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RE: Debunking the need for "text-only" parallel sites

From: Greg Lowney <greglo@microsoft.com>
Date: Fri, 21 May 1999 07:34:08 -0700
Message-ID: <4FD6422BE942D111908D00805F3158DF159FB9A2@RED-MSG-52>
To: Charles McCathieNevile <charles@w3.org>, Judy Brewer <jbrewer@w3.org>
Cc: Bruce Bailey <bbailey@clark.net>, WAI IG <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
I agree that a text-only site would be a disservice to the majority of
users, and less accessible to many, if it replaced the fully-formatted site,
or did not contain all the information, or was not kept up-to-date. However,
it seems to me that a parallel text-only site adds considerable value when
those pitfalls are avoided.

The Accessibility and Disabilities Group at Microsoft has an automated
system that produces each page in two formats, one fully formatted and one
that is text-only. This ensures that both have the same content and neither
gets out of date. The text-only page provides an accessible experience with
older browsers that don't allow the user to override author colors, fonts,
and font sizes, or don't show the entire ALT text when images are turned
off. It also provides an accessible experience for users running
combinations of browser and screen reader that fail to communicate the
organization of tables and frames; that can be caused either by a limitation
in either the browser or the screen reader, and this still applies to most
blind users at this time. Finally, for blind users running browsers that
don't understand the convention for identifying navigation bars, it moves
the navigation links that are standard on every page to the end instead of
the beginning. 

Right now I only see two ways to provide equal accessibility for users
running older software, one is to provide a version that leaves out certain
things as described above, and the other is to dynamically customize the
pages for every user on the fly. In both cases you're creating a text-only
version, it's just whether you do it when the page changes or every time the
user views a page. The former greatly reduces the burden on heavily used

Additional details about the production of our site and why we do what we do
is on http://microsoft.com/enable/about.htm. 

Also note that we now provide a hotkey that will switch you back and forth
between the fully-formatted and text-only versions of the current page,
allowing more users to rely on the formatted version and switch to text-only
temporarily when they hit something that is difficult for them to read.
(Naturally, though, that hotkey is only available to people running modern


-----Original Message-----
From: Charles McCathieNevile [mailto:charles@w3.org]
Sent: Thursday, May 20, 1999 10:32 PM
To: Judy Brewer
Cc: Bruce Bailey; WAI IG
Subject: Re: Debunking the need for "text-only" parallel sites

Text-only sites assume that people can either make use of everything that a
webmaster can work out how to include, or that they can use nothing but

In fact this is a long way from the case. Many people who are deaf or have
cognitive impairments gain little and lose a lot from a text-only site, and
would be better served by a richer site which followed the guidelines,
especially in regards to structure and organisation of a site. Many blind
users can benefit from audio, which may be included in the multimedia
and left out of the text-only version.  People who have difficulty with
colour seperation do not need to have everything reduced to text, they just
need high contrast.

These are examples of why the guidelines do not promote the use of a
text-only site. The web allows the creation of rich, creatively designed
websites which are accessible to people with a wide variety of disabilities
(as well as others who are using a wide variety of devices - small mobile
devices can often deal with simple graphics, but cannot render large complex
ones, etc)

Charles McCathieNevile

  At 05:21 PM 5/20/99 -0400, Bruce Bailey wrote:
  >I very much appreciate that the "WCAG 1.0" Fact Sheet
  >(http://www.w3.org/1999/05/WCAG-REC-fact#text) goes so far at to say:
  >> Text-only pages should not be necessary to ensure accessibility of Web
  >pages that follow the "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines," except in
  >very rare cases. In fact, text-only pages are frequently
  >to accessibility since they tend to be kept less up-to-date than "primary
  >pages," or in some cases leave out information that is on primary pages. 
  >> Many sites that have made a commitment to accessibility in the past
  >used text-only pages as a solution; however, by following these
  >it should be unnecessary in almost all cases, or even inadvisable, to set
  >up and maintain a separate set of text-only pages. 
  >I agree with all of the above.  I accept it as true.  Now, how do I prove
  >it to others who would advocate for text-only pages?  Can anyone point to
  >me to URLs that present evidence that "text-only" pages are usually NOT
  >parallel with the default version?  Is there any published research that
  >the "text-only" approach, while perhaps having noble intent, is
Received on Friday, 21 May 1999 10:34:18 UTC

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