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RE: "Text-Only" Versions Considered Harmful

From: Jon Hanna <jon@spinsol.com>
Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2001 17:49:01 -0000
To: "WAI Interest Group" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Hash: SHA1

Obviously... disclaimer: I wrote a thing
> called Betsie which provides an on-the-fly text-only view of the
> BBC website
> and others.

On-the-fly text-only views are not what I'm talking about, indeed
that would be one good alternative to the text-only version (as
opposed to text-only output) option. That is a separate version of
the site exists to the "main" one. This is not clear in my article,
and that will be changed. I'm not a great writer, especially when
rushed, as the many repetition in my mails to this list show and it
is here that the fault lies.

A text-only view need not be a
> 'ghetto' and indeed will not be,

A text-only site is a ghetto if you are not best served by a
text-only version, but can only read that version as it was the only
concession made to accessibility issues. It's also a ghetto if it's
produced separately and not in the same update cycle.

> "Text-only makes false assumptions about users"

The decision to produce a text-only version of a site as a separate
site broadly divides the abilities of all users into two groups, I
think this is a false assumption.

> "Text only encourages bad practice"
> Your body text here assumes that the text only view of a site is
> being maintained as a separate set of documents. Yup. That's bad
> practice.

Again my intent wasn't clear as I said, and the fault lies with my
skills as a writer.

> "Text only links can be lost"
> So what? A site can be poorly designed in a number of ways. This
> has nothing
> intrinsic to do with text only.

Yes, but the one saving grace of text-only versions of the type I am
referring to is that at least there is some accessibility provided.
If you can't find your way to that version then all that is lost.
Remember I'm arguing text-only versions are harmful, not fatal.

> "Text only sites do not guarantee accessibility"
> Sure. And no-one is saying that they do.

I'm afraid that some people do. I've been in site-design meetings
where that was said, and it was seen as the cure-all magic bullet for
accessibility issues.

> cases. You say "it is perfectly possible to make a site which
> contains no graphical elements, and yet is still inaccessible to
> some users," which is true, but which does not constitute an
> argument against text-only.

> "A "text-only" link increases the number of links to be followed
> by one for
> every resource."
> Again, this is not an argument, because it is not necessarily the
> case. A site where a users preference for the text only view is
> retained  in a cookie (as the next version of Betsie will... :)
> will not suffer from this.

If the text-only option is generated from a link then it will be true
at least once. Some sites which offer a text-only begin with a page
which contains no real information apart from the choice between
text-only or graphics (A choice of Flash and HTML is a similar and
common option).

> "The extra effort involved in producing the text version of the
> site was wasted..."
[snip]this is not an argument against text only, just an argument
> against badly done text only.

This was certainly the case in the type of site I mention in that
section. While this argument doesn't in one fell swoop show text-only
versions to be harmful, it does add to the chances that the decision
to produce a text-only version may have been a bad on in any given

> "Text Only Is A Poor Use of Technology"
> This is a highly arguable statement, which seems to ignore the
> possibility that the text only view is being created on the fly
> from the original document set. Along, perhaps, with other
> 'different' views appropriate for various contexts.

Now here's a confession: I'm currently working on a content-delivery
product. This product works from XML data and will produce different
outputs depending on various circumstances, including one that is
text-only. I'm in the same boat as you here.

If the same document is degrading to text-only as appropriate
on-the-fly I don't consider it a text-only document, or a text-only
version of the site; I consider that the text-only output of the
site. This will be made clearer.

 You say that "any good graphical design should work well
> as text," but this itself makes the assumption that the design is
> somehow intrinsically *graphical*.

If a design makes use of graphics, I call it "graphical". 99% of the
article itself is text ;) As you say web pages are code, so
"graphical" only makes sense in this context there is no such thing
as an intrinsically graphical design.

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Received on Friday, 16 February 2001 12:48:36 UTC

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