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Kent State University's Solution

From: Nick Traenkner <nick@contract.kent.edu>
Date: Wed, 22 Apr 1998 10:54:17 -0400
Message-ID: <353E0499.167E@contract.kent.edu>
To: Web Accessiblility Initiative <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
One year ago Kent State University repositioned its web-presence from
academic computing to University Relations and Marketing and
Communications (Media). When this was done they chose our office to
build the "official" site (the portion of the site that provides a
"front door" to the the WWW). One of the requirements for this was
accessibility options.

The foundation of Kent State University's site is textual information:
News stories, biographical paraghraphs, bulletins, etc... With this in
mind we designed the site with the textual content at the center. The
second consideration was the layout of the site, our clients (University
Communications and Marketing) stressed the importance of consistancy
from page to page. It was also brought to our attention that a portion
of the audience is "print impaired". I had never heard this term before.
It was explained to me that "print impaired" refers to those readers who
due to cerebal palsy or near-blindness cannot navigate textual
information. While many print-impaired individuals can see the text on a
page, it takes them much longer to read the layout of a page, and thus
to change their mode of navigation- where the navigation tools are.
Layout was extremely important. We designed the layout of the page so
that links would always be in the same place, navigation toolbars the
same and also consistant. This broke up the textual content mentioned
earlier into two groups: link text and body text. The layout of the page
was built using tables with server-side includes in cells, creating
"templates" that can be easily swapped when a better or different layout
was found to be appropriate.

The third issue, which in fact had been in the plans from the beginning,
was providing a seamless alternate site for those readers who wanted to
browse the site without tables and images. It has been suggested that
providing such alternate pages is in good form with accessibility
guidelines gathered from validators like Bobby. However, many of these
alternate pages require either that readers constantly switch back to a
text only page after selecting alink on a text-only page that refers to
a image/table page or that maintainters of a site reproduce all content
in a text-only form with links changed to the text-only pages. With our
"template" strategy, we found that it was easier to enable different
"views" of the same information. The menubar (a cgi which changes its
form depending on howit is called in the path information) allowed a
mechanisim for transport between these views.

We installed two servers, one on port 80 and one on port 81. The port 80
server (the default) is configured to pull up as its default homepages a
file called index.shtml. The server on port 81 is configured to pull as
default a file called tindex.shtml. index.shtml is the tables/image ssi
template, the tindex.shtml is an ssi template with no images or tables.
All urls in the link text are relative (the homepage is referred to as
"/"). The result is that content need only be edited in one place at one
time, and a reader once shifting over to port 81 (the text site) remains
on port 81 until they switch back over to port 80 (the tables/graphics
site). So far we have had no problems, the site is accessible to text
readers, provides a consistant layout for the visually-abled print
impaired and is easy as pie to maintain.

Nick Traenkner,	design manager 	     		 
Kent Infoworks
pobox 5190 Kent, Ohio 44242-0001
Received on Wednesday, 22 April 1998 10:54:26 UTC

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