Feature misuse !== feature uselessness

Ugh. Longdesc. For those who don’t follow such things, the fight over the longdesc attribute in HTML5 goes back to (at least) 2008. Back then, the WHATWG was also considering eliminating the alt attribute, the summary attribute, and table headers. Ian Hickson’s blatant and laughable egotism led him to believe he knew more about accessibility than the many actual accessibility experts he was arguing with. In this context, it is no wonder that a lot of people have gotten to the point of just being sick of the topic of longdesc, instead preferring to concentrate on more impactful concerns in accessibility.

While I agree with a lot of the arguments made in Edward O’connor’s Formal Objection to advancing the HTML Image Description document along the REC track I do feel strongly compelled to address the use of the tired argument that I can summarize as “Because web developers misunderstand or misuse a feature, that means the feature must be bad”. In fact I first responded to this type of argument 6 years ago on the HTML5 mailing list in which I stated:

The notion that the decision to keep or eliminate an attribute based on whether it gets misused by authors is amazingly illogical. I would challenge the author to eliminate every element and attribute which is “widely misused” by authors.

For nearly a dozen years now, I’ve been employed in a capacity which gives me a day-to-day glimpse of how professional web developers are using markup. I see HTML abuse on a daily basis. Bad HTML permeates the web due to ignorant developers and is exacerbated by shitty UI frameworks and terrible “tutorials” by popular bloggers. In my years as an accessibility consultant I’ve reviewed work on Fortune 100 websites and many of the Alexa top 1000. I’ve reviewed web-based applications of the largest software companies in the world. The abuse of markup is ubiquitous.

  • I’m working with a client right now who has over 1600 issues logged in their issue tracking system just related to accessibility. Several dozen of those issues related to missing ‘name’ attributes on radio buttons.
  • Across 800,000 tested URLs, Tenon.io has logged an average of 42 accessibility issues per page. This number is statistically significant
  • The average length of an audit report by The Paciello Group is 74 pages long. I recently finished a report that was over 37,000 words long

Regardless of your position on longdesc, citing developer misuse is little more than a red herring.

If you are interested in learning about the next generation in Web Accessibility Testing, give Tenon.io a try.
If you or your organization need help with accessibility consulting, strategy, or accessible web development, email me directly at karl@karlgroves.com or call me at +1 443-875-7343. Download Resume [MS Word]

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