yes, even non-
technical people) do change. Probably the best example is desktop 
wallpaper. How many people do you really know who use their operating 
system default desktop wallpaper?

The question is: is the behaviour of screen readers with regards to the 
ABBR element one of this special class of frequently changed settings, or 
is it not? Unless someone can cite actually research into this matter, I'm 
unhappy to go along with the "it doesn't cause a problem with real-world 
screen reader users" hypothesis.

Ben also raises another point that I wasn't going to mention in my 
abandoned theoretical late night message. It's another point with which I 
agree, and have probably mentioned before on this mailing list: that of 
semantics. Even if all the accessibility problems could be solved 
overnight, semantically ABBR is often still the wrong element to use - 
certainly for the datetime design pattern, but also for many other ABBR 
design pattern use cases. It's just icky -- especially for hCalendar's 
dtend used with a date (rather than a full datetime).

What are the alternatives:

The Web Standards Project's suggestion to use OBJECT and PARAM for 
datetimes <http://www.webstandards.org/2007/04/27/haccessibility/> is 
nice, but can cause browser funniness, and it's too much to type anyway.

There are issues with simply supporting "title" on any old element. The 
title attribute is used too much in the wild for us to easily use it. For 
example, how would this work?:

	<div title="My hCard" class="vcard">
		<span class="fn">Toby Inkster</span>

Personally my preferred solution is Andy Mabbett's suggestion from 
February this year <http://microformats.org/discuss/mail/microformats-
discuss/2008-February/011583.html>. This has been implemented in 
Cognition, my semantic web parser, of which version 0.1alpha6 is due out 
later today. I can vouch that it's no harder to implement than ABBR, and 
it's very easy for a tool to support both.

Toby A Inkster BSc (Hons) ARCS
[Geek of HTML/SQL/Perl/PHP/Python/Apache/Linux]
[OS: Linux, up 3 days, 4:45.]

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