Re: "Text-Only" Versions Considered Harmful

At 10:26 AM 2/14/2001, Jon Hanna wrote:
>Hash: SHA1
>Well they are by me, and I was going to explain why in an article for
>a local group, but I don't want to re-invent the wheel. Does anyone
>know of a similar article anywhere?

I think it's important to define what you mean by "text only" and
under what circumstances those "text only" pages are generated.

The most common use of text only pages has been when someone creates
an inaccessible graphically rich web site -- say, they leave out
alt text -- and then builds a "text only" version which is supposed
to be easier to use.  The problems with such a page include:

(1) They serve as an "excuse" for not making the main page more
     accessible; why add alt text if you have a text only page?  (Well,
     there are many good reasons, but this is example of an incorrect
     approach to the problem!)

(2) Many times the content is not the same as the graphical
     site; this may be due to limited resources to create the text
     only version, resulting in a curtailed version of the info on
     the site.  Alternately, this may be a maintenance problem which
     means the text only info is not in the update cycle and thus
     can be "behind" the current info on the graphical site.

(3) Finally, many "text only sites" are poorly designed by people
     who don't understand the concept of structured HTML to begin
     with, which means that the text version may not actually be
     more accessible at all!  E.g. wrapping a page in <pre> does
     not really help all that much.

So, that's the problem with "text only."  However, with the increasing
use of database-driven web sites and the ability to generate alternate
interfaces (c.f. Edapta), it is possible to create dynamically
generated web interfaces which amount to a "text only" view of a page
which ignore the traditional pitfalls associated with that term.

So it becomes not as simple as merely stating that "text only
versions are harmful" but rather saying "poorly done text only sites
are harmful."  A carefully built site edapted for screen reader users,
for example, has many benefits over a single-presentation, "degrades
gracefully" web site.


Kynn Bartlett <>
Technical Developer Liaison
Customer Management/Edapta
Reef North America
Tel +1 949-567-7006

Received on Friday, 16 February 2001 11:36:04 UTC