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semantic musing of the day


From: Bourne, Sarah (ITD)
Date: Sep 25, 2013 8:32AM

Consider the following method of presenting some information:
1. Efficiency Providing: API access allows content to be created one time in a manner that can enable developers to make it accessible and available through many channels.
2. Wider Reach: By allowing anyone to create new presentation layers, like a mobile/computer-based applications and websites, APIs can be used to create services and information that is fully-accessible to people with disabilities.
[and 8 or so more items like this, some with a lot more content.]
[List numbers are typed in here, but marked-up as a numbered list in original.]

I see this sort of thing fairly often, sometimes with a bulleted list instead of a numbered list. Or in some cases not identified specifically as a list, but as a series of paragraphs.

In the original, the opening phrase is marked-up as bold text. A sighted user can then easily scan the list to see the topics covered in each list item. Semantically then, it seems as though those items should be marked as headings. But you rarely see that done, mostly because using an H tag won't allow you to have the content continue in-line. As we all know, how things look frequently trumps semantics at decision-making time, so you end up with bold or emphasis elements. Since screen readers ignore them, the heading-ness information is unavailable to some users.

I've seen instances where the marker-upper has used DL for this. I suppose you could say that the "heading" is a "dictionary term", that is defined by the text following it. But that seems like a bit of a stretch to me; it seems more likely that DL was chosen because it's easier to style.

If I'm not the only one who worries about this sort of thing, I'd be interested in your thoughts.
How important is it to have the heading-ness coded in for this type of thing? Or would that just end up being too many headings?
Should it always be a list, whether numbered or not, or whether bullets are displayed or not, or is a series of paragraphs good enough?
Is there a way to use an H element but have the content continue inline? (My CSS foo is not what it used to be!)
Is there another way of tackling this besides H or DL?

Sarah E. Bourne
Director of Assistive Technology
Information Technology Division
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
1 Ashburton Pl. rm 1601 Boston MA 02108