Tuesday, April 23, 2013

UIA text vs ATK / IAccessible2

After IAccessible2 comparison to ATK text it'd be good to get a quick look at ATK / IAccessible2 APIs and UIA text. Firefox doesn't have UIA implementation yet and there's no nearest plans about it but it's worth to compare these API because one day UIA text might become a good alternative to IAccessible2 I think.

UIA text is closer to user actions since UIA has concept of range which can be moved like a cursor through the web page. You can move it (and extend it) by characters, words, lines the same way as the user would do. And then you can get a text the range is spanned to. This means you won't ever run into restrictions of accessible tree and embedded characters as you probably do in case of IAccesisble or ATK APIs. A couple examples might be good to explain what I mean.

Example #1

If accessible tree is DOM based i.e. it's close to DOM hierarchy then ATK / IA2 text interface implementation might be tricky. For example, the following HTML paragraph

  <aside style="position:absolute;top:0px;left:0px;">meine freund</aside>
my friend</p>

can have the accessible tree

paragraph (html:p)
  text leaf ('hello' text)
  section (html:aside)
    text leaf ('meine freund' text)
  text leaf ('my friend' text)

If the browser is not smart enough then it doesn't remove embedded character designating html:aside element from the text of parent html:p element. In other words if the paragraph text is "hello*my friend" (where * is an embedded character for html:aside) then a screen reader have to to deal with it and it should ignore out of flow content somehow. If the screen reader is not smart enough to ignore that then it will move the user through "meine freund" text when the user moves through the paragraph text.

Example #2

In case of Firefox implementation which tends to use embedded characters for everything you can observe another kind of weird behavior. Screen reader must be smart to move by words, etc because embedded characters are used for inline objects like anchors. For instance if you have


then screen reader must juggle offsets to detect that this paragraph technically consists of one word. You can get into similar troubles when an anchor is spanned through multiple lines. So if you move by lines then the end offset pointing after embedded character never says to you whether a line end is in the middle or after the embedded object. You need to look into embedded object to detect that. It makes a screen reader logic not performant and not trivial.

A summary 

In short UIA lets you to move through the page in correspondence to web page layout while ATK and IAccessible2 allow you to move in correspondence to the accessible tree. Sometimes it makes a difference. 

So accessible tree dependent approach makes the text implementation not trivial on certain platforms (granted, on Gecko). I'm sure that everything (or mostly everything) can be implemented right on the browser side or can be workarounded by screen readers but implementation in either case must be not seamless. Note, somebody told me that Webkit has a nice ATK text implementation (or nicer than Gecko's one? I don't recall). So it's an attestation it's doable, just can be not easy.

I should notice we didn't prototyped anything yet. Of course before making any judgements (did I?) we need to implement it and screen readers should adopt it. And only after that I have a right to say whether it was so good as it looks. On the other hand ATK appeared years ago, IAccessible2 just adopted and simplified ATK ideas so that Microsoft had enough time after MSAA to invent something nice. So I'm ready to believe they did it.

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