The HTML5 longdesc attribute is finally home again

My HTML5 logo

I found out that the W3C had transitioned the HTML5 attribute @longdesc to Candidate Recommendation (CR) status from a tweet by John Foliot:

Yes, I believe I do owe John a beer. I owe a beer to all of those who fought to ensure @longdesc made it to CR—especially Laura Carlson, who worked so diligently on behalf of this attribute, and other HTML5 accessibility features.

Years ago I was heavily involved in the W3C HTML5 effort, though I was frequently at odds with Ian Hickson, HTML5’s sole editor at the time, and some of the Working Group’s management. Since then, the W3C has transitioned the care and management of HTML back into a group effort, leading to decisions such as giving @longdesc CR status.

I don’t agree with all W3C decisions, but my main concern has always been that the decisions reflect a representation of those who support or depend on the web—not just an elite few. The transition of @longdesc to CR status demonstrates that the HTML5 working process has, indeed, grown up.

Well done.

Any element can be replaced with something more relevant

I only check into the doings of the HTML WG at the W3C once a week.

Most of my time is spent on my new book, Learning Node. Frankly, Node has been a refreshing change from the smoky labyrinth which is the HTML5 spec process. I’d check in with the Working Group less often, but I still hope to provide at least some moral support for those still slogging away.

You all do realize that the battle over longdesc is still being fought, don’t you? Oh, there’s other new battles, including some interesting ones over a new path object added to the Canvas2D spec (Eh? What?), and encrypted media (very long discussion about this one), but longdesc still remains the perennial favorite.

The issue now is keeping any decision about longdesc separate from decisions being made about ARIA attributes. At least, I think this is the issue. What caught my eye today was something Sam Ruby wrote to the group:

My biggest concern is resolving ISSUE-30. By that I mean done. There may be Formal Objections, but there won’t be new information, so at that point this Working Group is done subject to Director approval.

Put another way, I have zero interest in a provisional decision that
would likely lead to a reopening based on new information. At the
present time, I see two potential candidates for new information. One
is the subject of issue 204. The other would be somebody putting
forward a spec for something akin to an aria-describedAt attribute.

The reason I state that is that at the present time I see wide support
for the idea of obsoleting longdesc once there is a viable and clearly
superior replacement. Note: some may not believe that a viable and
clearly superior replacement is possible. Others may not believe that
such is imminent. But I worded what I said carefully to include such
people’s opinion.

So the task we face is eliminating all alternatives.

I can agree that resolving this issue, completely, should be a goal. However, Sam demands that those who support longdesc provide a surety that there can be no better alternative in the future, and that’s just impossible. There is no surety for any component or element of the HTML5 specification. I have no doubts that, at some future time, better and improved replacements can be found for all HTML5 elements, attributes, and various and assorted sundry APIs.

(Simple elimination comes to mind as a way of improving some of the new additions.)

No other element or attribute in HTML has undergone such rigid opposition and such rigorous support. I would feel better, much better, about HTML5 if any of the new objects, elements, and attributes received even a tenth of the inspection and discussion that has been afforded to lowly, simple little longdesc. Objects, such as Path.

And now, the gauntlet has been tossed: longdesc is our princess in the tower, the W3C the wicked sorceress, and the demand has been made that either a knight in shining armor rescue the poor damsel or she be dragon kibble.

Eliminate all alternatives to longdesc? How many years do we have, Sam?

That’s just not right

Earlier, I found a PR release from the AVMA (American Veterinarian Medical Association) undermining Missouri’s Proposition B in favor of its “model bill”. In an associated video, the AVMA’s CEO, Dr. DeHaven, states that Proposition B only sets limits on the number of dogs that can be kept, when in actuality, Proposition B does more (DeHaven’s video)—much more than the AVMA model bill, which relies almost completely on a commercial dog breeder honor system (and large scale commercial dog breeders are not necessarily known for their honor).

Afterward, I received an email related to a bug I’m following in the HTML5 working group. In response to detailed, thoughtful request for a way to provide alternative text for a video poster, the HTML5 editor, Ian Hickson, declined, writing as rationale:

The request here is just cargo-cult accessibility and would not
actually improve the life of any users, while costing authors in wasted time
and effort.

I reacted the same to both: that’s just not right.

You would think that humane treatment of dogs and ensuring accessibility for folks would be no-brainers, equivalent to being “agin sin”. You would think so…and you would be wrong.

Whatever sense of empathy and compassion we had, once upon a time, seems to have been left in a long ago forgotten consciousness. Today, what rules is the bottom line, and if that bottom line must run over the bodies of puppies and disabled, equally, run it must because there’s a new sense of pragmatic necessity that rules in the land.

Those who cannot see do not really need to know what the poster to a video is all about, because authors can’t really be bothered to provide the information. It’s not pragmatic to even consider the option. As Hickson stated earlier in the discussion of the bug:

I’m confused. Why would you (a blind user) want to know what the poster frame
is? How does it affect you?

How does it affect you‽

The welfare of dogs is important, yes, but not at the cost of the rights of the breeder. Weighing the needs of the dogs over the wants of the breeder is not pragmatic. The AVMA invited Wes Jamison, a communications professor from Florida, to speak about the role of veterinarians in today’s society. What he said explains much about the AVMA position:

Dr. Jamison … indicated that the veterinary profession, by emphasizing the importance of the human-animal bond, enables consumer hypocrisy, which is exploited by animal protection organizations. He argued that the AVMA should abandon advocating for the human-animal bond in favor of fighting for the right of animal owners to use animals as they choose, whether that entails companionship, food, or labor.

The human-animal bond is hypocrisy‽

Pragmatic hell, that’s just not right.