Why does WCAG 1.0 checkpoint 10.4 require that authors include default place-holding characters in edit boxes and text areas? Is this checkpoint still relevant today?
Author: Gez Lemon
Checkpoint 10.4 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0 requires authors to include default place-holding characters in edit boxes and text areas. This is a priority 3 checkpoint that I assumed was no longer relevant. There appears to be little understanding as to why this checkpoint ever existed. There is an urban legend that the checkpoint exists for an old browser (probably Netscape 2) and a screen reader at the time (probably Outspoken for Mac). According to the legend, Outspoken was unable to set focus on edit boxes and text areas unless there was place-holding text. There may well be some truth in this legend, and if you know, I would really appreciate some more information about it.
This particular checkpoint came up today on the WCAG interest group's mailing list, where someone asked a question loosely related to checkpoint 10.4. In amongst the discussion, David Poehlman gave a response to Patrick H. Lauke that sheds a little more on the background for this guideline.
[Patrick], if the form is being brailled, you need something to note that a blank is there to be filled in. The braille form will not be filled in but used as a representation thus it needs not only a place holder, but the length of the field to be filled in. Remember fill in the blank? the blank was a blank block. In braille, it was noted with a dashed line running the length of the field.
That's really useful to know, and the first time I've ever heard that explanation. The problem is obviously with the Braille output device, as they should be able to get the information from markup either using the
size attribute for input elements whose
text, or from the
cols attributes for the
textarea element. It would be interesting to know whether the problem is limited to a specific Braille output device, or whether it applies to all Braille output devices. All of the checkpoints that relate to guideline 10 of WCAG 1.0 are concerned with making up for shortfalls in user-agents by content developers. One would hope that after all this time, user-agents would at least be as concerned as content developers that all relevant information is conveyed to the user.
If you have any information at all about how default place-holding text improves real-world accessibility, I would very grateful to hear your views.