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Re: default values in type="text"


From: Terence de Giere
Date: Nov 10, 2002 6:53PM

The default text for the input element is for older screen readers, of
which I have never had an opportunity to test with a form. Perhaps
someone else on the forum might have a real example?

The newer screen readers have some 'hooks' that work with the browser to
delineate the input element, but the older screen readers just read what
text is printed to the screen, and if no text is there it just passes
the text box or text area by. Some years ago I experienced JAWS skipping
by images and table boundaries in Netscape Navigator as if they were not
there, but did not test a form at that time, although if the image and
table boundaries were not noticed, it might be the visible boundaries of
a text box or text area would be skipped as well. Some screen readers
require images be turned off in the browser so the reader can 'see' the
alternate text. If the reader encounters something it cannot process, it
doesn't do anything, and just goes on to the next item.

This default text is a requirement for W3C Triple-A compliance, as it
helps those that have this older technology, and there is still some out
there. Bobby also makes this a requirement for Section 508 compliance as
well, but CAST had planned to remove this requirement for 508
compliance. Now that Bobby is in the hands of WatchFire, some planned
bug fixes have been implemented although the default text in input
elements for 508 compliance is still required. I think the CAST
reasoning might have been, "if the public, rather than government
employees have to access government sites, this is the most likely user
group to have legacy software and hardware, and the ability to complete
forms is strongly emphasized in the Section 508 rules; therefore default
text is required". Other testing software, such as SSB Technologies's
does not require this for 508 compliance. I imagine the W3C guidelines
as well will drop this requirement once the older technology is out of
date enough to be completely insignificant.

There is a dance going on here between software that was not really
designed with accessibility in mind working with software that more or
less is. Nobody has learned all the dance steps well enough yet to work
perfectly with a partner. The marriage is taking a while to work out the
kinks. To work well screen readers need to communicate with the browser
rather than simply passively reading text from the screen, and the
browser needs to support accessibility as well as the page it has

The point that Lori Kay Brown made about usability is one that has come
up often. Most users have to select and delete the default text, or
reset their keyboard to type over, so for the user that does not need it
to find the text box or area, it takes more time and trouble to have the
text there. Giving normal users a harder time here might be a small dose
of poetic justice, because some efficient usability improvements for
normal users can make a page more cumbersome for disabled users.
Nonetheless it is required to get Triple-A compliance for now, if you
have to have it.

Most sites do not do that well with Level A compliance and usability.
Double-A compliance or something close to that is a good target for most
sites, and easier to achieve, and with less weird usability side effects
for some technology than Triple-A (note the W3C uses the words
'Triple-A' rather than 'AAA' for text and alternate text because it is
more likely to read well in an aural rendering). The Web Accessibility
Guidelines 1.0 are the first real attempt at solving accessibility
problems on the Internet, and version 2.0 is work in progress with lots
of feedback from difficulties encountered in the first round. W3C
Accessibility guidelines version 1.0, for user agents, the browsers, are
just nearing completion, are just still in the proposed recommendation
stage. There is some time to go before this issue will be finally resolved.

Terence de Giere

>Hi everyone:
>says that I need to have default text in type="text" input areas.
>Bobby.cast.org says I need to have this text to be AAA Accessible. I
>understand that this might be necessary for BUTTON and TEXTAREA
>elements...but I've never heard of this problem for INPUT (where the type
>isn't button or image).
>Does anyone know what screen readers/browsers /require/ type="text" to have
>a default value set?

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