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Re: WCAG 2 draft and abbreviations


From: Jared Smith
Date: May 31, 2007 10:20AM

On 5/31/07, Peter Weil < <EMAIL REMOVED> > wrote:
> I know this topic has been discussed previously on this list, but I
> still have some quesitons about it.

I'm glad you asked. I've been pondering these same questions.

> But we
> are still uncertain whether to tag and expand only the first
> occurrence or all occurrences

The WCAG 2.0 techniques document says that if you use abbr, you should
expand all occurrences. I'm not certain I agree. Instead of abbr, you
can also link to definitions (though I definitely disagree that all
instances of the abbreviation should be linked), provide a glossary,
or provide access to a dictionary.

I think all of this is more of a user agent issue - something that the
browser should provide. As recommended in Patrick Lauke's article
browsers (and most certainly screen readers) should have options to
"Do not expand", "Expand at first occurrence", or "Always expand"

Also note Patrick's point about the lack of keyboard access to expand

> To complicate matters, often the first occurrence in the copy we
> receive already contains the expansion -- this satisfies one of the
> 'acceptable' techniques:
> "provide the full form before providing the abbreviated form"

This only applies to abbreviations that are not part of common
language. This is, of course, relative to the audience. If you were
posting a message to this list, which would be more accessible, "HTML"
or "HyperText Markup Language (HTML)"? I have issues with a
requirement that all abbreviations be expanded in full form when many
abbreviations shouldn't be.

If there were a way to identify the full form with the abbreviation,
then things would certainly be much easier. Something like:

<expansion for="html">HyperText Markup Language</expansion> (<abbr

Then in all successive occurrences, you'd use <abbr
id="html">HTML</abbr>. And in cases where the full form doesn't exist,
simply use title.

> This brings up another question: do the abbreviation and acronym tags
> (aside from their semantic correctness) in and of themselves help in
> any way with accessibility, or is the expansion (title attribute)
> always needed to make them useful?

I'm not aware of any user agent that does anything with an abbr that
is missing the title attribute. I suppose user agents could (should?)
use the non-titled abbr to identify abbreviations that have already
been titled. At the same time, they could do this without the
additional abbr's by simply matching the text - at least in most
cases. Here's an example of where this could be problematic:

<p>I graduated in Instructional Technology (IT). <abbr
title="Instructional Technology">IT</abbr> was an excellent degree,
even though it is usually identified as Information Technology.</p>

The problem here is the word "it" in the second sentence. We can't
assume that user agents would be able to identify this as a word and
not another occurrence of the abbreviation. This then argues for
marking up all successive abbreviations, though I see no need for them
to always include the full title (even though WCAG 2.0 requires it)
when the user agent should properly identify them.

> How are others approaching this problem?

I used to title all instances, but anymore, I'm wondering if titling
just the first instance would suffice. In some ways, because (proper)
browsers style all occurrences of abbr, this can be a bit distracting
and perhaps DECREASE accessibility.

I also want to point out that WCAG 2.0 *finally* clarifies that all
acronyms can also be abbreviations. Thus, you never need to use
acronym at all, though you can where it's appropriate - assuming you
understand where it is appropriate (even the WCAG 2.0 documentation
gets it wrong).

Jared Smith