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Re: Accessible UI-- text-only or text-accessible?

From: Steven McCaffrey <smccaffr@MAIL.NYSED.GOV>
Date: Fri, 07 Jan 2000 09:54:28 -0500
Message-Id: <s875b7e6.050@mail.nysed.gov>
To: <rbrown@blackboard.com>, <EASI-ED3@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU>
Cc: <disacc@onelist.com>, <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
I am glad you are asking the question.
I don't think "lowest common denominator" is the phrase I would choose.
I prefer "best possible interface so the most people can enjoy/benefit from their visit to my site".  
I agree with David's viewpoint.  I would like to elaborate a bit.
You say "
if you are creating an alternate
accessible interface, should it be a text-only interface, or a
text-accessible interface?"
This implies, of course, you have already decided to provide an "alternative" interface, and it is just a question of which kind, right?
My question is, do you need an alternative interface?
sometimes, especially in the case of a highly dynamic page employing say Java scripts or Java applets, an alternative is actually required.
Is this behind your question?

There is the means-ends distinction.
What the interface should be and how you create it are different questions.
I think you recognize this when you say,

"There are essentially two ways to play this-- do the simplest, safest (?)
text version, or go with a slightly more developed version that could
eventually be "spiffed up" with CSS... and (possibly) become the primary UI."
According to,
DRAFT: Accessibility Features of CSS
W3C NOTE 9 Mar 1999
    This Version: 

    Authors should always design documents that make sense without style sheets 
    (i.e., the document should be written in a "logical" order) and then apply 
    style sheets to achieve visual effects."
This is very similar to what you said.
I think that the method for designing anything
whether a web site or page, script, or applet 
 begins with writing a clear, simple plain text outline of the content and/or purpose.
If visual effects are neededd, add CSS.
The only case that require a completely separate alternative page or interface is where that content by its very nature of presentation or interactivity cannot bbe used by some mode of access.
A few instances:
1. A deaf person cannot hear audio so provide a text transcript.
2. A blind person cannot see pictures or charts or diagrams or video, so provide a text description sufficiently detailed to allow the blind person to gain equivalent information or service.
To sum up, two principles:
1. Clearly identify the purpose of:
a. site;
b. page;
c. element or mode of delivry.
2. Separate means from ends.
3. Separate presentation from structure and content  
Always ask yourself:
What am I trying to do with this page?  Provide information?  provide a service?  Get feedback?  Allow the user to perform some action based on the user's input/commands?
Am I presupposing one input/output mode of access?  
(hearing, sight, keyboard, mouse, voice-input)?
If I am presupposing one particular mode, what structure/content would be most useful for other modes?

I have more technical comments on the problems tables pose for the blind if you are interested.
Steve McCaffrey
Senior Programmer/Analyst
Information Technology Services
new York State Department of Education
Received on Friday, 7 January 2000 09:56:10 UTC

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