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RE: Status of RTF format?

From: Alan J. Flavell <flavell@a5.ph.gla.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2000 20:13:25 +0100 (BST)
To: Bruce Bailey <bbailey@clark.net>
cc: WAI Guidelines List <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.OSF.4.21-pb.0007211952570.28951-100000@a5.ph.gla.ac.uk>
On Thu, 20 Jul 2000, Bruce Bailey wrote:

> 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.

With respect: statistically, most so-called HTML documents on the web
seem to also convey their information by using FONT markup instead of
proper structural tags.  This doesn't mean that HTML is incapable of
representing structure, it only means that most authors don't give the
issue a thought.  They are treating HTML as DTP, just as they would
treat Word as an electric typewriter.

I found a good starting tutorial on the use of Word styles, which is
now at http://www.geocities.com/w2css/styles/

It's formulated in terms of preparing a Word document for the author's
own W2CSS converter, but for the most part it teaches good practice
that would be beneficial to any Word document, even without special
consideration to conversion into other formats.

And such documents can be saved as RTF, and converted by various
RTF-to-HTML conversion tools (provided of course that the tools are
properly attuned to creating proper structured content, rather than
the pseudo-WYSIWYG garbage that gets extruded by some software).

> 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).

It seems you have been confronting well-constructed HTML and
poorly-constructed Word documents.  If you were to confront a
well-made Word document with the average pseudo-WYSIWYG quasi-HTML
extrusion that one sees on the web, I'd suggest that the cards would
stack up quite differently.

> This one reason why ASCII is better than RTF -- at least the provider has no
> illusion about the quality of information he is posting!

I think I take your point, but this is a rather negative benefit!

> 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). 

Fair comment.

If I had my way in configuring Word, I'd put the styles as buttons on
the main menu, and hide the direct-formatting buttons away in some
obscure Advanced-users section.

While it's true that the names of the styles are not formalised in the
way that HTML is, nevertheless you get a starting set in the standard
templates that come with Word (Heading 1, Heading 2, List Bullet, Body
Text etc.), some of which map in obvious ways to HTML; or you could
decide to use styles named directly for the HTML structural tags.

> But now,
> how do you get your customers to agree that your new-and-improved RTF is
> "accessible"? 

In the end it seems to me that it's pretty much the same problem in
any language, since it's not the details of the language that you need
to overcome: it's the preconceptions of the users, a large proportion
of whom believe that the task is about putting 8pt Times Roman and
appropriate areas of white space onto the page, rather than
identifying the structure of their information content.  Once that
major leap of abstract thought has been achieved, it can be put to
work in any language.  Until it has been achieved, little progress
seems to be possible (in any language).

best regards
Received on Friday, 21 July 2000 15:13:37 UTC

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