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Re: Alternative Formats

From: Phill Jenkins <pjenkins@us.ibm.com>
Date: Wed, 27 Aug 2008 16:51:11 -0500
To: "Ryan Jean" <ryanj@disnetwork.org>
Cc: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Message-ID: <OF77129C51.425B2ADE-ON862574B2.006E1095-862574B2.00780BD0@us.ibm.com>
> Would alternative formats fall under the category of web accessibility?

In my opinion, in general, yes. 

1. For example, many consider text alternative to non-text content to be 
an alternative format of the same content. That is the fundamental basis 
of WCAG 2.0 Guideline 1.1 - read more about understanding text 
alternatives at http://www.w3.org/TR/UNDERSTANDING-WCAG20/text-equiv.html

2. And many consider making content available in multiple FILE formats as 
a valid and useful technique for making web content or applications 
accessible to more people, independent of disability.  We should probably 
ask you to expand your questions to be more explicit - as in
        Alternative (file?) formats (of what? content) fall under the 
category of web accessibility (WCAG or 508 standards)?

For example, PDF file format of content could be made directly accessible 
(compliant with technical standards) with tagging and such, but also by 
making (providing an alternative format) the content available in another 
format - such as accessible HTML format.  Another example is making 
PowerPoint (PPT) documents posted on web sites available in an alternative 
format such as Rich Text Format (RTF). 

Interestingly, the term "file formats" is not explicitly discussed in 
either the WCAG Techniques [2] or Understanding [1] documents. probably 
something we should send to the editors.

The theory or principle is that the 'guidelines' apply to any and all file 
formats (also referred to as technologies), whether they be HTML, SMIL, 
PDF, RTF, etc. and the 'techniques' apply to specific file format or 
technologies.  So the long held notion that a particular file format is or 
isn't accessible has been omitted from the documents by the more academic 
approach of "provid[ing] the basic goals that authors should work toward 
in order to make content more accessible to users with different 
disabilities." [WCAG 2.0 Guidelines definition Note 3].

And, because we often confuse the "policy" from the "technical standard" 
and that WCAG 2.0 is a technical standard and not a policy, we need to 
make provisions in the policies for the anomalies for problems in the 
technical standards that occur with different or competing file formats. 
For example, one file format may have a way (capability) for marking up 
language different from the base document while another file format may 
not (or not yet) have that capability.  So depending on which way one is 
converting formats, you end up with different policy decisions.  If I have 
a document in a format that doesn't support language tags, but convert it 
to a document that does support language tags, is it compliant or not 
without the language tags being added?  If the document (or content) was 
in a format that provided language tags and gets converted into a format 
that doesn't have the capability, is it less accessible (less compliant) 
with the technical standard? And then when you have a document that 
doesn't have different languages in the same document or file or page - 
does it matter?  Are not both file formats of the same content just as 
compliant with the technical standards?  The debate often slips back into 
the "file format wars", where you hear automatic assumptions that HTML is 
more accessible than 'pick-your-other-file-format', or not as widely 
supported by blah blah blah, or whatever. 

The point I'm getting to is that neither WCAG, 508, or any of the other 
"standards" really address which file formats are better or worse 
alternatives to the other - they really only address if the particular 
file format of the particular content is complaint or not with the 
particular set of technical provisions (guidelines) - and in my opinion 
should probably stay that way to avoid getting into policy decisions and 
anti-innovations issues.

Phill Jenkins
IBM Research - Human Ability & Accessibility Center

1 Understanding WCAG 2.0        http://www.w3.org/TR/UNDERSTANDING-WCAG20/
2.Techniques for WCAG 2.0       http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20-TECHS/
3 WCAG 2.0 requirements http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/
Received on Wednesday, 27 August 2008 21:52:10 UTC

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