HTML 5 – updates and logos and WAI, oh my! A busy start to 2011

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For many people, January is one of the quietest months of the year. Here in Australia, the combination of Christmas, New Year and the hot summer weather is often a time when people take leave, with most people being back on board towards the end of the month.

For the rest of the world, though, January seems to be one of the busiest times, especially in technology circles. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas always provides a great showcase of new products, and the W3C keeps churning out new updates, focusing heavily on HTML 5.  

By mid-January, the HTML working group had published 8 documents highlighting the direction of their work. This includes updated working drafts of the HTML5 specification, the accompanying explanatory document HTML5 differences from HTML4, and the related reference HTML: The Markup Language

Elements relating to the Symantec web were also updated to put in place mechanisms for machine-readable content, through the Working Drafts of the specifications HTML+RDFa 1.1and HTML Microdata.

Text Alternatives

From an accessibility point of view, however, the really big news is the update of the HTML5: Techniques for providing useful text alternatives. Text alternatives are best described in the document as: 

…a primary way of making visual information accessible, because they can be rendered through any sensory modality (for example, visual, auditory or tactile) to match the needs of the user.

On the surface, it seems simple to view an image and then write a few words about it as a text alternative. Yet it can be difficult to know exactly how to describe something in context. A painting, for example, could simply be described by its name, by the artist who painted it, a short description of it or a very lengthy interpretive description to convey its full impact.

  • To help out with this dilemma, the W3C has put together the following ‘Good Practice’ guide
  • Provide the same informational content as the image.
  • Where an image performs a specific function, such as a graphical link, provide information about its functionality.
  • Be as succinct as possible while still conveying equivalent values. Short text that describes its purpose or gives an overview will often suffice.
  • Write suitable alt text according to context. The same image in a different situation may need very different alt text.
  • Avoid redundant alt text. An example of this would be repeating the same text in your document, as well as in the alt attribute, which is unnecessary.

So in our painting example, context is very important. If the image is on a website dedicated to famous paintings, the description should be brief but reflective, perhaps on the image and the painting’s style and technique.

If the picture is part of an art catalogue, it may be enough just to list the title of the painting and the artist in the alternative text. Although the document is likely to change and evolve as the HTML 5 standard continues to evolve, it is a good example of how WAI concepts and standards are being tied in with the development of HTML 5.

WAI-ARIA Implementation

While on the topic of WAI concepts, the Protocols and Standards Working Group is asking for examples of WAI-ARIA implementations based on the current candidate recommendation (CR).So if you’d like to incorporate WAI-AIRA into your development process based on the current CR, there’s an opportunity to feed your experience back to the W3C.

HTML 5 Proposed Logo

Finally, in addition to all the other developments going on in the W3C over January, the W3C has made the unexpected announcement of a proposed logo for HTML 5 compliant websites

Although there’s merit in having an HTML 5 logo, even in our office there’s debate over whether or not the design is a good choice. Something to ponder until next month’s column post.

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