Once again, the blind are at it - wanting equality and accessibility. Those pesky blind people! No but seriously, this is really pretty important and although I am pretty anti-litigious I think the National Federation of the Blind is making a statement by suing Target. Yes I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I started thinking about this some more in the wake of this recent MSNBC article. Blind people cannot use the Internet in the same way people with vision can. They cannot “see” the page layout. One thing I haven’t talked much about is semantic relationships in HTML. It’s a very simple concept that eludes most people who claim to know HTML (at least they put it on their resume).
One of the major problems I see with the way HTML is constructed is tables. Tables are one of the most useful constructs in HTML. You put things in columns and rows, and it makes sense. The problem is that it’s not accessible. The way tables are constructed you read down the column instead of across the row. It’s easier to dump the contents of a select statement in SQL than put it into a multi dimensional array and output one row element at a time in order. Thus it is no longer semantically correct.
Let’s say I have a simple table that has this sort of data in it:
Name Age Sex
Alice 32 Female
Bob 53 Male
Cathy 38 Female
A person who is blind heard that as follows: “Name Alice Bob Cathy Age 32 53 38 Sex Female Male Female.” That’s not terrible with such a small list but when the table grows to many columns with many rows in it, it’s nearly impossible for the person to understand which person you are now talking about. If the table were re-constructed to be in semantic order it would make more sense, “Name Age Sex Alice 32 Female Bob 53 Male Cathy 38 Female.” I understand CSS has come to the rescue but with completely different look and feels and bugs depending on what browser you are using. My question is, why haven’t we invented a new table structure in HTML that is semantically correct? It’s not radical thinking, it’s a simple solution to giving accessibility and still allowing an easy standard way to display data in HTML.
Anyway, sorry, that was probably a tangent. The real reason I’m writing this post is to drive home the fact that the CAPTCHAs people have been using on their enterprise websites are going to get them sued unless they have an alternative. We’ve talked about this before, and I’ve been given the impression that people just aren’t sensitive to this issue by the very same people who built those CAPTCHAs. I wonder what it will take for people to realize it’s just not a good idea from a security perspective (porn proxies completely circumvent the value since you can trick people in any context to type in those CAPTCHAs for you) and from a legal perspective. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be a porn site that relays the CAPTCHAs to unsuspecting users, it could be a blog… a web application security blog. Hmmm…