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RE: Simplicity of Authoring and Accessibility Tools

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Thu, 18 Jan 2001 17:03:47 -0800
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <000501c081b3$ae17fa70$0100a8c0@aries>
Kynn wrote:

"So, what's needed is an accessibility tool with no more knowledge
necessary than that required to use Front Page or any other WYSIWYG
tool for beginners."

Charles replies:

Yes, but since one doesn't yet exist, what's needed is for those who
assemble web pages to read the instruction manual. The instruction manual is
HTML, and it's a lot easier than programming your VCR. But just as most
people won't read the instruction manual before they start to assemble their
new ACME rocket-powered scooter, they won't learn HTML.

But why on earth would we be condoning this? Why would you pat someone on
the back for being too lazy to do even the smallest bit of preparation
before setting up a web page? Why do we continue to act as if putting
together a web page is as simple as using a photocopy machine?

I honestly believe that the average person could learn basic HTML and CSS,
enough for the vast majority of tasks on the web, in the *same* amount of
time as it takes to learn how to use FrontPage. Funny how we have the time
to learn the software, but not to learn this VERY SIMPLE MARKUP - NOT
PROGRAMMING - LANGUAGE.

Look:

You have a box. It's called HTML. In it you have two smaller boxes. One is
called HEAD, the other is called BODY. In the head you put the knowledge
about the page (it's the brain of the page): this is called metadata. So in
this box you have some file folders. One is TITLE. Another is META, which is
an all-purpose folder. You also have LINK, SCRIPT, and STYLE, which are just
places to hold related stuff like scripts or stylesheets.

In the BODY you have your document. It has headers and subheaders. We put
these in folders called H1 for the biggest header and H2, H3, and so on for
the smaller subheads. Then we take the paragraphs and put them in P folders.
And we arrange them in the same order that they would normally appear on the
page.

We can also make lists (if they're numbered we call them OL, if they're
bulleted we call them UL), and we put each List Item in an envelope called
LI. Or we can set up a data TABLE, which is just a chest of drawers (another
sort of box, but with rows of drawers). Each row is a TR and it contains a
bunch of drawers called TDs.

If we really want to get detailed, we can go into the P folders and clip out
words or phrases that have special meaning to us and put them in little
envelopes. We call these envelopes EM if those words are kind of special,
and STRONG if they really mean a lot to us. If we want to make them point to
other pages, we put them in A envelopes (which stands for anchor, but could
just as easily mean Arrow).

Now, in FOUR LOUSY PARAGRAPHS I've covered the most significant aspects of
HTML. Give me two pages and I'll explain attributes, throw in forms and even
some lesser used items like definition lists.

So let's get real here. Which is easier: learning basic HTML and CSS or
learning how to use FrontPage? I think it's a pretty close call.

Yes, some people will resist. Some will insist that they just can't figure
HTML out. They fear it. But people fear learning new applications, too. My
mother refuses to learn Word because it's just too much trouble. I myself
have never really bothered to learn Excel. But that doesn't mean we should
be ENCOURAGING this behavior.

I think we should say clearly: Well, you can use FrontPage, but it will
cause problems with accessibility, so you'll need to learn a little HTML to
correct them. But if you're going to do that, why not just skip learning
FrontPage and just learn the HTML? It's not difficult.

Of course it would help if there was a simple HTML tutorial (I mean SIMPLE)
that didn't teach all sorts of bad coding practices and proprietary or
deprecated code. Until we get the ideal authoring tool (IF we get it),
perhaps we should be putting together such a site. One that doesn't even
mention all the tricks and workarounds, but starts with the structure of the
document, keeps it as simple as possible, and then explains how to use
simple CSS to add formatting (with specific caveats related to browser
incompatibilities).

In fact, I'm so tired of arguing this topic on this list that I'm going to
do something truly insane: I'm going to just shut up and build such a site.
Put my web pages where my mouth is, so to speak. It won't be anything fancy,
but I'll detail the basics of HTML and CSS. Then maybe others on this list
will be so kind as to provide feedback and suggestions. Give me a couple of
weeks to a month. I'll post a URI when I get a draft in place.

Charles F. Munat
Seattle, Washington
Received on Thursday, 18 January 2001 22:10:08 GMT

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