What determines an expert and what importance should be placed upon the advice that such an “expert” may give? Unfortunately, within the Internet communication business there is no recognizable authority or certification process that establishes credentials or level of expertise on any individual, group or firm within the specific field. More often than not, credentials are established by what such an expert does, does not do, by what they say, by what they don’t say and by what the general consensus may be as represented by their peers. Herein lies the problem.
I am using the Paciello Group as an example and they are the focus of this editorial. I am not questioning their reputation. I am in no position to judge nor determine their level of reputation from first–hand work experience with them. They do hold themselves out to be experts in accessibility. However, my only pragmatic source for evaluation is what they say and do within their blog postings.
Overall, I can’t find fault with the value or substance of their of overall organization as whole. That would be a significant stretch. I am not in a position to evaluate such things.
What I do take exception, and take a strong exception, is their criticism, diversion and blatant oversight of the importance and value of good grammar within Web content, specifically the use of punctuation. Further exception is made to their label of misinformation, their lack of thoroughness and that in effect they, by their own actions and critique, have published and are promoting misinformation.
I extend that exception to their blog as a whole. More often than not, the Paciello Group takes on the appearance of defending one or two adaptive technologies and then attempts to use the technology as a basis to dictate sound accessibility practices. To me, it brings up past issues within Internet communication, over the years, wherein too many and too often Web content was designed exclusively for one or two Web browsers. History points out the folly of that mess.
For the benefit of the casual reader, JAWS is an adaptive technology software product by Freedom Scientific. This product helps those with disabilities, primarily sight impairments, to use a computer. This includes help with the user’s ability to read and interpret Web content. There are several products of this type within the market.
Design and development of accessible Web content is about content that can be effectively used and interpreted by anyone and content that is not dependent upon the individual’s operating system or hardware. It is content that should accommodate anyone whether a disability is present or not. This is more or less a pragmatic view that takes accessibility, usability and interoperability and has merged them into a single view.
For the record, I am not an accessibility expert. I am just a guy who has spent some time trying to learn and solve a complex problem, that of accessibility.
This editorial focuses on only one specific blog post made by the Paciello Group.
The title of the Paciello Group’s Web log [blog] post is what first caught my attention, How JAWS reads text. The first sentence of the post as stated on their blog page compelled further reading of the blog entry.
Making public statements based on limited knowledge of an assistive technology and with little understanding of how it is used, can lead to incorrect conclusions and poor implementations.
What the blog post attempts to take exception is that Ian Hickson noted in his blog an issue wherein JAWS had a tendency, in Hickson’s experience, to create run on sentences between paragraph elements of Web content. Hickson pointed out the use of punctuation would prevent such a problem and that punctuation was a very important part of creating accessible content.
NOTE: I am not defending Hickson. The guy damn sure doesn’t need defended by me. I am, however, defending the intent and basis of his observation.
The Failure to Acknowledge and Provide a Solution
The solution provided by the Paciello Group to run on sentences of text elements by JAWS or any adaptive technology user agent within their blog post, of How JAWS reads text, was: [insert vacuum here].
That is the Paciello Group’s solution: emptiness, vacuum, nothing. However, they have gone to lengths to build and justify a test case that, in their opinion, shows that JAWS handles paragraph elements and does so while they overlook that JAWS is, at times, buggy and will, in fact, render paragraph elements as run on sentences.
That issue, if it stands by itself, is minor. Several things escalate it, though.
Their test case is used to defend the paragraph element, how it is rendered by JAWS and that any reference by any source that suggests that such is not the case, the Paciello Group classifies it as a “little knowledge”, “little understanding” and other such silliness.
If that is not enough, their test case is flawed. What is at issue is the value of punctuation, particularly ending punctuation that prefaces any text content element’s closing tag. In their specific case, their p closing tag is preceded by a punctuation mark. Even in that situation, they fail to acknowledge run on content through the header elements into the paragraph elements, as a result of the lack of punctuation within the test page’s text content header elements, when JAWS or Window–Eyes renders the content.
The title of the blog post clearly states “reads text” but they focus exclusively upon the paragraph element and exclude any analysis of other text elements or attributes. They want to get petty and embolden reference to longdesc and alt as it appears in Hickson’s reference to the use of punctuation while they discount the value of Hickson’s statement. Then, they have the arrogance to use it as a reference and as a basis for “incorrect conclusion” and “poor implementation”. Anything can be taken out of content and misused. That fact does not negate the value of the original source.
The Paciello Group takes it out of context and then runs to defend a specific user agent. Design of accessible content is not about adaptation to any given, or even a handful, of adaptive technologies.
The Paciello Group’s failure to acknowledge the value and necessity of use of punctuation within all text elements and within text content attributes points out their lack of understanding, limited knowledge and their direct participation in promotion of “poor implementation” of accessibility techniques and best practices. Proper use of punctuation and grammar is one of the foundations of accessible content.
I generally don’t get upset of removal of dissenting opinion or links to dissenting opinion, on any blog. That, in my view, is the owner’s privilege. However, when such does occur, I do believe that readership of the blog should be aware of its occurrence. It can indicate mindset of the blog owner and, possibly based upon the specific instance, point to the blog owner’s objectivity or lack thereof.
The Paciello Group would better serve the accessibility community, including themselves, by evaluating Hickson’s point on punctuation outside of the boundaries of any adaptive technology’s ability or performance of how it handles one solitary text content element.
Simple Test Cases
A simple test case Adjacent link will open into a new window. is presented that clearly demonstrates the value and the need for use of punctuation within text content elements of a Web document. This test page tests only three text content elements: the header element, the paragraph element and the list element.
As far as the singular issue of paragraph elements Adjacent link will open into a new window., JAWS conveys run on content with a continual drop in pitch of its voice synthesis. Pitch has a practical limit of how low it can go. If that limit is reached within a text content element, such as a paragraph element, it starts over. When that occurs and by its nature, it conveys a possible semantic break or change within the content, e.g. the start of a new text content element. JAWS and other adaptive technology user agents appear to use punctuation marks to control the rate of pitch within the voice synthesis.
One common problem within a lot of accessible content is the functional use of the alt tag for images. When it is used, more often than not, punctuation is omitted from the text within the tag. The same applies to the use of the title tag. In general, adaptive technologies may render these text content tags. Without punctuation immediately prior to the closing tag of elements or, in the case of attributes, punctuation immediately prior to the closing quote, run on sentences occur. The above test case uses two consecutive images that include punctuated alt tags. However, too point more vividly the importance of punctuation within text content elements and attributes, a separate test case is available Adjacent link will open into a new window..
A Long Term Solution
With all of the variety of Web content and structures that exist, regardless of tag soup or semantic markup, implementation of aural style sheets needs to happen.
Browser manufacturers need to adopt aural style sheets. The modern browser needs to embed certain aural style rules within the application for the same reasons certain text styles have been embedded into them. Every text content element and attribute should have automatically attached to it, by the browser, a pause-after aural style rule. Adaptive technology user agents then need to support and render aural styles.
Web content developers who needed to flatten out any browser aural rules could use a reset style sheet, or adjustment therein. It could be used for the same reasons developers currently use a reset style sheet to flatten out browser embedded text and design styles.
Until then or regardless, good grammar, along with its implied proper punctuation, makes for a common best practice for Web content development and communication.
The bizarre thing is that the Paciello Group holds themselves out to be accessibility experts. Hickson never has held himself out as such. However, he is the only person who has pointed out the need for the use of punctuation within text content elements. The Paciello guys, on the other hand, try to discredit that. What these people may really take objection is someone discounting and pointing out significant deficiencies within a specific adaptive technology application, Freedom Scientific’s JAWS. Such is supported not only in their attitude and presentation but, also, within the content of their test case.
If this were an isolated case or if within zeal, they overstated and overlooked, any reasonable and responsible firm would acknowledge it and move on. It happens to all of us, now and again. However, they haven’t and they won’t. Much can be inferred from that.
These guys are of no use to me and of little value to the objectivity that is a necessity to mainstream accessible Web content. Just another bunch of misled geeks who are overly impressed with each other. Such things happen within any business segment. Internet Communication is no exception.