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Re: A few thoughts on using dynamic web pages to improve accessibility

From: Kynn Bartlett <kynn-hwg@idyllmtn.com>
Date: Wed, 10 Nov 1999 11:54:39 -0800
Message-Id: <>
To: Scott Luebking <phoenixl@netcom.com>
Cc: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Scott's preposition is that pages should be dynamically generated
"for the sighted" and "for the blind" (and presumably "for" other
disability classes); my preposition is that, right now at least,
the principle of graceful degradation is a much more useful thing
to concentrate on.  [For the future, see http://www.ccpp.org]

At 11:42 AM 11/10/1999 , Scott Luebking wrote:
>   1.  Both sighted and blind people need to get a sense of context from
>       each page.  A sighted person can quickly scan to see what the page
>       is about.  A blind person has to more grope through the page
>       to get a sense of what is there in order to get a better understanding
>       of the context.  This approach is slow and cumbersome.  Also,
>       a blind person may jump to a conclusion to early.  What would
>       be helpful is being able to hit a key and a summary of the page
>       appears in a pop-up box.

Summaries of links and document structure are available on many web
browsers; also, META descriptions provide page summaries and should be
encouraged for this purpose as an accessibility aid.

>   2.  Sighted people need more layout to understand the information.
>       Usually, this is done with tables.  However, tables can be
>       create confusion for blind people.  A more linear form is often
>       preferable for blind users.

Pages created with tables used for layout can and should be linearized,

>   3.  Searching in a web page is much slower for blind people than sighted.
>       If the page is new, knowing what to search for is harder.
>       The page should be designed to help minimize the need to search.

I'm not sure I understand why you think this is so, and why you believe
that searching is not an acceptable, accessible way to find information.

>   4.  Jumping back and forth on a page is much easier for sighted people
>       than blind people.  The page should be structured to minimize
>       the need for that.

Jumping back and forth on a page isn't real good design even for sighted
users, though.  As a matter of good UI design and graphic design,
jumping around should be minimized, period.

>   5.  If the access keys are being used, blind users can benefit from
>       being able to hit a key and have a pop-up box describing
>       what special keys are available.

ACCESSKEY is broken and should, in general, be avoided -- in my opinion.
I agree that if they are used, they should be documented -- but this
is information that should be on the "visual" page as well.

>   6.  While sighted people can quickly skip over links at the top of
>       a page, it is harder for blind people to do that.  An alternative
>       design would be to put groups of links at the bottom and have
>       keys which will scroll the page to the desired group of links.

That's one possible solution.

>   7.  Sighted people can often find links more easily than blind.
>       If a page has some very popular links, it might be easier for blind
>       users to have keys activate the popyular links to reduce the
>       time searching.

Except that ACCESSKEY is broken, but that's another discussion.  There's
no reason that you can't have keys to activate popular links on the
graphical version, is there?

>   8.  It is often easier for sighted people to find forms on a
>       page than blind people.  Blind users can benefit from having keys
>       which will automatically scroll the page to a particular form.


>   9.  Sighted people can often find the end of the form by some
>       visual cuing.  Blind people often assume that encountering
>       a submit button is the end of the form.  This can be in error
>       if there is more than one submit button or if there are more
>       form elements after the submit button.  Blind users can benefit
>       from clear indication about the end of the form being reached.

Sighted people also can suffer from this problem, though.  That's a
problem in poor web design, again.

>   10.  A sighted person can quickly skip over a group of radio
>        buttons or identify which radio button is selected.
>        A blind person often prefers a drop-down selection list.
>        It is easier to skip over and the user can quickly identify
>        what the current choice is.

Is it true that blind users prefer drop-down lists and sighted users
prefer radio buttons?

>Currently, many web designers don't know how to design accessible static
>web pages.  The general assumption is that they can be trained.  If they
>can be trained for designing static pages for accessibility, why can't
>they be trained in designing dynamic web pages for accessibility.

Because you're talking about different types of training.  It's easier
to say "make this page universally accessible" than to say "make this
page optimized for a blind person, okay, now make this page optimized
for a deaf person, okay, now make this page optimized for a blind AND
deaf person, okay, now make this page optimized for a blind AND deaf
person using a Mac, ..."

Eventually, you end up coming back to universal design because that way
you can include everyone instead of having to create algorithms for
every single combination of disability type.

>I believe that with the correct flexible software architecture for creating
>dynamic web pages, a version of each page can be created to more closely meet
>the needs of each of a number of disabilities.

Yes, but the architecture is not yet in place.  This will take more than
just what you have in your CGI scripts (which are a step in the right
direction) in order to be a generally applicable solution to web

Kynn Bartlett                                    mailto:kynn@hwg.org
President, HTML Writers Guild                    http://www.hwg.org/
AWARE Center Director                          http://aware.hwg.org/
Received on Wednesday, 10 November 1999 15:07:38 UTC

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