Accessibility: January 2008 Archives

HTML Tables are Not Evil...Just the Bad Ones

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This is inspired by a fight I was having with a content management system trying to create a properly accessible data table.

Those of us who follow Web standards and accessibility have heard the mantra that layout tables are bad. Those would be the ones with the colored sidebars and top menus that designers created to add some formatting order to the chaos of the original vanilla Web site. FYI - the problem with layout tables was NOT usability but screen reader glitches (which were bad) and slower load times because table code is pretty chunky

But...that does not mean all tables are bad. The HTML table tags were originally designed to present tabular data much like Excel does. And guess what, the TABLE is still the best tool for that job. Especially if you add properly tagged headers (TH and CAPTION) and use style sheets for formatting.

By now though the mantra that "tables are evil" is so exagerrated that many modern tools have lousy support for tables. In many cases, you  have to manually insert the HTML because the WYSIWYG tools have no table options.

To add insult to injury, some systems don't know what to do with TH and CAPTION. I had a perfectly well-formed data table (thanks to my personal friend Dreamweaver), but when I copied the code over, the borders for the TH cells look really really weird.

What did I do? You  guessed it - I changed the TH  cells to TD cells because I didn't have enough time to fix the CSS (maybe next week). I like my Web 2.0, but I don't want them to get in the way of my accessibility fixes!