Crowdsourcing an Accessible Periodic Table of Accessibility

In November, Denis Boudreau tweeted about a periodic table of SEO ranking factors. He concluded that somebody really ought to do one for accessibility as well.

Screen capture of tweet about periodic table for accessibility
A screenshot of @dboudreau's tweet that inspired this blog post. Click on image for full size.

Update: May 18, 2014 – There is an accessible periodic table at from Syngenta Learning Zone.

Update: February 2, 2020 – There are several new accessible periodic tables now available. See our list at Ability & Disability Sites for Children and Families

Periodic table? The periodic table as explained in Wikipedia is "a tabular display of the 118 known chemical elements organized by selected properties of their atomic structures." Because the periodic table is a pattern that many people recognize, it has been used as a template for other periodic tables. Examples I have discovered are the periodic table of typography and the periodic table of Adobe shortcuts.

These are all very visual. If you can't see them, you are out of luck. You can't ooh and aah over their design. If the clever design of the periodic table were used for accessibility topics, the table itself would have to be accessible. What an excellent challenge!

Searching for an accessible periodic table

I wondered whether there was an accessible periodic table freely available on the internet to demonstrate how such a thing was constructed. The National Center for Blind Youth in Science (NCBYS) has a reference to a periodic table (no longer available as of May 18, 2014). This reference includes a warning: "Please note that this site is difficult to navigate with a screen reader." It doesn't say impossible, but what does difficult mean? I clicked through to the NCBYS' listed periodic table. It looked like something from the 1990s, and it used frames and no doctype! From the source file, I dug out the actual source of a supposedly accessible periodic table. I question its accessibility because the source code of the table shows no tags like




I then discovered that clicking on an element lead to a URL that read

Hmmm. If a blind person discovered this syntax, could they go through the elements of the table (not HTML elements!) by changing 001 to 002 or 003, etc., etc.? Very tedious if you had to retype part of a URL, for sure, but the text would be readable with minor garbage here and there.

What's the basic structure of a periodic table?

This analysis is part of my pondering the question: how do you set up an accessible periodic table? I know how to do an accessible table. I always have to look it up because I code tables so rarely, but I have page 116 bookmarked in my copy of Web accessibility for people with disabilities by Michael G. Paciello for this purpose. This is for straightforward tables, however. A periodic table is not straightforward. There are several layers of groupings for the contents.

How do you make this irregularly shaped table accessibile? How do you structure it?

Searching for accessible techniques for accessible tables

There is a very detailed and long guideline about developing accessible learning applications. These are guidelines from the IMS Global Learning Consortium for topic-specific accessibility, which covers maths, sciences, charts, music, and much more. Techniques and resources are included.  Updated

Another resource discusses the good and bad examples of accessible table layouts. This is Wikipedia discussing its own accessible table layout. Very meta, but useful for this discussion. Notice how they turn to the Lynx browser to evaluate the result.

What's the content of a periodic table on accessibility?

Getting back to Denis' idea. The table being discussed should be about accessibility and it should be accessible. Two related tasks. At the core is the content. What are we trying to construct? We can make a snazzy table, but all the unicorns and rainbows in the world can't disguise a lack of real, solid content in that table.

What is the content, and what are the relationships within that content? What are the elements, groups, and periods in a periodic table about accessibility?

Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it

This is not Mission: Impossible, and not every reader of this blog post is named Jim. I think it is a Mission: Possible, and we can all contribute to its construction. In fact, when I read Denis' original tweet, I immediately thought it was the perfect project for geeky, accessibility fans.

Can we do this together? First, we need to discuss content because it will shape our work. The table is a given, yet tweaking should be possible depending on the content. I'd like to kick off the project here. If someone wants to build a better sandbox for discussion, please do so and share the URL here.

What are your thoughts?

Fix the Web – Be a Web Fixer!

It's nearly a year since the Fix the Web campaign was launched. It takes a while to fix "the interwebs", so let's revisit a press release from this past February. It contains many good reminders for us all! This is posted with permission from Nick Ferry, Pumpkin Communications, UK, and Gail Bradbrook, Fix the Web. There are footnotes in parentheses, which are listed at the end of the press release.

The Fix the Web Press Release

Stephen Fry is backing an ingenious new campaign called Fix the Web that has been launched to tackle the problem of inaccessible websites on a massive scale. Fix the Web is an initiative of Citizens Online(i), a national charity that campaigns for internet access for all.

Logo for Fix the web
The internet has been a liberating force in the lives of many disabled people, opening up a wonderful new world of communication, ideas and networks. In theory, it should have created a level playing field.

Unfortunately, millions of disabled and older people are prevented from easily navigating the web. To compound the problem, it is often difficult to complain about the offending sites. Fix the Web has been launched to provide a quick and easy way for disabled people to make complaints – as well as get volunteers on board to take complaints back to website owners to get fixed.

We expect to see ramps, extra wide doorways and adapted toilet facilities in the built environment. But, what about the equivalent on-line? Do we consider that websites might need their own virtual ramps? Apparently not, with 80% of sites failing to meet even minimum standards(ii) and despite the fact laws are in place to ensure that we do(ii). Blind users report losing, on average, 30.4% of their time with web access issues(iii).

Stephen Fry comments:

We all expect a few glitches when we go on line, but when it comes to accessibility for disabled and older people, the problem is colossal. Fix the Web is doing something about it in a positive and practical way – I urge you to get involved and help get this problem fixed. Fix the Web gets to the very heart of the problem – it's pure genius!

Fix the Web is taking a big society approach to the problem, aiming to have 10,000 volunteers dealing with 250,000 websites within the next two years. Volunteers are already signing up, but thousands more are needed. It isn't time consuming and you are likely to develop new skills in the process. Volunteers can work on the campaign in their own time and whenever suits them.

Here's what volunteer Graham Armfield of Coolfields Consulting said about his experience of volunteering for Fix the Web:

Volunteering for Fix the Web has been a rewarding experience for me and it's great to put my skills to good use. The flexible nature of being a volunteer means that I can work on Fix the Web tasks when it suits me. I believe the initiative will be successful as it focuses on the issues real people are having with websites, and that strikes a chord with website owners. We can make the web a more accessible place – one step at a time.

Fix the Web has been made available as a result of seed funding from Nominet Trust(iv) and is working in partnership with AbilityNet(v), Bloor Research(vi), the Learning Societies Lab (LSL)(vii), and Nomensa(viii). The aim of Fix the Web is to introduce cultural change across the web, making it a more accessible place where the needs of disabled people are taken into consideration and vital change can be made.

If you are a disabled person wanting to report a problem to Fix the Web, there are 4 quick options to choose from:

  1. Fill in a form on the Fix the Net website.
  2. Use twitter (#fixtheweb #fail, url and the problem)
  3. Email: email hidden; JavaScript is required
  4. Download a toolbar available on the site for browsers, developed by Southampton University, which includes a reporting button.

If you want to volunteer and support the Fix the Web campaign or to find out more, visit the Fix the Net website

Press Release Contact Information

Contact: Nicky Ferry for spokespeople, images & further information (Please note: we have considerable information and data from Business, Legal, Government & Human Interest angles)
Tel: 01453 766 334
Mob: 07974 446 780 Email: email hidden; JavaScript is required

Notes for Editors (Footnotes)

(i) Citizens Online is a national charity that believes participation in the digital world is a basic human right. As a result it is committed to promoting digital inclusion. It is their aim to ensure that the benefits of digital technologies can be enjoyed and shared by everybody, so that our society may become more inclusive and just.

(ii) The requirement of the Equality Act (that supercedes The 1995 disability Discrimination Act), which came into force as of 1 October 2010, is to make 'information' accessible, not just (nor specifically named) websites. Specifically section 20, subsection (6): 'Where the first or third requirement relates to the provision of information, the steps which it is reasonable for A to have to take include steps for ensuring that in the circumstances concerned the information is provided in an accessible format.' The RNIB is currently pursuing cases involving the accessibility of two airline websites where the date picker on the sites is not accessible to screen readers, a bank website (online banking) where the log-in procedures are not accessible to screen readers and a local authority (housing) website where prospective tenants have to bid for properties online but the site is inaccessible. They are aware of other complaints about airline websites, about certain online retailers and online banks and other Government websites. "RNIB takes website accessibility very seriously and we are keen to ensure that website providers understand their obligations under the new Equality Act 2010. Where we come across websites that are not accessible, we aim to work with the companies to resolve the problems. However, if this is not possible we will consider legal action."

(iii) According to a study of 100 blind users published in the International Journal of Human Computer Interaction Authors: Jonathan Lazara; Aaron Allena; Jason Kleinmana; Chris Malarke Volume 22, Issue 3 May 2007, pages 247 – 269.

(iv) Social Tech Trust is a charity launched in 2008 (as Nominet Trust) to mobilise the internet for social good. To the majority of Internet users, the name Social Tech Trust remains largely unknown, but for millions of website owners in the UK, Social Tech Trust provides registration and administration support for their .uk domains. For Social Tech Trust – the organisation's charitable arm – it's the users that are the primary focus, and the Trust funds in distinctive and innovative IT-related projects that make a difference to people's lives, particularly in the areas of web access, education and safety. The Trust also supports projects that use the internet imaginatively to address specific social problems. So the people who have the most to gain from the Internet – whether to overcome isolation, to save money or to find help – are the ones who are missing out. Social Tech Trust seeks to redress these imbalances by funding projects that give people the skills and tools to be online safely and responsibly.

(v) AbilityNet is a registered national charity (charity no. 1067673) with over 20 years experience helping people adapt and adjust their information and communications technology (ICT). Their work is unique, working across the UK and beyond. Their special expertise is ensuring that whatever an individual's age, health condition, disability or situation they find exactly the right way to adapt or adjust their ICT to make it easier to use.

(vi) Bloor Research is one of Europe's leading IT research, analysis and consultancy organisations. Working to bring greater agility to corporate IT systems through the effective governance, management and leverage of Information, Bloor Research has built a reputation for 'telling the right story' with independent, intelligent, well-articulated communications content and publications.

(vii) The Learning Societies Lab (LSL) is now an inactive research group. It’s members have moved on. You can find them at their new research groups:  Updated

(vii) Nomensa is a digital agency, which specializes in perfecting online user experience, web accessibility and web design. Nomensa delivers compelling user experience research and design services that improve how people use the web and digital technologies.