Creating Accessible HTML Tables

Contact Info for Stephen Ferg
Creative Commons License
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

The material in the "Accessible HTML Tables" Sourceforge project is licensed under the Creative Commons "attribution" license. You are free to translate it and post your translation on your own web site subject to the following conditions. (1) You acknowledge the original work and the original author. (2) You do not suggest that the original author endorses your translation. (3) You do not request that a link to your translation be added to this site.

Links to the papers

Accessible HTML Tables — the main paper

This paper reviews section 508 and its requirements, and discusses ways to format complex tables of statistical data in HTML so that they are accessible to visually impaired users and compliant with the provisions of Section 508. The purpose of the paper is to assist HTML developers, and vendors of screen-reader products, to understand what constitutes "coding to the standard" for accessible HTML tables.

Cookbook for Accessible HTML Tables

The solution that (to me personally) seems to be the best. Click HERE for another page illustrating the same basic technique.

Accessible HTML Tables #2

Another possible technique for making accessible HTML data tables. Possible, but not especially recommended.


About this material

This page contains links to several papers on the subject of creating "accessible" HTML tables, that is, tables that are in compliance with Section 508.

Specifically, these papers discuss techniques for formatting complex tables of statistical data in HTML so that they are accessible to visually impaired users and compliant with the provisions of Section 508. The purpose of the papers is to assist (1) HTML developers, and (2) vendors of screen-reader products, to understand what constitutes "coding to the standard" for accessible HTML tables.

I, Stephen Ferg, wrote these papers during the summer of 2002. At that time I was a computer systems analyst in the Division of Enterprise Web Services (DEWS, aka LABSTAT) at the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in Washington, DC, USA. The function of LABSTAT was, and is, to support BLS's website www.bls.gov, which makes various types of statistical information available to the public.

At that time, in the spring of 2002, all Federal statistical agencies — which included BLS and LABSTAT — were struggling to understand and implement the requirements of Section 508. I was part of that effort, and these papers were written to document the results of my research into the requirements of Section 508.

The papers were written with support and input from Michael Levi, at that time the LABSTAT Division Chief. (I may have written all of the words, but the most basic ideas, and the research direction, came from Michael.) In addition, Jo-Ann Yu, at that time a Web specialist in LABSTAT, provided valuable information about how to use CSS stylesheets to control HTML indentation.

Please note that these papers reflect my personal opinions and interpretation of the W3C HTML language specification. The opinions and interpretations expressed in these papers are not in any way endorsed by LABSTAT, by BLS, or by the W3C.

Note, in addition, that the text of these papers was frozen in 2002, but HTML — the HTML language specification — has been slowly evolving since then. As of February 2012, I don't believe that the evolutionary changes to HTML have obsoleted any of the points made in these papers. But it is possible that, as HTML continues to evolve, some of the findings in these papers may become obsolete.

Some readers might be interested in knowing that this research actually turned out to be quite useful — the American tax-payers' dollars were well-spent. The research in these papers was used in the developent of a Java-based Table Generation System (TGS) that today generates the HTML code for many of the tables of statistical data on the BLS web site. For examples of HTML tables created by TGS, see the latest Producer Price Index News Release.

I am no longer active in the area of HTML accessibility, but I hope that developers working in that area will continue to find these papers useful for at least a few more years.

Stephen Ferg, February 2, 2012