Accessibility - A perfect solution?

Let me begin by stating that I am all for accessibility.  At least as it is
defined by the 508.  I do not agree with all of the priority 1 guidelines
from the WAI however.  And, by the way, they ARE guidelines.  Not rules.
The 508 standard is a LAW so we must follow that but the WAI is not a law so
does not required implementation.  Some things in the WAI are covered by the
508 while other items are slightly modified.

In general, there are people who have various disabilities and these people
should be access our web sites.  As I've said, I'm all for this.  Where we
reach a dilemma is when we desire to build a nich 'high-tech' web site with
eye candy galore and then realize that to make it 508 compliant is either
impossible or cost prohibitive.

One solution could be to have user agents identify any accessibility
software/hardware to the host server upon a file request.  The server could
then include particular style sheets or 'filter' the requested document
through an in-process package to make the requested page accessible for the
technology that is being used by the requestor.

Scenario number 1:  A deaf person requests your web page which contains
audio (not related to content) and video which is part of the content.  The
in-process application would take note of the fact that the person is using
assitive technology for the deaf (whatever that may be) and modifies the
requested page to (a) remove the non-content audio, and (b) provide a link
to the transcript of the video or to a SMIL compliant video.

A non-disable person would get the site without modifications.

Scenario number 2:  A blind person requests a web page from your server and
it contains animated files and movies and other such things they will be
unable to enjoy.  The in-process application would again identify the fact
that they are using assistive technology (screen reader or braille) and
modify the requested page to remove the video and replace it with a text
transcript; add accesskey attributes to links if not already present; and
any other things which would minmize the hassle that the visually impaired
must experience when visiting most web sites.  I've only used IBM's Home
Page Reader to see what it was like and even a simple page was hard to
navigate and easy to lose myself in.  Complex pages would only be that much
worse.  If a blind person could access any web site and have it configured
to the minimum he/she needs to access the data (that's the important part
after all), then this kind of tool would be a great boon to them all.  They
don't really need a graphic sent to the page, just a description.  Maybe the
tool could have configuration settings to allow the user to enable certain
things such as graphics to always be sent.  Somewhere, there is a blind
person who regularly saves images and forwards them to friends based on the
alt text sounding cool.  Can't preclude that with this tool but it could be
an optional event.

With the in-process application, we could deliver entirely different pages
to the disable/impaired people without having to 'code down' as I've seen
some mention on this list.  This application would not take a poorly
designed site and 'make it right' but it could modify it for the person
requesting it so that it worked well on their assistive technology.

This application could also be extended to browser types so we can
automatically detect if the browser is capable of style or not.  If not, the
in-process application could modify the document on-the-fly with the
associated style sheet by adding the style content into the html.
Positioning would be hard or impossible to figure out with the application
but there can be a code to preclude such processing too if need be.  We
might also be able to determine is styles or scripting is simply disabled in
the browser and either prompt the user or reconfigure the page to accomodate
their preferences.  It is their browser after all and if they want to
disable such things, they can.

Now, admittedly, this is an imperfect solution.  Please refrain from any
nitpicking of it to death.  It is presented as a theoretical solution.  As
of today, I do not believe that the user agents 'send' any kind of
identifying data with each file request.  Doesn't mean they won't in the
future.  It is just an idea.

A prediction I'll make is that any company producing this kind of in-process
application would flat make tons of money.  And, if you need someone to be
the developmental lead on it...well, you know how to reach me.  :)

Jim Fitzgerald
FDC Logicon - Space Gateway Support, Kennedy Space Center

Received on Tuesday, 23 January 2001 13:01:23 UTC