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Screen Readers and the Microformats datetime-design-pattern

Last updated: September 13, 2007

Summary

The use of Microformats may provide a useful solution for misspoken text by screen readers. Providing dates and times in a standard, machine-readable format will mean that user agents (software such as Web browsers, screen readers and search engine robots) will always understand them. The Microformats Datetime Design Pattern could help here, if it were to be supported by user agents.

However, the use of the abbr element to provide dates formatted for machines may present accessibility issues for assistive software that rely on human-readable text within the title attribute.

Useful background reading:

Note on testing with JAWS: If JAWS is set to expand abbreviations (Ins + V for JAWS Verbosity settings), the contents of the title attribute will replace the contents of the abbr. If JAWS is not set to expand abbreviations (default configuration), the abbr element can be selected using F8 and the contents of its title attribute will be read aloud by accessing the element’s information using Ins + Shift + F1.

Test–cases and Results — Work in Progress

Further tests to be added soon. The microformats.org wiki has comprehensive test–cases and results.

All tests currently use ISO 8601 post–UTC datetime with dashes and colons. Further data formats to be added soon.

Test–caseAgentResult

ISO 8601 post–UTC datetime with dashes and colons

1998-03-12T09:30:00-05:00

JAWS 7.10 / FF 2 “nineteen ninety-eight dash zero three dash twelve T eight thirty zero zero dash five o'clock”
JAWS 8.0 / IE 7 “nineteen ninety-eight dash zero three dash twelve T eight thirty zero zero dash five o'clock”

Basic abbr

Monday, 30 April 2007
- “”

Basic abbr with redundant span (IE abbr hack)*

Monday, 30 April 2007
- “”

Sentence with microformatted dates using abbr

To be held on 12 March 1998 from 8:30am EST until 9:30am EST.

JAWS 7.10 / FF 2 “to be held on twelve March nineteen ninety-eight from eight thirty a.m. E.S.T. until nine thirty [a.m.?] E.S.T.”
JAWS 8.0 / IE 7 “to be held on twelve March nineteen ninety-eight from eight thirty a.m. E.S.T. until nine thirty a.m. E.S.T.”

microformatted date range using abbr

October 5-7
JAWS 8.0 / IE 7 “October fifth dash seven”

microformatted date range using abbr (variation with en dash)

October 57
JAWS 7.10 / FF 2 “October the fifth seven”
JAWS 8.0 / IE 7 “October fifth en-dash seven”

* ref. the hAccessibility dilemma on absalom.biz.

Testing different datetime formats