HTML and CSS Reference
A note on screen readers
Houston, we have a problem.
In 2007, I was concerned that no screen reader vendors were participating in the HTML5 specifi cation
process, so I wrote to the W3C to ask it to invite vendors to join. In 2009, I asked the HTML editor Ian
Hickson if any responded. He replied “A couple did, but only to say they had little time for the standards
process, which was quite disappointing. Since then, though, Apple has ramped up their efforts on their
built-in Mac OS X screen reader software, and we do get a lot of feedback from Apple. So at least one
screen reader vendor is actively involved.”
A recent test ( www.accessibleculture.org/html5-aria/index.html ) shows that two of the largest commer-
cial screen readers cannot properly process content that is marked up with both HTML5 and ARIA (oh,
the irony) or in <nav> elements inside a <header> . Not all screen readers misbehave, however; Apple
speaks all content and allows navigation by ARIA landmarks.
Personally, I feel that if you are using the specifi cation the right way, it is not your problem if a browser or
screen reader cannot adequately deal with that content. However, that's my personal opinion; you might
feel differently, or the legal situation where you are might require you to dumb down your code to accom-
modate those screen readers. Of course, they might fi x the bugs by the time you read this topic. In the
meantime: it's your responsibility to know your users and the law in your area.
For more information on ARIA in general, see Gez Lemon's
Introduction to WAI-ARIA dev.opera.com/articles/view/
introduction-to-wai-aria/ and follow The Paciello Group's blog
Universal Design for Web Applications by Wendy Chisholm and
Matt May (O'Reilly) and Designing with Progressive Enhancement:
Building the Web that Works for Everyone by Todd Parker et al
(New Riders) for useful information on practical uses of ARIA.
Yo u a i n ' t s e e n n o t h i n g y e t . A c t u a l l y, t h a t ' s u n t r u e : y o u ' v e s e e n
loads already. So while we're in the zone, let's look at other new
elements that HTML5 provides us, some of the changes from
HTML4. We'll look at global attributes allowed on any element,
as well as wave “hi” to a few HTML5 features that we won't
cover in this topic.