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Re: Tags to Represent Questions


From: Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis
Date: Feb 1, 2008 4:00PM

I wrote earlier:

> AFAIK all current screen reader releases allow users to skip from
> heading to heading. I'm not aware of a screen reader that allows users
> to skip easily from DT element to DT element.

Now I am. Sorry, I should have double-checked this before writing. One
of the most popular screen readers allows jumping to the next definition
list item, although otherwise support is rather poor. Here's a rundown
with a selection of screen readers:

* JAWS: Version 5.0 introduced support for announcing definition lists
as "definition list of X items", inserting an equals sign between term
and definition, and moving from one list (of any sort) to the next. JAWS
6.0 introduced support for jumping from one item in a definition list to
another, effectively allowing skipping to the next term. See the "HTML
Lists" topic in their respective manuals (you can get those from the
Freedom Scientific website and WayBack). However, the emphasis of the
JAWS documentation and UI on the use of DL for definitions of terms is
not germane to its use for FAQ. Moreover, you still cannot list all
defined terms on a page. By contrast, you can jump to and list headings,
either generically or by level, and when listing headings you can start
typing to match one.

* Window-Eyes 6.1: According to the manual, this screen reader supports
definition lists. You can move to the next list (of any sort) and, once
in a list, move to the next list item:


But I can't actually get this to work with Firefox 2 or IE7, though
possibly I'm doing something wrong. Window-Eyes supports announcing,
jumping to, and listing headings, either generically or by level.

* Dolphin HAL 8.01: Apparently no special support for definition lists,
but does support jumping to and listing headings:


* VoiceOver on OS X Tiger (tested with Safari 3.0.4): No special support
for definition lists. Announces headings but not level. The feature list
for Leopard mentions the following:

> Quickly navigate long documents or web pages. Jump to key elements
> like headers, tables, and links and by text attributes like
> underlining, bold, italics, and color — even text phrases.


I don't have a Leopard system to test what that means in practice.

* Orca (development build with Firefox 3 development build): No special
support for definition lists. Announces headings and allows jumping to
headings either generically or by level.

* FireVox 3.6: No special support for definition lists. Supports
announcing, jumping to, and listing headings, generically or by level.

* NVDA (development build with Firefox 2): Announces definition
lists ("definition list of four items bullet programmer bullet coder
definition a person who writes software"), but while jumping from list
to list works, jumping from definition item to definition item currently
does not. NVDA announces heading level and allows you to jump to

The above notwithstanding, I see (as yet) no reason to agree with Mike
Moore's contention that "Headings are definitely improper semantic
markup" for an FAQ. I suspect most FAQs can be fit into a heading
scheme or a DL-based scheme, although one or the other may be more
appropriate for particular cases. For example, if multiple questions are
being grouped to be answered together, that might lend itself more to a
DL-based scheme using multiple "terms" simultaneously "defined". I don't
see anything semantically wrong with the use of headings for:



Nor do I see anything semantically wrong with the use of a DL for:



However, in cases where both markup variations are judged equally
appropriate in semantic terms, headings have greater accessibility
benefits, given the level of support and the presentation to end-users
outlined above. I don't see how the additional navigation options for
headings, to quote Mike again, "would not significantly improve
navigation through large lists of questions". For example, if your
assistive technology does not have any definition list features, and
answers feature multiple paragraphs, you'll have to wade through the FAQ
paragraph by paragraph (or use a find function). I can't blame AT for
being unable to list DT items. Given the extremely varied use of DL
(definitions, dialogs, FAQ, link lists), it's difficult to see how a
user agent could present a meaningful list of "definitions". It's a
shame that HTML 4.01 didn't explicitly suggest markup like:

<dd>A person who writes software.</dd>

since that would at least distinguish lists of definitions apart from
definition lists. Given the lousy examples actually provided by the
spec and given actual practice, that would be a risky distinction for
AT to draw. Eventually microformats or new containers like DIALOG might
facilitate more dedicated UI, however.

(Apologies again for the earlier misinformation about DL support. Let me
know if you spot any obvious mistakes in my summary.)

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis