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Why don't screen readers support self labeling ?

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#1 etisa


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Posted 08 September 2006 - 08:58 PM

Hi, I love self labeling because it makes the design more compact and protects the text from search engines.

#2 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 08 September 2006 - 09:32 PM

I disagree.

Self-labeling mostly contributes to sloppy coding practices. It is trivial to conceal a label (using CSS) from visual browsers if you want a cleaner look to the site, and I acknowledge that sometimes that's just necessary. However, removing the actual label from the object is, in my opinion, problematic.

One of the problems with self-labeling is that, should a user start to fill in a text box, but stops (for whatever reason), they'll have lost the label to that form field. In simple web sites, with only one input box for a search form, for example, this may be a minor issue. However, in the case of larger forms, imagine that a user becomes confused in the form and enters the wrong information in a field - through a misunderstanding or whatever.

They are now completely lost in the form, since they have NO way of knowing which form field the information should actually be in, and/or no way of knowing which field they are CURRENTLY filling in.

The only solution is a refresh; and with screen readers, a refresh might well mean five minutes listening to unnecessary text and navigation before you actually get back to the form. Being restricted to a linear mode of accessing a page is severely restrictive of a user's ability to easily re-navigate the page - that user, once lost, may not return.

I'm also unclear about your concerns with "protect[ing] the text from search engines". Are form labels damaging to your site in some way? Perhaps if you've been keyword stuffing your labels (which has it's own problems), then you'll want to leave them off. However, otherwise the presence of a few words: "Search this site" or "Password" or "Your comments" seems incredibly unlikely to cause any problems with search engines.

I imagine you're worrying about some issue like keyword density - well, keyword density is pretty nearly irrelevant. And if your keywords are so infrequent on a page that a form label is a problem for your site, than your site is probably just on the wrong topic.

Labeling is critical to providing a good experience for a wide variety of users - a growing population who need assistance navigating a website either because of visual disabilities or because of a lack of familiarity with the Internet. Although self-labeling has it's advantages, they're pretty thoroughly over-ridden by the fact that fields with self-labeling can easily be over-written by the user.

#3 etisa


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Posted 09 September 2006 - 01:17 AM

You disagree with me loving self labeling ? Funny.

When the empty field loses focus, the label appears again (it's still in the source anyway).
The label also appears on rollover because it's also in the title.
And yes I'm obsessed with SEO.

Anyway, this is off topic, the topic is screen readers supporting self labeling.
Because if they did, self labeling wouldn't be an issue.

#4 bwelford


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Posted 09 September 2006 - 06:17 AM

Please could someone explain what 'self-labeling' is. This looks like an interesting topic and your answer, Joe, seemed to be a gem. However I don't know what the two of you are talking about. :(

Edited by bwelford, 09 September 2006 - 10:11 AM.

#5 yannis


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Posted 09 September 2006 - 09:37 AM

Rule: 1.1.2 - All INPUT elements are required to contain the alt attribute or use a LABEL.

If an INPUT Element, of Type TEXTcontains a non-empty 'value' the attribute is referred to as "self-labeling."

Self-Labeling is argued to be accessible under Priority One or Section 508 guidelines/standards. However it is recommended to use a Label as the preferred method or the use of an 'alt' attribute to make this element accessible. For this reason as well as all the reasons Joe outlined above screen readers frown upon this practice.

It is an obscure term not frequently used. At a time there was a lot of self-labeling talk in the context of adult content in the web. If you rated the content as adult content (self-labeling) then under proposed laws you couldn't be found guilty if a minor accessed the site.


#6 bwelford


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Posted 09 September 2006 - 10:13 AM

Thanks, Yannis, for a very clear explanation. :(

#7 etisa


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Posted 09 September 2006 - 11:12 AM

If an INPUT Element, of Type TEXTcontains a non-empty 'value' the attribute is referred to as "self-labeling."

More preciselly, if you have for example a form for Google search, self labelling is doing this :
<input type="text" value="Google search" />
Because you could write anything as the value, and it wouldn't always be the label.

#8 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 09 September 2006 - 03:09 PM

Anyway, this is off topic, the topic is screen readers supporting self labeling.
Because if they did, self labeling wouldn't be an issue.

This depends on what you mean by "screen readers supporting self labeling." In order to support self labeling, a screen reader would need to be able to:

1) Differentiate between pre-populated values which act as labels and non-content bearing "filler" texts (hyphens, blanks, etc.)
2) Maintain that label as permanently associated with that field, regardless of whether the field had been changed
3) Clear the self-labeled information from the field as soon as the input field was entered.

As it happens, WCAG 1.0 requires authors to include default place-holding characters in edit boxes and text areas. This is a priority 3 checkpoint which is commonly ignored in current accessibility thought. It was originally established as a guideline to make up for a deficiency in a braille-based user agent. Altogether, it's a complex issue.

I feel that requiring screen readers to successfully distinguish between semantic values and filler values may be too much of a challenge to expect the user agent to surmount. Combine that with the need to support javascript in order to clear the form, and you're back to requiring multiple technologies in order to make use of the form.

Baseline technologies have a place, but in this case I simply don't think that user agents (like screen readers) should be required to try and understand self-labeling forms - it's so simple to provide an author-generated label separately that self-labeling doesn't add any value - allows web developers to avoid a very simple procedure but requires user agent developers to develop very complex processes. I just don't think that's a justified tradeoff.

Thanks, Yannis, for the explanation - didn't think to mention it!


#9 etisa


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Posted 09 September 2006 - 03:28 PM

hm, so how about self labeling, omitting <label> but adding the label to alt.
Would it work even without src ?

#10 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 09 September 2006 - 04:34 PM

I'm not sure that alt would be appropriate. Alt can be applied to form inputs - it's perfectly valid. However, the intention of an alt attribute is to be displayed as an alternate when the form input can not be handled by the user agent.

Using it as a labeling method for form fields would be in contradiction of the general definition of an alt attribute, since alt attributes should only be displayed or read in circumstances where the tag can not be displayed normally. (Of course, we all know that a user agent displaying them all the time is hardly anything new (IE, cough cough.))

I wouldn't want screen readers to start using this purely because it's non-standard - encouraging user agents to conform to standards is a big part of making certain all the various tools will cope with documents in the same way.

#11 etisa


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Posted 11 September 2006 - 11:25 AM

I sent this email to the quality service of freedomscientific.com, the editor of JAWS.

JAWS support of self labelling

Hi, self labelling input tags of text type is an
accessibility issue only because screen readers don't support it. Why
doesn't JAWS help blind people by supporting self labelling ?

Here's the answer :

Thank you for your e-mail. You will be happy to know that JAWS does
include many powerful tools for labeling Graphics, creating prompts and
even creating dictionary rules, so that words are spoken the way you
wish them to sound. You can read more about these tools by going to the
JAWS help system. There you will find a help book called "Customizing
JAWS". Within this book, you will find several more books, and the ones
you seem most interested in are:

Prompt Creator
This tool allows you to create your own text tags for links and other
controls on HTML pages, as well as other applications such as Microsoft
Word and buttons or combo boxes in control dialogs.
Graphics Labeler
This tool allows you to assign text labels to unlabeled graphics, so
that they read the way you want them to.
And Dictionary Manager
This tool allows you to take any word, group of letters/numbers or
punctuation, and assign a word or words you wish spoken when these items
are encountered.

There are many more very helpful tools you can read about here as well.
If these topics do not answer your questions, please write me with more
details on exactly what you are trying to do, and I will see if there is
any further help I can provide.

Not sure we're talking about the same thing.

#12 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 11 September 2006 - 12:06 PM

Not sure we're talking about the same thing.

Nope. Pretty sure you're right, there...it was a good effort to ask them, but it sounds to me like you got a response from customer service, assuming you were a user wanting more flexibility with the tools.

I think that the development team may be the best target for the question - I'd be interested to hear their take on supporting self-labeling.

However, to make the question really solid I think you'd need to include more specific information in your question - you need to define self-labeling, so that Freedom Scientific knows exactly what you mean by the question, and you'd need to define "support". As I mentioned earlier, the definition of support is really quite flexible. JAWS does in fact read the "value" attribute of an input field - which is support for what you're calling "self-labeling", in a manner of speaking. However, this doesn't suffice to be support for the function of labeling, which is the real issue.

I don't have any contact information for Freedom Scientific's development branch - anybody know any way to get in touch with them with this question?

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