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Expanded comments on abstract

From: Charles McCathieNevile <charlesn@sunrise.srl.rmit.edu.au>
Date: Thu, 22 Oct 1998 18:11:40 +1000 (EST)
To: WAI GL <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.SUN.3.91.981022173406.11280B-100000@sunrise>
Text is not inherently accessible on its own, but at the moment only text 
can be re-presented by the various devices required to produce accessible 
information. It is for this reason that Text is King (actually in 
Australia we have a Queen but no King, and Daniel has a president. Do we 
want a king?)

Text can be enhanced by providing a description of its function, such as 
heading, or item in a list. If there is a standard set of descriptions, 
such as HTML, these descriptions can also be re-presented in various 
media. Text can also be enhanced in a presentation-specific manner, eg 
increasing the size of a font, changing the colour of a word, or the tone 
of a voice - unless these are recognised standards (and they aren't) they 
are difficult to translate across media, since the algorithms required to 
determine their features are quite complex and not implemented in most 
systems (although MS Word happily picks out lists, headings, and other 
features without being asked).

(Aside: One of the things Jason and I are interested in is a program which
can make guesses about teh structure of a document based on visual
formatting properties. This would be the sort of tool ER could use to
convert auto-generated rubbish into genuine HTML)

Back to the topic:
Nir is quite correct in saying that accessible HTML is not about testing 
material on an ever-expanding number of platforms, which is a 
non-scalable solution, but about understanding the HTML itself, and the 
properties which make an HTML document accessible (or not). This is the 
real key to producing accessible HTML. The difficulty (which seems to me 
in large part the problem of the EO group) is that many people who are 
producing HTML don't understand this. If they were making buildings, they 
would fall down and there would be an outcry. But they <EM>are</EM> 
making virtual Universities which very effectively exclude many people - 
a breach of one of the dearest values of most 'liberal democaracies', 
which is that education is the key to self improvement both spiritually 
and materially.

So the essence of the guidelines seems to me thus: In order to create
accessible documents there are two important principles. 
The first is that PROPERLY marked-up text (hypertext) is the most
universally accessible format, and where at all possible information
should be available in this format. 
The second is that even text does not provide total accessibility, so
designers should create material which makes use of the other formats
provided by standard technologies (eg images, SMIL presentations etc), and
should build their material in a way which is internally consistent and
comprehensible, but which does not violate the first principle. 
(And the subtext, which I guess we can't put in explicitly:
Adhering to these two principles is not a matter of lots of extra work, 
it is simply a matter of doing the work correctly in the first place.)

Charles McCathieNevile

On Tue, 20 Oct 1998, Daniel Dardailler wrote:
> What this survey tells me is that we need to be *very* specific about
> the one thing that we - experts of HTML accessibility - take for
> Of course we need to explain the idea of separating presentation from
> structure/content and the need for adding textual description to
> "richer" media like image, video, etc, but the number one rule must be
> stated clearly: Text is King.
Received on Thursday, 22 October 1998 04:15:21 GMT

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