I'm working today on an update to our Web Design and Development I high school course curriculum. One of the lessons asks students to review three versions of the HTML specification (HTML 1.2, HTML 4.01, and HTML5) and discuss their impressions of the specs and how they've evolved over time.
If you create web pages and have never read HTML 1.2, or if you haven't done so in a long time, I highly recommend that you do so now (after you're finished reading this blog post). I think it's healthy for us all to remember our roots.
To my knowledge, HTML 1.2 is the earliest HTML draft that's available on the Web (if anyone knows the whereabouts of 1.0 or 1.1, please share!) The spec was originally drafted by Tim Berners-Lee and Daniel Connolly in June 1993, and has been enhanced significantly in successive versions but most of its core markup is still very much the same. There are a couple of snippets from this early spec that I find to be particularly interesting. Both remind us that accessibility was there from the beginning.
Alt Text for Images
Regarding the IMG element, the spec says this:
The IMG element allows another document to be inserted inline. The document is normally an icon or small graphic, etc. This element is NOT intended for embedding other HTML text.
The spec later says that the IMG element "has two attributes" but interestingly, it goes on to list three: SRC, ALIGN, and ALT. Was "two attributes" a typo? Or was ALT an after-thought? Or was ALT not even in the original 1.2 spec, but was added later by someone wishing to rewrite history? Hopefully it's not the latter - I like to believe that ALT has always been there, IMG's omnipresent side-kick. ALT is defined as "Optional alternative text as an alternative to the graphics for display in text-only environments."
There's no mention here of people who are blind, although JAWS for DOS had been around since 1989, and in those days was one of nearly a dozen screen readers that seemed to have roughly equal market share. I suspect Tim Berners-Lee and Daniel Connolly were aware of these users and the tools they were using, but didn't explicitly mention them because they were a subset of the larger population of all people who were using text-only environments. This is an early example of universal design for the web: ALT was originally conceived as having many beneficiaries, including but not limited to users who are blind.
It surprises me how many websites still don't use headings properly. Either they don't use them all, or they use them out of sequence. To the creators of those websites, I say RTFS!
H1 is the highest level of heading, and is recommended for the start of a hypertext node. It is suggested that the the text of the first heading be suitable for a reader who is already browsing in related information, in contrast to the title tag which should identify the node in a wider context.
The heading elements are
<H1>, <H2>, <H3>, <H4>, <H5>, <H6>
It is not normal practice to jump from one header to a header level more than one below, for example for follow an H1 with an H3. Although this is legal, it is discouraged, as it may produce strange results for example when generating other representations from the HTML.
This is the end of my blog post. Next on your reading list: HTML 1.2