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RE: Status of RTF format?

From: Bruce Bailey <bbailey@clark.net>
Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2000 17:28:12 -0400
To: <A.Flavell@physics.gla.ac.uk>
Cc: "WAI Guidelines List" <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-ID: <000601bff35a$93138740$53fe330a@msde>
Dear Alan et al.,

You are quite correct that I am contrasting well-formatted HTML (a rarity)
with poorly (or merely average) formatted Word (etc.) documents.  The main
point that I am trying to make is that with HTML, at least, there are good
definitions (and easy automated tests no less) for validity and
accessibility.  It's not that Word (etc.) created better formatted (or more
accessible) RTF than the job it does with HTML -- it's just that with HTML
you have better mechanisms for judging the results!

It is probably just as easy to teach people to produce well-formatted HTML
as it is to get them to use Word styles in a powerful and appropriate
fashion.  So why not spend your time on the former than the latter?  As you
observe, getting them to understand the point -- and then to care, is the
harder problem.

Alan, do you agree with me that the "average" RTF document is NOT
accessible?

Thanks,
Bruce Bailey

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Alan J. Flavell [mailto:flavell@a5.ph.gla.ac.uk]
> Sent: Friday, July 21, 2000 3:13 PM
> To: Bruce Bailey
> Cc: WAI Guidelines List
> Subject: RE: Status of RTF format?
>
>
> 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).
Received on Friday, 21 July 2000 17:29:22 GMT

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