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alternative content for cognitive disabilities

From: Paul Bohman <paulb@cpd2.usu.edu>
Date: Fri, 20 Apr 2001 12:11:27 -0600
Message-ID: <010801c0c9c5$514d61e0$20117b81@paul>
To: <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
"Executive summary" of this email:
Although I like exective summaries for many things under certain
circumstances, the idea of creating alternative text versions of web content
for people with cognitive disabilities is problematic, perhaps not do-able,
and perhaps not useful to those with cognitive disabilities.

Full content of this email:
I was mostly a listener and not an active participant in yesterday's
discussion, because I was mulling around some of the ideas in my head. I
want to comment on the idea of alternative content for those with cognitive

Greg observed that most guidelines, except for those referencing cognitive
disabilities, ask a web designer to create content for people with a zero
level of a particular ability. So we ask people to create alternative
content for people with zero sight and with zero hearing. I suppose that we
don't really ask people to create content for those with zero motor skills,
either, but I don't want to get into that right now.

Following that sort of logic (the logic of creating alternative content), as
was discussed during the call, two possible options are to create a certain
"required" lower level of writing (e.g. 2nd grade level) or ask people to
create a separate alternative (e.g. write the document twice or more,
depending on how many different audience types must be accommodated). Both
of these options are scary to me. First of all, in a practical sense, either
of these will create a strong backlash from developers, and they will likely
ignore the concept and perhaps even decide to ignore other things that the
WAI tells them to do as a result of our "irrational requirements". No one
really wants to write two versions of a document. Few people have the skill
to do so. Certainly very few have the patience and time to do so.

The idea of an"executive summary" was also suggested. For many types of
documents, I like the idea. However, most of the instances in which such a
summary would fit seem to be of the scholarly variety, or something similar.
I suppose that news web sites (e.g. msnbc.com, cnn.com, etc.) could provide
summaries of their stories. That wouldn't be such a bad thing. There are
other circumstances in which this would work too. The trouble is that there
are many more circumstances in which this would not work. Or, maybe I should
say that even though they may "work" they would seem out of place in one way
or another.

E-commerce sites which list search results from databases would perhaps be
one instance where it would be difficult. The executive summary could say
"List of products meeting search criteria [X]", but what else could you say?

Also, some words are embedded inside of Web applications that are not really
documents. Providing executive summaries is conceivable, but seems a bit
awkward to me.

Finally, I am also concerned that we haven't really made anything more
accessible to people with cognitive disabilities by providing an executive
summary. Should we require illustrated executive summaries? Multimedia
executive summaries? Interactive exective summaries?

We have to be careful not to get caught up in ideas that are good ones under
some circumstances, like executive summaries, and try to apply them in ways
that over-reach their purpose and may even have questionable value for those
people for whom we are creating the guidelines: people with cognitive
disabilities in this case.

Paul Bohman
Technology Coordinator
WebAIM: Web Accessibility in Mind (www.webaim.org)
Center for Persons with Disabilities (www.cpd.usu.edu)
Utah State University (www.usu.edu)
Received on Friday, 20 April 2001 14:10:38 UTC

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