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Can I use Layout Tables and still have an accessible site?

By Keith Bundy


Many people believe that layout tables are always bad for accessibility. In reality, this idea is a myth. While good, clean CSS can eliminate the need for layout tables, their use does not necessarily mean that a site is automatically inaccessible. It’s also important to note that WCAG 2.0 guidelines do not prevent the use of layout tables.

While these types of tables can cause confusion for users of screen readers if they are not done correctly, many web sites have layout tables that cause absolutely no accessibility issues. Here are a few things to keep in mind should you opt to use layout tables on your site.

  • Never use table headers or table captions in layout tables. Doing so causes screen readers to try to read layout tables as data tables, thus making the perception of the page much more difficult (and sometimes impossible) for the user of a screen reader.

  • Make sure the information provided in the layout table is presented in linear fashion. If the information is presented in linear fashion and there are no table headers or captions, the information will be read cleanly and the user of the screen reader won’t even know that a layout table was used.

  • Make sure to wrap the table so that it is not cut off for users of screen magnification - particularly for those who are viewing the document on a smaller screen.
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