W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-ig@w3.org > April to June 1999

RE: Debunking the need for "text-only" parallel sites

From: Charles McCathieNevile <charles@w3.org>
Date: Fri, 21 May 1999 12:26:27 -0400 (EDT)
To: Jeff Guillaume <JeffG@PMI1.COM>
cc: "'w3c-wai-ig@w3.org'" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.10.9905211211220.6865-100000@tux.w3.org>
The case in point is an interesting one. There is no real problem caused by
the use of spacer gifs, so long as they are transparent (they look pretty
odd if they are white, and the user has a black background for high
contrast, but that's the designer's misfortune) and have appropriate
equivalent content - in this case alt="".

That satisfies the guidelines.

The use of tables is a bit trickier. There are particular problems caused by
tables because screen-reading technology is only beginning to cope, and not
all users have up-to-date browser/screenreader combinations. (Not surprising,
given the cost involved.) The most widely available solution is Lynx, which
runs on almost every platform, and can be converted to speech or braille
reliably. It simply unwraps the table, so unless there has been some
extraordinary work done to make the table not linearise properly (I have seen
examples of this, but it is generally easy to avoid) the user can get at the
content but loses much of the structural relationship implied - in particular
lynx does not provide any way to view the document by columns - the best
assistive technology solutuon I know for non-visual users is W3 - the
browser package for emacs, and it has problems with nested tables. The use of
tables for layout is also contrary to the design philosophy behind HTML and
CSS. This is really an example of people "doing things the wrong way".

I think it is true that many web designers do not really understand their
field, and I am somewhat surprised that there is so much of a market for
their limited and flawed skills. I realise that everyone needs to learn from
the beginning, but I would be happier if people were expected to have learned
more before they take on the important task of designing an information
space, particularly in important areas like government services and
information, and the ability to participate in regular commercial activity.
So I applaud your taking the time to grapple with the complexities of this
field, and I offer the encouragement that this isn't as hard as brain surgery
(so far as I know) or rocket science...


On Fri, 21 May 1999, Jeff Guillaume wrote:

  It seems as though the argument _against_ having a text-only version is
  merely furthering my point.  Of course it makes sense to have an
  automated system that will output the appropriate model of the page to
  each user (as in Microsoft's case).  But again, that is essentially a
  "text-only" copy.  I understand that a well-designed site in valid HTML
  using WAI recommendations is supposed to be accessible to all.  But this
  is my point (not for me, because I agree with most of you, which is why
  I subscribed to this list in the first place): most Webmasters don't
  have the time nor inclination to learn what they need to learn to make
  valid, accessible Web pages.  They've been doing it for so long that
  they slip into whatever works to make the page look good quickly and
  forget the rest.
  I _do_ have the time and inclination to learn how to do it right; I
  still am NOT designing valid pages yet, because I simply have more to
  learn.  However, this is the major pitfall of the whole issue (the crux
  of the problem, in Monty Python-ese).  Webmasters think that all these
  new Web regulations will make their job harder -- and I believe it
  will!!  That's the whole point.  They *must* learn how to do it right if
  they are going to design accessible pages.  And it WILL be harder, at
  first.  I know, because I'm one of those people!  An example follows in
  my next question...
  Question #2:  And now for something completely different.
  I was going to separate this into an entirely different thread, but it
  relates to what I just said.  I have seen on numerous pages the use of a
  1-pixel by 1-pixel transparent GIF to use as a spacer (especially in
  tables, but not exclusively).  I was just reading an article on c|net's
  Builder.com about how the use of <TABLE> has taken on a whole new
  purpose, one that it wasn't designed for.  Many people are using this
  1-pixel transparent GIF to force a table to a certain width or height,
  or even just for color or design sake.  Go to http://www.voyager.net
  (search for pixel.gif in the source) for an example.
  This has been a perfect solution for designing a page to look the way
  you want (I've even used this method).  However, this is very bad for
  accessibility.  Yet another example of change that lots of Webmasters
  won't appreciate.
  Please don't misunderstand me, I am all for accessibility.  I'm just
  stating the plain fact that change is hard.  It will take a while for
  this to become successful.

--Charles McCathieNevile            mailto:charles@w3.org
phone: +1 617 258 0992   http://www.w3.org/People/Charles
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative    http://www.w3.org/WAI
MIT/LCS  -  545 Technology sq., Cambridge MA, 02139,  USA
Received on Friday, 21 May 1999 12:26:30 UTC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.1 : Tuesday, 13 October 2015 16:21:04 UTC