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Javascript is Access Cryptonite.

From: Martin McCormick <martin@dc.cis.okstate.edu>
Date: Sat, 07 Jul 2001 15:19:17 -0500
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Message-Id: <E15IyXt-00020y-00@dc.cis.okstate.edu>
	I have recently been carrying on a dialog with a
representative of a private company that runs an instructional
web site.  It is a perfect example of how even well-meaning
efforts to make the material accessible run in to snags that
frustrate everybody from the provider of the material to its
en tended audience.

	I am a UNIX user both in my job and at home and
discovered that I could not use a certain web site at all because
javascript is used to drive the navigation of the site.  This
means that any browser that accesses the site must use scripting
to do even the simplest selection of links and downloading of
pages.

	Lynx and all its text-oriented relatives do not use
scripting because the scripting languages are closely tied to
either Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer.  If one was going
to try to add scripting to lynx or another open-source browser,
the question would be, "Whose scripting do we go with?" There are
both technical issues and, even worse, proprietary issues which
hold back what might seem like the obvious solution which would
be to build a javascript engine and fix this problem.

	The company that runs the site had actually worked with a
state agency for the blind in making their material accessible,
but they essentially tuned their efforts to one and only one
screen reader which happens to be the most expensive and
technically complex screen reader there is.  What this means is
that persons who are blind who want to use the site must buy
Microsoft Windows right down to specific versions, the screen
reader that things were optimized to, again, down to the specific
version, and use Internet Explorer at a specific revision number.
Stray outside the box anywhere along this path and things will start to break.

	My impression from talking to the representative is that
they absolutely and genuinely want to make it work.  They even
went to the trouble to create a text version of their
instructional material, even going so far as to create
keyboard alternatives to actions that were originally only done
by mouse.  What they failed to do was to do anything about the
underlying use of javascript instead of absolute links in
navigation.

	This company also uses bobby to validate their pages and
I think bobby should blow a whistle when javascript is used
because the script is just as much a show stopper as misuse of
frames and certain other elements.

	They did so many things right and still got it wrong in
the end.

	Why?  Because nobody seems to have figured out a good way
yet to describe what does make for an accessible site.  We have
lots of good suggestions for what not to do, but describing what
gives the widest range of people access to at least the server
engine so that it can retrieve requested information seems to be
very elusive.

	We've got two major problems.  We need to find some way
to have a commodity browser that can work with the javascript
navigation jungle that exists on so many sites today.  That is
going to be a big job from the bit of investigation I have done
on this topic.

	I think it is also fair to state that javascript UN levels
the playing field tremendously.  It is like an inside joke that
excludes all but those who know the meaning.  One
of the requirements for making sites as accessible as humanly
possible should be a non-scripted version of the web pages
period.  It should technically be possible for modern servers to
gracefully degrade or modify their output for any browser which has
scripting turned off or no scripting capability such as lynx and
several other browsers.  It should be a piece of cake for modern
servers to modify their output on the fly if they receive the
right identification string from a no-script client.

	No-script should be just another form of client-server
interaction, not somebody's arbitrary idea of obsolete
technology.  After all, wireless devices such as PDA's and
web-enabled cell phones may not know javascript either.

	We should sell the idea that no-script is an easy and
cheap alternative when complex and expensive don't work.

	Such validation programs as bobby should flag javascript
pages as inaccessible to non scripting browsers.  That would be
honest and accurate while still telling the tester that his or
her web site may be accessible to those using the Windows/screen
reader/IE or Netscape method.

Martin McCormick WB5AGZ  Stillwater, OK 
OSU Center for Computing and Information Services Data Communications Group
Received on Saturday, 7 July 2001 16:19:22 GMT

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