Converting accessible data tables to charts and vice versa

Chris Heilmann over at Yahoo! UK, has come up with a genius piece of script to convert accessible data tables to charts using the Google Chart API. This means that people browsing with screen readers can access the the data while allowing users of traditional browsers to view the actual charts. The concept is a little bit like how Excel’s chart wizard can convert the tabular data into a graph or chart.

I love this because reading data in a table can be a frustrating and unforgiving task. A table is often a good way to collect and collate the data, but not always the best way to present and make sense of it. Using a visual aid such as a graph or chart makes the data so much easier to follow and is also in line with that often overlooked Web Content Accessibility Guideline 1.0 (WCAG) checkpoint 14.2 “Supplement text with graphic or auditory presentations where they will facilitate comprehension of the page”.

This is only one part of the story however. When testing his solution Chris asked Victor Tsaran, one of the key accessibility people at Yahoo!, and also a screen reader user himself, to check it out and see how well it rendered for him. This led Victor to ask if it could be done in reverse i.e. convert an accessible chart into an accessible data table.

So the result is a really handy conversion tool. In my line of work I’m often advising people to provide data table alternatives to complex graphs and charts and vice versa and this will be a great resource to point people to.

Everything’s licensed under Creative Commons so you can download the script, a demo and the CSS.