Breaking both compatibility with existing
best practice (and documentation of the same), as well as requiring
a wide range of tools, content, and authoring guidance to be
updated in order to achieve compatibility with a replacement for
longdesc - for something meant to solve the
same problem, is an intolerable
cost. It would be an illogical undue burden and
unacceptable to authors and organizations that have already made
investments in the use of
longdesc in terms of tools,
content and documentation. All other "solutions" introduce a
non-backwards compatible change which negatively affects:
The vision of HTML5 was to extend the Web without breaking it; evolution rather then revolution.
Longdesc is implemented in authoring
technology, and user
Not everyone can afford to throw away tools to get the newest
model. For instance run of the mill content authors/web designers
rarely can afford to throw away their WYSIWYG editor to get the
newest model. They rely on existing tools to author and test long
descriptions. It has been well established that WYSIWYG tools simplify
longdesc. An array of tools exists to
longdesc and to check that the
longdesc works. Authors rely on tools to test long
descriptions. Two browsers (Opera, iCab) natively support
longdesc link testing (three if we count Home Page
Reader which is currently still in use in Japan).
longdesc has a growing arsenal of
extensions, configurations, and plugins that are used for
testing including Jim Thatcher's powerful long description
favelet , which provides universal functionality of
longdesc in browsers such as Chrome, FireFox, Internet
Explorer, and Safari.
Longdesc-related features in existing authoring
tools should continue to output valid content: both authors and
users have perfectly reasonable expectations that
longdesc will continue to be supported by existing
tools, and will continue to have its current (i.e., intended)
effect in existing content.
It has been substantially evidenced via the documentation of
thousand real world examples of
that authors do indeed use
longdesc in practice to
improve accessibility. This is a non-negligible number of example
<img> elements that utilize
longdesc in meaningful ways. All of the images in
those examples would be significantly less accessible (some even
totally inaccessible) without it. By using
these real world examples provide programmatically determinable long
descriptions of content in accordance with a target audience's
needs. Example sites using
longdesc include but are not limited to:
For an image that is fully accessible and compliant today to suddenly be flagged as non-compliant is counter to the backwards-compatibility and interoperability objectives of HTML5.
During the past year alone, numerous organizations such as the A11y Bugs Project, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Alienor, Assisted Human Reproduction Canada, Axel Schäfer, SPD Abgeordneter im Deutschen Bundestag für Bochum, CSS Squirrel, Canada Virtual Museum of Valentines, Canadian Department of Justice, Canadian Space Agency, Correctional Service Canada, Department of Transportation (Taiwan), Cornell University, Courts Administration Service (Canada), Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education (South Korea), Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions Canada, Elections Canada, Environment Canada, Griffith University (Australia), Hipocampo, HTML Accessibility Task Force, HTML5 Multimedia, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Kyungpook (South Korea), Marine National Park (Taiwan), Marden Neighbourhood Plan, Michigan State University, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Institute on Drug Abuse, Object Description, Office of the Commissioner of Review Tribunals, Ohlone College, University (South Korea), Oracle, Oriental Hospital of Daejeon University (South Korea), Panel on Responsible Conduct of Research (Canada), Paris Web, Parliament of Canada, Procréation assistée Canada, Public Safety Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Rebuilding The Web, Social Security Online, Special Education Support Center (South Korea), Statistics Canada, Statistique Canada, Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, tech.burningbird, Transport Canada, Transportation Safety Board of Canada, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Texas State Library, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and the University of Minnesota have used it in reports and publications.
Notably the two sister sites
Statistics Canada and Statistique Canada began consistently using
longdesc in "The Daily" publication. "The Daily"
produces statistics on a business-day basis that help Canadians
better understand their country, its population, resources,
economy, society and culture. Please refer to Statistics
Canada and Statistique
Canada for detailed evidence.
On July 29, 2011 Suzanne Taylor and Ed McCoyd, Esq., of the Association of American Publishers attested:
We are using
longdescincreasingly in our products.
Expecting authors to rewrite deployed content in order to support techniques that (a) do not work for authors or users, (b) are not programmatically determinable, (c) ignore aesthetics and other constraints, and/or (d) are simply cumbersome "hacks", is nonsensical and totally unrealistic: such attempts will serve only to infuriate and alienate both those authors and the accessibility community as a whole. Content owners should not have to re-author content, already being delivered to legacy devices as well as to today's leading-edge browsers and assistive technology, in order for it to be valid and accessible HTML5.
longdesc would result in mixed messages
between existing documents and HTML5. Such messages can serve only
to confuse. Those who encounter the array of books,
laws, policies and standards that have already recognized
longdesc's importance to accessibility will expect
longdesc to continue to function as described.
Materials such as these have a way of living on; they will not
be obsoleted in the foreseeable future, and therefore neither must
Access for people with disabilities is essential. This does not mean that features should be made obsolete if not all users can fully make use of them but rather that mechanisms that have a foothold must be retained. As Bill Shackleton has stated,
...an essential flaw in the key reasoning, as I understand it, to remove
longdescis in assuming that because its past effectiveness has been limited, it is doing more harm than good. That is to say, that because of poor implementation - by user agents, by content authors, etc. - it should therefore be removed.
I respectfully disagree. Much accessibility work takes time and yes, some of that time includes the need for awareness and training. In my experience, progress in accessibility has rarely been consistent or even linear... And it is definitely not binary.
It progresses in fits and starts and even, unfortunately, backslides. That's why it's important, in this case as in others, to wedge in a backstop to preserve hard-won progress. Fortunately it is fundamental W3C policy that everyone be included (regardless of disability). This means that the burden of proof does not lay with the accessibility community to make the case for maintaining
longdescin the next version of HTML, but with those who wish to remove it.