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Using content negotiation to serve content variants to people wit h special needs?

From: Jukka Korpela <jukka.korpela@tieke.fi>
Date: Wed, 19 Jun 2002 13:45:11 +0300
Message-ID: <621574AE86FAD3118D1D0000E22138A95BDD3C@TIEKE1>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

I wonder if anyone has tried to use HTTP content negotiation mechanism for
serving different variants according to special needs, e.g. to send a sign
language version to people who have specified a sign language as their first
preference. The problem that would be addressed this way is twofold:
1) The usual "version selection" page is an unnecessary and potentially
confusing step. Naturally, such a page should be available too, for various
reasons, but hopefully the automated mechanisms would, by time, mostly help
to avoid it.
2) It is impossible to present alternatives in a truely balanced way. The
typical approach of having a "normal" page and links to alternate
(abnormal?) versions can be regarded as making people with special needs
second class netizens. And making e.g. a sign language version the primary
version would not be suitable to the majority (though it might be a feasible
solution on pages that are primarily intended for people who know sign

Language negotiation is a well-defined technique that has been used for
selecting between "normal" written languages. There are varying opinions on
how suitable it actually is, but it seems to get more and more use, though
slowly. Those who don't know the concept might wish to take a look at my

But the accessibility issue is the use of language negotation so that sign
languages, visual symbol languages, strongly simplified versions of "normal"
languages, etc., are involved. Many of those languages have no formalized
identifiers (as per ISO 639 and the relevant RFCs and registries) but this
need not prevent experimentation or specialized use, since browsers
typically let the user enter whatever string they like as language code.

I think it would be useful to have some statements about the methods in
which different variants are presented to users, in cases where the same
content appears in different variants, for some good reason. Simple links
are the simple answer, and will probably be always used as one way of
accessing the different variants, but maybe we should aim at something more
automatic in the long run.

Jukka Korpela, senior adviser
TIEKE Finnish Information Society Development Centre
Phone: +358 9 4763 0397 Fax: +358 9 4763 0399 
Received on Wednesday, 19 June 2002 06:45:29 UTC

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