WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

E-mail List Archives

Re: [EXTERNAL] heading question

for

From: Duff Johnson
Date: Dec 18, 2019 10:51AM


Had a little time, so wanted to offer a few thoughts about what’s bothering me in this discussion:
Various people are saying that headings matter, although opinions differ on whether it’s the mere fact of a heading that matters, or the heading level as well.
No-one has explained how users are supposed to be able to know when heading levels are structural (i.e., when the organization of headings structures the content) rather than merely indicating “importance”. These two uses are seemingly impossible for users to disambiguate. As a result, AT users doubtless fail to spot cases in which navigating headings is essential to comprehending the document. Presumably, they suffer a dramatic shortfall in equal access as a result.
In short, it feels a lot like web accessibility folk tend to assume that:
content occurs in short web-pages
content doesn’t rely on nested heading levels for organization
This might be true for most web pages, but it would be wrong to premise generic content accessibility standards on these presumptions.

I come from the land of PDF. It’s a land of large documents (tens, hundreds, thousands of pages) and deeply structured documents (some have thousands of headings). In PDF we sometimes see documents with 7, 8, 9 or more heading levels. We have documents with “front matter” and “backmatter” and other concepts that are foreign to web content and thus relatively less considered by WCAG.

PDF 2.0, published in 2017 and soon to be updated in 2020, introduces a <Title> structure element that functions similarly to HTML’s <title> element, but occurs on the PDF page rather than in the page’s <head>. Accordingly, in PDF 2.0, document titles aren’t tagged <H1> as this is a heading tag, not a document title tag. This allows for clear disambiguation of titles from headings, and reserves headings for the vital task of structuring the document in an accessible manner.

A member of the PDF Association’s PDF/UA Technical Working Group recently wrote an article discussing this question:

https://www.pdfa.org/how-to-tag-titles-in-pdf-documents/

NOTE: the PDF/UA Reference Suite on pdfa.org <http://pdfa.org/>; is not yet updated along these lines; this is in part because this specific suite needs to remain PDF/UA-1 conforming files, which means PDF 1.7. Nonetheless, we’re currently upgrading the files in that suite to make them forward-compatible with the forthcoming PDF/UA-2, and will let the group know when available.

Duff.


> On Dec 16, 2019, at 09:41, Jonathan Avila < <EMAIL REMOVED> > wrote:
>
> It's also likely that for many simple web pages the heading level isn't as important -- especially if the heading text is explanatory and the progression of headings implies meaning. In other cases the general order of the heading levels may be enough -- h3 may not come directly have an h1 but most folks would agree that an h3 is of less importance or a sub section. I'd agree with Birkir that landmarks have the potential to be better in many situations. For example, using just heading levels the main part of a page would have an h1 and the sections of a footer would have to have h2 to conform to the level approach. However, you don't have any details that they are in the footer and they actually probably should be less important than an h2 -- for example an h4. This gets into the messy world of headings where they denote structure but also can communicate importance in terms of weight. Most web pages don't visually show the headings needed for complete levels for screen re
> aders and this would necessitate adding off-screen headings.
>
> In terms of other types of document such as legal, financial, or research documents where the heading text is not clear and the order heading levels is necessary to understand the content then the order is absolutely needed in order to understand the relationship of text and headings. So it really depends on the context and that is why the WCAG criteria is flexible in determining when it is a failure or not.
>
> Jonathan
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: WebAIM-Forum < <EMAIL REMOVED> > On Behalf Of Andrews, David B (DEED)
> Sent: Monday, December 16, 2019 9:02 AM
> To: WebAIM Discussion List < <EMAIL REMOVED> >
> Subject: Re: [WebAIM] [EXTERNAL] Re: heading question
>
> CAUTION: This email originated from outside of the organization. Do not click links or open attachments unless you recognize the sender and know the content is safe.
>
>
> Actually what I think he is saying is that people don't pay attention to the heading number, whether it is a 2 or 3 or whatever. They use the h key and jump from heading to heading. Yes, the number, if used properly, conveys important information, but the heading itself also does. It says two things, this is important, and this is a change from what was before it. It is sometimes quicker just to use the h key instead of a heading level number. With nesting you might get it wrong and have to try something else. The h key is quick and moves to each heading, you don't have to worry about skipping a heading or anything.
>
> Dave
>
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: WebAIM-Forum < <EMAIL REMOVED> > On Behalf Of Mark Magennis
> Sent: Monday, December 16, 2019 7:57 AM
> To: WebAIM Discussion List < <EMAIL REMOVED> >
> Subject: Re: [WebAIM] [EXTERNAL] Re: heading question
>
> This message may be from an external email source.
> Do not select links or open attachments unless verified. Report all suspicious emails to Minnesota IT Services Security Operations Center.
>
> >
> But Steve, the WebAIM survey reports that 86.1% of respondents describe heading levels as "useful" to them. Which seems to be at odds with your experience that "they don't take much notice of the heading levels".
>
> Mark
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: WebAIM-Forum < <EMAIL REMOVED> > On Behalf Of Steve Green
> Sent: 16 December 2019 11:46
> To: WebAIM Discussion List < <EMAIL REMOVED> >
> Subject: Re: [WebAIM] [EXTERNAL] Re: heading question
>
> I don't think our findings are at odds with the WebAIM survey. Most screen reader users do use headings to navigate, but they don't take much notice of the heading levels except for the <h1>, which they expect to be at the top of the main content. As long as the headings are marked up as a heading of some level, people can find them easily using the H key or the headings list.
>
> Steve
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: WebAIM-Forum < <EMAIL REMOVED> > On Behalf Of Mark Magennis
> Sent: 16 December 2019 10:28
> To: WebAIM Discussion List < <EMAIL REMOVED> >
> Subject: Re: [WebAIM] [EXTERNAL] Re: heading question
>
> Great to hear results from real user testing Steve. Your experience that users rarely take notice of the heading level is really useful information.
>
> It seems a bit at odds with the findings from the latest WebAIM screen reader survey though (note that the WebAIM survey is based on an uncontrolled sample, I don't know about your testing). WebAIM asked "When navigating a web page by headings, how useful are the heading levels (e.g., "Heading 1", "Heading 2", etc.) to you?".
>
> 52.2% said heading levels are "Very useful" and 33.9% "Somewhat useful". Only 11% said "Not very useful" or "Not at all useful".
>
> As an aside, I note that the WebAIM survey indicates that use of headings has increased over the years. The numbers of respondents reporting that they use headings as their first approach to finding information on a lengthy page has increased as follows. 2009P.8%, 2012`.8%, 2014e.6%, 2017g.5%, 2019h.8% .
>
> Mark
>
> Mark Magennis
> Skillsoft | mobile: +353 87 60 60 162
> Accessibility Specialist
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: WebAIM-Forum < <EMAIL REMOVED> > On Behalf Of Steve Green
> Sent: 15 December 2019 01:47
> To: WebAIM Discussion List < <EMAIL REMOVED> >
> Subject: [EXTERNAL] Re: [WebAIM] heading question
>
> Birkir's experience of user testing is exactly the same as mine during hundreds of sessions over 15 years. Even when people use headings to navigate through a page, they rarely take notice of the level. It tends to be the most highly proficient users who take note of the heading levels, so small errors in nesting don't cause them any difficulty.
>
> That said, I think that errors in the heading structure should be limited to occasional skipped levels. That is often unavoidable when pages are built from common components in a CMS. However, it would not be acceptable for subheadings to have a higher level than their parent heading.
>
> Steve Green
> Managing Director
> Test Partners Ltd
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: WebAIM-Forum < <EMAIL REMOVED> > On Behalf Of Birkir R. Gunnarsson
> Sent: 14 December 2019 23:43
> To: WebAIM Discussion List < <EMAIL REMOVED> >
> Subject: Re: [WebAIM] heading question
>
> The heading levels need to correspond to the visual weight of the text, which of course can be subjective (what if heading text is the same size but one has an underline or a different color).
> Also, while levels are important I think there are sitautions where skipping heading levels is justified.
> For instance, if you have a book, its title is an h1, then there is a dedication or author's note that contains a sentence or two of text, then there are individual chapters and sub chapters.
> The text author's note should be a heading, but not necessary an h2, it does not mark a chapter in the book, an h3 or h4 is more appropriate and likely more in line with the visual presentation.
> These are the exceptions and consecutive heading levels are good practice, but WCAG does not outright require them.
> In recent usability testing with a number of screen reader users I've found that very few use heading levels or even pay attention to them much to my surprise. They do look for an h1 heading, but that's about it.
>
>
>
> On 12/14/19, David Engebretson Jr. < <EMAIL REMOVED> > wrote:
>> Howdy!
>>
>> Heading structure is one of my main topics in the general
>> accessibility presentations I give.
>>
>> I always profess their should be 1 heading level 1 on a page (at the
>> beginning of the main region) that matches the <title> of the page -
>> then the sections of the page should be marked as heading level 2 with
>> subsections at heading level 3 and sub-subsections at heading level 4.
>>
>> It's not difficult to provide semantic heading structure. It's
>> difficult to create the awareness that it is important.
>>
>> I think the most difficult aspect, at least for me as a blind
>> developer and a11y enthusiast, is to convince sighted developers that
>> they can always adjust styling through CSS in a properly formatted
>> digital document. CSS is simple but not all sighted folks know how to
>> use it. I don't know how to use it either so I'm super empathetic. I
>> can't tell if I'm causing text collisions with my styling adjustments.
>>
>> It's a bit of a conundrum, no?
>>
>> Best,
>> David
>>
>>
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: WebAIM-Forum < <EMAIL REMOVED> > On Behalf Of
>> L Snider
>> Sent: Saturday, December 14, 2019 12:51 PM
>> To: WebAIM Discussion List < <EMAIL REMOVED> >
>> Subject: Re: [WebAIM] heading question
>>
>> I differ from others, heading order is crucial for me.
>>
>> Everyone I know who relies on a screen reader (I don't rely on one)
>> has told me this over the years. I know WCAG is different, but in my
>> view it is a problem. Think of reading things every day with a screen
>> reader, and not knowing what was going on, because the headings were
>> totally out of whack.
>> After all, I have to ask, why then do headings have numbers in the
>> first place?
>>
>> I know others will disagree, but I don't call it petty at all.
>>
>> Cheers
>>
>> Lisa
>>
>>
>>
>> On Fri, Dec 13, 2019 at 6:46 PM Tyler Shepard
>> < <EMAIL REMOVED> >
>> wrote:
>>
>>> Hi all,
>>> I am reviewing a website which has headings. The first heading is an
>>> h1, the next is an h3. I feel a bit petty for putting in my notes
>>> they should change the heading put it as an h2. It doesn't damage
>>> the flow. Am I over reacting over something so small?
>>> >>> >>> https://gcc01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Flist
>>> .webaim.org%2F&amp;data%7C01%7Cdavid.b.andrews%40state.mn.us%7C44e
>>> 13a20da8d4dec1a2708d7822fd22d%7Ceb14b04624c445198f26b89c2159828c%7C0%
>>> 7C0%7C637121014213137424&amp;sdata=1GDGVhNGevg6KnSzeRw%2FlvuuYvt7%2BB
>>> 6sIfey7BrEeGA%3D&amp;reserved=0 List archives at
>>> https://gcc01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fweba
>>> im.org%2Fdiscussion%2Farchives&amp;data%7C01%7Cdavid.b.andrews%40s
>>> tate.mn.us%7C44e13a20da8d4dec1a2708d7822fd22d%7Ceb14b04624c445198f26b
>>> 89c2159828c%7C0%7C0%7C637121014213147417&amp;sdata=XzpQqHsFA7W5xJWEXS
>>> c3x2MilvEeWmwNlb43V8NmUbc%3D&amp;reserved=0
>>> >>>
>> >> >> https://gcc01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Flist.
>> webaim.org%2F&amp;data%7C01%7Cdavid.b.andrews%40state.mn.us%7C44e13
>> a20da8d4dec1a2708d7822fd22d%7Ceb14b04624c445198f26b89c2159828c%7C0%7C0
>> %7C637121014213147417&amp;sdata=vGYc6CsR5ns70Gg%2BGEb%2BvdJ7hiTFI4uKex
>> T%2F2TbXDUs%3D&amp;reserved=0 List archives at
>> https://gcc01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwebai
>> m.org%2Fdiscussion%2Farchives&amp;data%7C01%7Cdavid.b.andrews%40sta
>> te.mn.us%7C44e13a20da8d4dec1a2708d7822fd22d%7Ceb14b04624c445198f26b89c
>> 2159828c%7C0%7C0%7C637121014213147417&amp;sdata=XzpQqHsFA7W5xJWEXSc3x2
>> MilvEeWmwNlb43V8NmUbc%3D&amp;reserved=0
>> >>
>> >> >> https://gcc01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Flist.
>> webaim.org%2F&amp;data%7C01%7Cdavid.b.andrews%40state.mn.us%7C44e13
>> a20da8d4dec1a2708d7822fd22d%7Ceb14b04624c445198f26b89c2159828c%7C0%7C0
>> %7C637121014213147417&amp;sdata=vGYc6CsR5ns70Gg%2BGEb%2BvdJ7hiTFI4uKex
>> T%2F2TbXDUs%3D&amp;reserved=0 List archives at
>> https://gcc01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwebai
>> m.org%2Fdiscussion%2Farchives&amp;data%7C01%7Cdavid.b.andrews%40sta
>> te.mn.us%7C44e13a20da8d4dec1a2708d7822fd22d%7Ceb14b04624c445198f26b89c
>> 2159828c%7C0%7C0%7C637121014213147417&amp;sdata=XzpQqHsFA7W5xJWEXSc3x2
>> MilvEeWmwNlb43V8NmUbc%3D&amp;reserved=0
>> >>
>
>
> --
> Work hard. Have fun. Make history.
> > > > > > > >