Microformats and accessibility - a request for help
The web is a wonderful place for humans but it's a less friendly place for machines. When we read a web page we bring along our own learning, mental models and opinions. The combination of what we read and what we know brings meaning. Machines are less bright.
Given a typical TV schedule page we can easily understand that Eastenders is on at 7:30 on the 15th May 2008. But computers can't parse text the way we can. If we want machines to be able to understand the web (and there are many reasons we might want to) we have to be more explicit about our meaning.
Which is where microformats come in. They're a relatively new technology that allow publishers to add semantic meaning to web pages. These might be events, contact details, personal relationships, geographic locations etc. With this additional machine friendly data you can add events from a web page directly to your calendar, contacts to your address book etc. In theory it's a great combination of a web for people and a web for machines. But it has some potential problems.
One potential problem is microformat's use of something called the abbreviation design pattern. The abbreviation design pattern uses the HTML abbreviation element to add machine friendly data to pages. Here the human friendly data is enclosed in abbreviation tags and the machine friendly data is added to the abbreviation title attribute. So we see markup like:<abbr class="dtstart" title="2008-05-15T19:30:00+01:00">19:30</abbr>
The question is what happens if you're using a screen reader. We've looked at quite a few screen readers out of the box and by default they don't expand abbreviation elements so the user still hears 19:30 not 2008-05-15T19:30:00+01:00.
But screen readers allow users to configure them to turn on abbreviation expansion. For any user who switches this on they'll hear 2008-05-15T19:30:00+01:00. Which isn't pleasant...
So we're looking for help. Do you use a screen reader? Know someone who does? If so do you / they have abbreviation expansion turned on? When you visit bbc.co.uk/bbcone/programmes/schedules/london/2008/05/15 what do you hear? If you can help we'd love to hear from you...