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RE: Status of RTF format?

From: Bruce Bailey <bbailey@clark.net>
Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2000 13:37:01 -0400
To: "Greg Gay" <g.gay@utoronto.ca>
Cc: <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-ID: <000b01bff271$1cd7e380$53fe330a@msde>
Dear Greg,

What do you mean by accessible?

Most RTF documents I have seen convey information and structure using font
changes and typographical effects (bold, underline, italics, etc.).  This
additional meaning is almost always lost to a screen reader.

HTML can capture and transmit this significant content when used correctly
(e.g., Hx, STRONG, EM, CITE).  Properly configured screen readers and
browsers do MUCH better with robust HTML documents than they do the most
strictly formatted word processing file (of whatever format).
This one reason why ASCII is better than RTF -- at least the provider has no
illusion about the quality of information he is posting!

RTF are not accessible because there does not exist any public consensus --
and no objective tests -- to categorize RTF as such.  You could, I suppose,
create your own company wide standards for accessible RTF (e.g., no use of
formatting effects without an associated and documented style).  But now,
how do you get your customers to agree that your new-and-improved RTF is
"accessible"?  How do you implement quality control and testing of this
standard?  Is it not MUCH easier to use a conformance compliant format?

You say that you have often, quite accidentally, created inaccessible HTML
files.  What was easy to do was to discover that the resultant documents
were inaccessible!  I would bet that you have plenty of RTF documents that
are inaccessible -- but you just don't know it!

RTF predates HTML by quite a number of years.  The format's many
shortcomings makes it very inferior when compared to HTML -- for the MARK UP
of textual information.  It this were not so, why didn't they just add a
LINK element to RTF and be done with it?

Please post a couple of heavily formatted RTF documents which you think are
"accessible".  Even with adequate tools, I bet members of this list can spot
dozens of barriers.

Bruce Bailey

>>> My question is, if a developer includes RTF copies of word processed
>>> documents on a web site, are they obliged to include an html
>>> version in order to satisfy guideline 11.1?
>> Yes, absolutely.  RTF is only modestly more accessible than PDF
>> (or Word or WordPerfect for that matter).
> We have not been able to create an instance where an rtf file are
> inaccessible
> (with correct use of images and layout, that also applies to html
> documents),
> though pdf file are almost always inaccessible (for now). I can see some
> justification for providing alternatives for proprietary Word  or
> Wordperfect
> documents  (in many cases developers include an rtf equivalent of
> these), but
> not for an html equivalent of rtf documents. If someone could
> demonstrate an
> inaccessible rtf file, It might help me understand why this
> format is not an
> acceptable accessible alternative for any of the above file formats.
>> Sure, its a shared non-proprietary format,
>> but there are no public specifications for "validity", let alone
>> "accessible".
> Does this mean by default that it is inaccessible because  its
> accessibility has
> not been documented? I have a hard time justifying this without
> some concrete
> evidence  that demonstrates rtf in an inaccessible form. I have
> an easier time
> making html documents inaccessible than I do making an rtf files
> inaccessible.
> Specifications
> http://www.geocities.com/~vmushinskiy/fformats/files/rtf.txt
> Microsoft's Specs
> ftp://x2ftp.oulu.fi/pub/msdos/programming/formats/rtfspec.zip
Received on Thursday, 20 July 2000 13:38:08 UTC

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