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

From: Scott Luebking <phoenixl@netcom.com>
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 10:40:05 -0800 (PST)
Message-Id: <199911161840.KAA17158@netcom.com>
To: kasday@acm.org, kford@teleport.com, phoenixl@netcom.com, w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Hi,

One issue that comes up is that the various disability communities lag
behind what is occuring technologically.  It can often take a couple of
years for disabled people to see how technologically can help them or
how technology must be impacted so that they can better use it.

Most disabled people I now don't follow the trends in technology.  I
keep seeing the issue of customizable pages as being more important to
web users.  For example, I find Bill Gates's talk at the Comdex conference
on the personal web most interesting.  In a recent review of the MSN
site, there were comments about how a user can now be customizing the page
he/she gets.  Business students I work with on campus are looking for
tools which can simplify the process of customizing web pages as a way
for their future products or companies to be more desirable.

Blind users can greatly benefit from web pages being customizable.
However, to take advantage of that, they will need to know what it is
that they need.  Until blind people can experience what is possible, it
will be harder to understand what they need.  (An interesting related
example is talking with people about ATM's.  There is a clear difference
between people who have tried Citibank's ATM abd those who haven't.)

I have yet have anyone try my example of a web page customized for
blind users who do not prefer it to the non-customized version.  One
woman wrote me she didn't know that web pages could be created to work
with so easily.  Another person has said that it's the way web pages
should be for blind users.  Even people who use lynx, which doesn't support
event handling, found it the layout to be much more appropriate.

I believe an important point to remember is that the web pages which are
customized for blind users are generally much easier to program than for
sighted users.  Once programmers see what is actually needed, it will
ease their concerns about web pages for blind users needing to be
complicated and therefore harder to program.

Why won't screen readers be able to do the same thing?  The answer is
related to a current core limitation of computers.  (My apologies to the
non-technical readers.)  Computers have a hard time working with
concepts, especially given little information from which to extract the
concepts.  Since computers have a hard time with concepts, they are
limited in what they can do in determining the purpose or intent of
something.  This in turn means they have problems grouping things by
related functions or assigning importance to the functions.  Until this
kind of problem is solved for computers in general, access technology
will have the same problems.  Screen readers will have a hard time
deciding what is the most effient way to present the information
since it will have a hard time determining what is important.

For example, a web page has 40 links.  Screen readers will have problems
categorizing the links functions.  The result is that the blind user has
to slog through the links.  It can be argued that blind users can do
that, but each time they are confronted with issues like that they will
be less productive and therefore less desirable in the workplace or less
competitive in academoic environments.

The issue of the concept-limitation of computers is often a hard one for
most people to recognize.  (Having worked with artificial intelligent
systems / expert systems has probably made me more aware of the issues.)
This challenge is a key reason why the concept of an expert system has
migrated more to one of an assist system.  Computers are better at
searching and conducting comparisons.  They are not as good at
determining what should be searched for or what needs to be compared.

I believe that web pages which are customized for blind users can help
avoid that "concept barrier" which will cause blind people to be less
productive and less competitive.


Scott


> Hi All,
> 
> At 10:43 AM 11/16/99 -0500, Leonard R. Kasday wrote:
> 
> >I want to repeat that I think what you're doing to go beyond basic
> >accessibility and maximize efficiency is extremely valuable and important.
> >It could make the difference between a person being able to compete or not
> >compete on equal terms with non-disabled colleagues.   I just don't want to
> >give up the option of conventional accessible pages in the process.
> 
> I think this point is critical to remember.  You have to learn to walk
> before you can run if you will and from my perspective the basic concept of
> accessibility still hasn't taken hold in the majority of the internet
> community.  The last thing I want to do is tell programmers they now need
> to add another level of complexity to what they are doing.
> 
> That's not to say that the points Scott raises about timely access and
> ability to move quickly to what one wants are not important.  I think they
> are but if push came to shove I'd take a basic accessible web page over one
> that was designed for my timely navigation by the developer at the expense
> of less access out of the box.
> 
> Screen readers and talking web browsers are also addressing this issue of
> moving rapidly to specific sections of the page.  The majority of current
> technology for example has features to skip the navigation links found at
> the beginning of many web sites, the ability to quickly produce a list of
> all links on a web page and the ability to jump to the first control such
> as an edit box on a web page.
Received on Tuesday, 16 November 1999 13:45:35 GMT

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