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Please advise on how to make our Discussion Forums more Accessible

From: Julian Voelcker <asp@tvw.net>
Date: Fri, 11 Jul 2003 09:54:37 +0100
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Message-Id: <VA.00000998.045566c7@tvw.net>

We created some discussion forums on a voluntary sector site some time 
ago and now want to try to convert it into a more Accessible format.

The forums were designed to mimic your average mail reader software 
using frames to provide a listing of the messages (message date, 
subject and author) in a (static) tree structure at the top half of the 
screen and then the bottom half of the screen is used for displaying 
the actual messages (you click a message in the top half to display in 
the bottom) or for providing a form for adding new messages.

To give you a better idea I have posted a screen shot to 

Now I realise that it is in theory possible to create Accessible framed 
pages, however I have always believed that they weren't a good idea so 
am trying to look at alternatives without compromising usability.

We already have a number of changes lined up including:-
+ Changes to the message listing to make it more visually appealing 
(it's a bit cluttered at the moment)
+ Providing an option to display the message listing in chronological 
order or thread order (as it is now)
+ Adding an enhanced new message editor with options for html 
formatting, email alert on responses, signatures.
+ Advanced printing options - print single message/complete thread/all 

One of the key requirements from the Users' point of view is to be able 
to see a full listing of all messages because they may be following 
several threads/conversations at once - the forums are used for holding 
virtual meetings, so the user's refresh the message listing quite 
regularly to see new messages.

The only alternative that I can think of is to have a single page with 
the message listing at the top and the message viewer/editor at the 
bottom, although this will result in the user having to scroll down the 
to bottom of the page each time they want to see a message or create a 
new one.  OK, I can put some skip links in, but then the user might 
miss new messages (these are flagged up with a visual indicator).

What do you suggest?

Can I get away with leaving them as they are, apart from some minor 

Do you know of any good accessible forums?

Any help would be appreciated.


Julian Voelcker
Cirencester, United Kingdom
Received on Friday, 11 July 2003 04:54:49 UTC

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