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Re: Alternative Interfaces for Accessibility

From: Nick Kew <nick@webthing.com>
Date: Thu, 10 Apr 2003 21:50:53 +0100 (BST)
To: phoenixl <phoenixl@sonic.net>
cc: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.21.0304102120280.1276-100000@jarl.webthing.com>

On Wed, 9 Apr 2003, phoenixl wrote:

> Hi, Nick
> 
> The issue that I wish the article had addressed more clearly is what is
> needed in the design of web pages so that blind people aren't penalized
> in terms of efficiency, ease of use and accuracy when the use web pages.
> One of the executives of Freedom Scientific just made a posting on a mailing
> list that it can take 33% longer for him to get his worked done compared to
> sighted executives.  Why is that happening?

I'd say that's entirely reasonable.  Not good (blindness isn't good),
but reasonable.  When you get right down to basics, it's possible to
read text many times faster than to speak it, so sighted users are
inherently going to work faster when presented with plain text.
The object of accessibility has to be avoiding gratuitous barriers,
not to work miracles or to inconvenience the able-bodied for the sake
of equality.

> Does transformation of HTML really provide the most optimal interfaces
> for blind users?

I was trying to be more general than that.  If we postulate an ideal
markup language, and use it well, then the answer is yes.  HTML is
far from perfect, but nevertheless *can* offer a lot more than you'd
think from the lamentable mess we see on so much of the web.

>	  I just had a situation where a web page would be
> considered accessible by various standards, but a number of screen
> reader users had problems because of the way the information was presented
> which included various punctuation marks.  Many screen reader users
> turn off punctuation pronounciation.

That's an interesting observation.  Would stripping of punctuation,
or perhaps of excess punctuation, be a useful option to introduce
in mod_accessibility?  Perhaps where more than one punctuation
character appear in sequence, it could assume "special effects"
and strip them?

>	  A solution had be be developed
> which would present screen reader interpretation lines.  The web site
> is at:
> 
>     http://members.aol.com/criptrip/command_control

Ahem ... "This web page is a demonstration of a command line processor
interacting with a graphical user interface. Unfortunately, this web page
only works with Internet Explorer version 4.0 or newer. Please be sure
that you are using an appropriate version of the Internet Explorer"

Oh dear.  Sorry, that makes it totally inaccessible to me.
The page clearly violates WCAG, too.

> Mark up is unfortunately limited when it comes to rearranging a web page
> according to a user's semantic desires, e.g. putting first on the web page
> what he/she is most interested in.

That applies to users of "standard" visual browsers, too.  The best we
can do is offer users choices and a flexible presentation.

>	  Similarly, in the problem just
> mentioned, there was no way in HTML to cue sceeen readers that certain lines had
> to have all the punctuation pronounced.

Hmmm ... can you suggest any reading that might help me understand the
problems you have with punctuation?

> I tend to question the limits of automatic transformation.  The
> automatic transformation of HTML would not been very useful in address
> the problem we had.

I'm happy to accept that it's not a panacaea for all problems, and I
can't comment on the particular case you have in mind (I don't have
MSIE, and I haven't even seen what I presume to be the page you meant
to refer to).

> I strongly believe that a fair amount of testing needs to be done to
> confirm that automatically transforming HTML web pages provide blind
> users efficiency, ease of use and accuracy.  Without this type of
> testing, the decisions are being based more on wishful thinking rather
> than repeatable research results.

I agree strongly with that.  If I had the resources for
meaningful real-user testing, I'd do it.  As it is, the best I can
do is to develop the software, make it available, and seek feedback
from end-users in fora such as this list.

> My suspicion is that multiple versions based on semantic content rather
> than multiple renditions based on HTML will give web pages which are
> more efficient for blind users.  However, I'm open to reviewing
> any usability testing which indicates the opposite is true.

That may well be the case.  If semantic content were widely available
on the web, then we could meaningfully test your hypothesis.  But to sit
back and wish won't help much.  The purpose of mod_accessibility is
to deal with the contents we have in *this* world, not an ideal one.

I'd love your feedback on how useful mod_accessibility is, with
different types of contents.

-- 
Nick Kew
Received on Thursday, 10 April 2003 16:51:34 GMT

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