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media: Separate text-only version? No thanks!

From: david poehlman <david.poehlman@handsontechnologeyes.com>
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 2004 06:46:57 -0400
Message-ID: <000801c4a7a3$faa4f900$6401a8c0@DAVIDPC>
To: "wai-ig list" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>

Separate text-only version? No thanks!
By: Trenton Moss
Thursday September 30 2004, 15:37:27
http://www.webcredible.co.uk

In an attempt to make their sites accessible to all, more and more
websites
are now offering text-only versions of their
sites. With the huge number of inaccessible websites out there, any
attempt
to make a website accessible to one and all is
highly commendable.

But is text-only the way forward? The W3C have this to say about
alternative
accessible sites:

And if all else fails... If, after best efforts, you cannot create an
accessible page, provide a link to an alternative page.

Hmmm... so according to the W3C a separate accessible site is OK, but
they
do use some pretty strong language to suggest that
this should be avoided wherever possible. They're probably right too,
given
the disadvantages of going down the text-only
route:

Text-only version may not be accessible

The most ironic thing about text-only versions, is that often they
don't
even offer full accessibility. This could be for a
number of reasons, two of the most common being:

Non-descriptive link text: Visually impaired Internet users can browse
web
pages by tabbing from one link to the next. Link
text such as 'click here' and 'more', which may feature in a text-only
version, won't make any sense to them when doing this.

Inaccessible forms: For optimal accessibility, prompt text should be
assigned to its form item. To check for this, a flashing
cursor should appear in a form box when the text next to it is clicked

Primary website may be inaccessible to site visitors

One of the myths of web accessibility is that accessibility is only
about
blind and disabled users. Accessibility is actually
about everyone being able to access your website, both disabled and
non-disabled, regardless of the browsing technology
they're using.

For example, users accessing your website through WebTV, mobile phones,
and
PDAs, which have limited support for large
images, Flash and JavaScript, may not be able to access your site.
Don't
underestimate the importance of this: in 2008 alone
an estimated 58 million PDAs will be sold (source: eTForecast) and one
third
of the world's population will own a wireless
device (source: ClickZ).

Lost branding opportunity

Some users may only need to make small adjustments to your site in
order
to
be able to effectively use it. For example, a
site visitor who needs to slightly resize the text on your site may
have
to
use the text-only version if you don't allow this
is the main version. This person then won't be exposed to your online
image
and branding, which you've undoubtedly spent so
long developing.

Large time and money investment

Creating a separate accessible version can obviously represents an
extremely
large time and money investment. This can be
offset if the site is database-driven, although there's still a time
investment involved in setting up this alternative
version - time that could have instead been spent making the primary
site
accessible to all.

Less information

Some text-only versions offer far less information and/or functionality
than
the primary version of the site. Manchester
United's accessible version is a prime example of this: the primary
website
features over 100 choices in the navigation menu;
the accessible version just eight. For a busy webmaster, having to make

updates to two versions of the same website can be a
huge pain.

If the website is 100% database driven then the separate text-only
version
will automatically
be updated with the primary version of the site. Although
database-driven
sites are commonplace on the web, it is very rare
that every single page is drawn from the database. As such, even with a

database-driven site separate versions can often be
left behind.

Marginalisation of society

The final point, and perhaps the most important. One of the most famous

quotes about accessibility was made by Tim
Berners-Lee, the man who invented the Internet:
The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone
regardless
of disability is an essential aspect.

Creating a separate version for web users with special needs can be
seen
as
just one more way of them being marginalised from
every day society. Having a separate accessible version has been
famously
likened to a restaurant providing a side door down
a back alley for disabled customers, because the main entrance has a
couple
of stairs leading in to the restaurant.

The idea of the Internet is that it's an inclusive medium, which
everyone
should be able to use and access. Visually impaired
individuals particularly can now access a virtually unlimited source of

information in a way that would never have been
possible.

Text-only? No thanks!

There are therefore so many reasons as to why a separate text-only
version
isn't a good idea. Additionally, there are a such
huge number of benefits to having an accessible website that there's no

excuse for not trying to make your main website
accessible to everyone.
Certainly many big organisations are now working towards offering
accessible
websites, which is highly commendable. So come
on guys, let's keep working to make sure the Internet is fully
inclusive.

Category: Web Development

Copyright  2004 Trenton Moss. All Rights Reserved.

http://www.w3reports.com/index.php?itemid=599
Received on Friday, 1 October 2004 10:45:46 GMT

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