Failure of Success Criterion 1.3.1 and 1.3.2 due to using white space characters to format tables in plain text content

Important Information about Techniques

See Understanding Techniques for WCAG Success Criteria for important information about the usage of these informative techniques and how they relate to the normative WCAG 2.1 success criteria. The Applicability section explains the scope of the technique, and the presence of techniques for a specific technology does not imply that the technology can be used in all situations to create content that meets WCAG 2.1.

Applicability

All technologies.

This technique relates to:

Description

The objective of this technique is to describe how using white space characters, such as space, tab, line break, or carriage return, to format tables in text content is a failure to use structure properly. When tables are created in this manner there is no way to indicate that a cell is intended to be a header cell, no way to associate the table header cells with the table data cells, or to navigate directly to a particular cell in a table.

In addition, assistive technologies will interpret content in the reading order of the current language. Using white space to organize data in a visual table does not provide the information in a natural reading order in the source of the document. Thus, the assistive technology user will not be presented with the information in a logical reading order.

Plain text is not suitable for displaying complex information like tables because the structure of the table cannot be perceived. Rather than using visual formatting to represent tabular relations, tabular information would need to be presented using a different technology or presented linearly. (See Presenting tabular information in plain text)

Examples

Example 1

The following example incorrectly uses white space to format a Menu as a visual table.

Menu
         Breakfast        Lunch           Dinner

Monday   2 fried eggs    tomato soup     garden salad
         bacon           hamburger       Fried Chicken
         toast           onion rings     green beans
                         Oatmeal cookie  mashed potatoes

Tuesday   Pancakes       vegetable soup  Caesar salad
          sausage        hot dogs        Spaghetti with meatballs
          orange juice   potato salad    Italian bread
                         brownie         ice cream

If this table was to be interpreted and spoken by a screen reader it would speak the following lines:

  • Menu
  • Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • Monday 2 fried eggs tomato soup garden salad
  • bacon hamburger Fried Chicken
  • toast onion rings green beans
  • Oatmeal cookie mashed potatoes

This reading order does not make sense since there is no structure in the table for the assistive technology to identify it as a table. If the text were reflowed, or changed from a fixed to a variable font, or increased in size until lines no longer fit on the page, similar issues would arise in the visual presentation.

Tests

Procedure

  1. Examine the document for visually formatted tables.
  2. Check whether the tables are created using white space characters to layout the tabular data.

Expected Results

  • If step #2 is true, then this failure condition applies and the content fails these Success Criteria.