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  1. #1
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    Is a text-only version of your site necessary? (split from "Browsers for the blind")

    Hey everybody,

    (Yes, I have been dead for a year. I'm back now! muahahahahaha)

    Back to the topic at hand, even screen readers can be a pain with the most compliant of websites. Consider creating a text-only version of your website. If you're using SSI or some form of it (like in PHP)—which you should already be doing anyway—it's very easy. With SSI, just create a second version of your pages and have them include the text-equivalent of your navigation system at the bottom of the page. Don't make people read through all your navigation before getting to the page. Or, make a brief navigation up top and the long one at the bottom.

    Have a look at this text-only version of the website for Guide Dogs for the Blind: http://www.guidedogs.com/NOPICS/home.html. They did a fantastic job with theirs.

    Just one more thing: make sure you provide a link at the top of your pages with a "Follow this link for a text-only version of this website." And for the record, text-only pages are not only good for those people who are visually-impaired, but they're also great for people on dial-up who don't care about your fancy graphics and flash animations.
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    gingham dress, army boots... silver trophy redux's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JustForWebmasters
    Back to the topic at hand, even screen readers can be a pain with the most compliant of websites. Consider creating a text-only version of your website.
    creating a text only version of a site is pretty much unnecessary if you stick to standards, separate content from presentation, use clean, structural markup and ensure that rich media elements degrade gracefully...

    With SSI, just create a second version of your pages and have them include the text-equivalent of your navigation system at the bottom of the page. Don't make people read through all your navigation before getting to the page. Or, make a brief navigation up top and the long one at the bottom.
    that's really a matter of taste, and with the recent, widespread best practice of providing skip links (in two flavours: skip to the content, followed by navigation and content, or skip to the navigation, followed by content and then navigation) it's fairly irrelevant.

    otherwise, imagine the reverse situation: don't make people trawl through the entire content of your page, if all they want to do is get to the navigation...

    And for the record, text-only pages are not only good for those people who are visually-impaired, but they're also great for people on dial-up who don't care about your fancy graphics and flash animations.
    again, if you separate content from presentation, and ensure graceful degradation, this is a moot point.
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    Hi redux,

    I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. Just a question, and I don't mean to make this into a real heated argument, but have you ever used a screen reader or Braille display on a computer?

    if there are a ton of graphics, even with ALT attributes, it's a pain! Text-only sites are the best for screen readers and Braille displays. A blind person cannot tell the screen reader, "Only start reading at this point." Sure, they can skip over your navigation, but it's much easier to just have a text-only version.

    And about the navigation at the bottom: a person who sees without restriction will not likely be the person reading this. They will just skip past the link to the text-only version. (Unless of course they want the no graphics, then they'll just have to deal with it.) But again, for screen readers and Braille displays, navigation at the bottom is the best.
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  4. #4
    gingham dress, army boots... silver trophy redux's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JustForWebmasters
    have you ever used a screen reader or Braille display on a computer?
    i'm an intermediate level JAWS user, yes.

    if there are a ton of graphics, even with ALT attributes, it's a pain!
    that is completely up to the designer, and how they implement the images and the alt. yes, if they bloody stick descriptive ALTs even on purely decorative images, or stick the images right in the middle of the text with no consideration how the whole thing would linearise and read once the image is replaced with its alt text, then yes, it's a problem. *but* it is quite easy to do, with a bit of care.

    Text-only sites are the best for screen readers and Braille displays.
    it's dangerous to make sweeping, generalised statements like this. i have a few blind colleagues who would beg to differ with you.

    A blind person cannot tell the screen reader, "Only start reading at this point." Sure, they can skip over your navigation, but it's much easier to just have a text-only version.
    screenreaders such as JAWS have a huge array of quite sophisticated ways to navigate a page, skip to the next link, skip to the next heading, skip to the next heading on the same level, skip to the next paragraph, skip to the next line, etc...

    And about the navigation at the bottom: a person who sees without restriction will not likely be the person reading this. They will just skip past the link to the text-only version. (Unless of course they want the no graphics, then they'll just have to deal with it.) But again, for screen readers and Braille displays, navigation at the bottom is the best.
    you lost me there with your first bit. however, your last sentence is again opinion wrapped up in the semblance of a dogmatic rule.

    saying that sites should have a text only version is a bit like saying that each building should have a special "disabled" access around the back. sure, you could have it, but why not consider actually ensuring that your main entrance at the front serves all your visitors, regardless of disability? it's not rocket surgery, it's fairly straightforward to do, it's just that designers seem to lack the understanding (or willingness to understand?)...and then they see "make a text only version" and think that will be the solution to all their accessibility problems.

    not having a go, just ensuring that web developers with less experience in this field don't just stumble across your clear cut "text-only = best for the blind" statement and take it as a rule. it's a subjective opinion. i'm happy to agree to disagree, just making sure that it's more obviously stated.
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  5. #5
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    SitePoint Enthusiast PurplePenny's Avatar
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    The RNIB disapproves of text-only versions:

    http://www.rnib.org.uk/xpedio/groups...dwebsites.hcsp
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  7. #7
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    From the RNIB site:
    Providing an alternate text only version of a website can actually reinforce the sense of exclusion that people with disabilities already feel. Text only versions of websites tend not to be equivalent versions of graphical and media rich versions.

    Maintaining dual versions of a website can become costly. If not running on a Content Management System text versions make more work in the long run as both versions need to be updated simultaneously. Ultimately, not designing for accessibility could lead to an expensive retrofit in the future.
    Okay, again, coming from somebody who is visually-impaired...sense of exclusion? hardly! I would actually be impressed if a website took the time to create a text-only version of a site for me. It would assist me in my ultimate goal: getting to the information. Many times, I don't care about some fancy graphics-version. I'm happy using my text-version so I get to my information faster. And about becoming costly? Give me a break! PHP/mySQL or something similiar makes this easy! just create a second PHP, have the page pull the same information out of the database, just present it differently. (Hey, then look: you have a printer-friendly version AND a text-only version on the same page!)

    And no offense Indian, but that site does not do much for me. The writer spends the majority of his time talking about how text-only versions of websites are bad because people ignore other accessibility standards in their graphics-version. Take caution not to do this, and suddenly that author's statements are no longer at issue.

    Look: the bottom line is, I prefer text-only versions when I'm using my Braille display or screen reader. Some people, as always, will disagree with me. I originally posted this to help the person who started the "Browsers for the Blind" thread. I did not intend for this to evolve into a "is text-only good or bad?" thread. I was originally merely trying to make the argument that at times text-only can be great for some people.
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  8. #8
    Robert Wellock silver trophybronze trophy xhtmlcoder's Avatar
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    A good site can become the equivalent of a text only site if the user disables the CSS and images and if semantically built as was previously stated in general there should not be the need to create a special additional version.

    If an additional version has to be created then there is strong possibility the original site is lacking in quality.

    Obviously if you want to make a site that panders towards certain vendors of screen readers then fair enough but that's a slippery-slope and narrowly focused.

    Unless of course your site caters especially for a special interest accessibility group that rely on such devices, it's not just those with visual problems that find sites hard to read.

  9. #9
    eCommerce specialist hotnuts21's Avatar
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    I think that the RNIB campaign for accessible websites is a very good thing and I agree with most of what they write. After all being the Royal National Institute for the Blind they do have the best interest of their goup at heart. But there campaign is not just to help promote good standards for people with sight disabilities but to encourage general good practice.

    What they are saying is that if a site is designed correctly using standards and following good guidelines, then when you visit that site using a text or braile based browser you will get everything you are supposed to get in the right way and it will still be accessible to you, in the same way as a text only site is. Well more or less
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    eCommerce specialist hotnuts21's Avatar
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    Im probably going to contradict myself here (no suprise).

    I was reading an article today about the upcoming Disability Discrimination Act that comes into force here in the UK in October. This basically says that all websites should be accessible to everyone, by october and all new sites built should also bear this in mind.
    The company that wrote the article gave a link to their own website which is accessible www.it3.com and were talking about this is the way to make your site accessible. However if you look at there site they do what we have talked about above. They are providing a link to an accesible version of their site, in fact a few different versions of accessible sites. You can read the article on there too.

    So although the RNIB dont reccomend having seperate linke for accessible sites, with the upcoming law do you think that it is an acceptable thing to do for already built sites? Having an option for accessible sites?
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  11. #11
    Wanna-be Apple nut silver trophy M. Johansson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by redux
    creating a text only version of a site is pretty much unnecessary if you stick to standards, separate content from presentation, use clean, structural markup and ensure that rich media elements degrade gracefully...
    If you are designing for cell phones, it isn't. Even if your markup looks good on a vanilla cell phone, it will still have huge problems with downloading the damn thing, because bandwidth is so limited. When you are designing for mobile devices, you should keep the data you send to the device at an absolute minimum.
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  12. #12
    gingham dress, army boots... silver trophy redux's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hotnuts21
    I was reading an article today about the upcoming Disability Discrimination Act that comes into force here in the UK in October. This basically says that all websites should be accessible to everyone, by october and all new sites built should also bear this in mind.
    the article is misinformed. october 2004 is the deadline for adjustments to the physical environment. although case law will hopefully cement this once and for all, websites are not part of the "physical environment", but part of the core "provision of service", hence any inaccessible sites are already in breach of the DDA.

    furthermore, it's definitely not "all sites", but only sites that fall under the provisions of goods and services. private homepages etc are exempt.

    The company that wrote the article gave a link to their own website which is accessible www.it3.com
    considering that on first visit i was immediately face with two basic problems on their site (see http://www.accessifyforum.com/viewto...?p=11859#11859 ), i can't really put that much trust in the company and their opinion...aeh...article
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    gingham dress, army boots... silver trophy redux's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by M. Johansson
    If you are designing for cell phones, it isn't. Even if your markup looks good on a vanilla cell phone, it will still have huge problems with downloading the damn thing, because bandwidth is so limited. When you are designing for mobile devices, you should keep the data you send to the device at an absolute minimum.
    yes, bandwidth is an issue, but technically a site designed to standards is accessible on those devices, provided they follow the standard (which they should, according to UAAG http://www.w3.org/TR/UAAG10/ )

    i've always argued, however, that - going beyond the mere theoretical, technical accessibility of markup - one should also consider multi-modal delivery of content: the server would make the content available in a tailored fashion, leaving the user to decide how they want to access it (and, to take it further, also taking into consideration a profile of the user's device's capabilities - whether the device supports audio, full motion video, colour - and the user's content preferences - whether they want graphics, or pure text, for instance - which should both be passed on to the server).

    this, however, goes beyond the discussion at hand here.
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    To all those who keep saying that a "text-only" version is bad because it promotes bad design in the first place, could somebody please explain to me why the American Foundation for The Blind (www.afb.org) and the Chicago Guild for the Blind (www.guildfortheblind.org) both have links at the top that say, "Change Font Color and Size"?
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    eCommerce specialist hotnuts21's Avatar
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    Sure,

    When you click on the change font sizes and colours, the new site IS NOT a text only site, it still shows all the images etc, and is the same layout, unless you change it .

    The american institute for the blind DOES NOT offer a text only version(or at least one i could not see) of there website, and im guessing that its for the same reason the British equivelant of that charity the RNIB also doesnt reccomend text only sites.

    The Chicago site does offer a text only version, but it also offers the chance to change just the text colour background etc.
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    SitePoint Enthusiast trigxine's Avatar
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    On the matter of cell phones: It's preposterous to think that you should be forced to create a text-only version by hand, but if a CMS or news script can create RSS feeds, there are plenty of ways to parse XML feeds into just about anything, including WML pages.

    On the matter of "if there are a ton of graphics, even with ALT attributes, it's a pain!": That's entirely accurate, which is why there are the plethora of CSS image replacement techniques. On cell phones or on screen readers, instead of getting an image or even an alt attribute, the client will just see a structured headline with meaningful content. Most of the time, if good clean coding practices are followed, things will just degrade into forms that are useful, without having to create a whole seperate page.

  17. #17
    gingham dress, army boots... silver trophy redux's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JustForWebmasters
    To all those who keep saying that a "text-only" version is bad because it promotes bad design in the first place, could somebody please explain to me why the American Foundation for The Blind (www.afb.org) and the Chicago Guild for the Blind (www.guildfortheblind.org) both have links at the top that say, "Change Font Color and Size"?
    ok, as hotnuts already points out, the "change colors and text size" on AFB is not a "text only" site. and when you do make changes, it still goes to the same pages, just servicing different styles.

    the guild's site is made up of such outdated, kludged, presentational, crap markup that their only chance of making it accessible *is* in fact serving an alternative
    let's take a chunk of their markup as an example of the horrors of early 90's html
    Code:
    </font></p><p><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">&nbsp; 
          </font></p><p><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">&nbsp; 
          </font></p><p align="center"><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif"><img alt="Latest News" src="graphics/hd_news.gif" border="0" height="25" width="565">
    oh...lovely.

    i said it before, and it still stands: a site that is created with standards, uses a clean separation of content and presentation, doesn't use font tags, spacer graphics, decorative images as IMG tags (they should preferrably be in the background via CSS, or at least have a null ALT=""), is built with considerations for linearisation does NOT need an extra text only version, as the markup is already as accessible as possible and a, when read out by a screenreader or presented on a braille display etc, is indistinguishable from a "proper" text only version.
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    eCommerce specialist hotnuts21's Avatar
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    Just looking around there site again, (it3.com) and I notice they are now marketing a tool to make your site accessible and DDA compliant for any website.

    Textualise.
    By a simple click of a button Textualise will automatically create a text only version of your website

    But my question still stands, does this make your site accessible and in accordance with the DDA really? Also is it a good intermediate step between having a semi ok site and a site that is fully standards compliant?
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    gingham dress, army boots... silver trophy redux's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by trigxine
    On the matter of "if there are a ton of graphics, even with ALT attributes, it's a pain!": That's entirely accurate,
    not really, if done properly. again:

    - images which are purey presentational should be removed, and css used to place them in the background where relevant;
    - failing that, purely decorative images should be given a null ALT attribute, which then causes assistive technology (screenreaders etc) to ignore them completely
    - in any event, images should not be used for layout purposes (spacer graphics etc)...CSS should be used for that instead
    - if images do have a proper ALT, they convey meaning, they contain content. removing them removes content.
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    gingham dress, army boots... silver trophy redux's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hotnuts21
    But my question still stands, does this make your site accessible and in accordance with the DDA really?
    the DDA is case law. only a court can decide if a text only version fulfills the legal obligations. i say no, because text only does not cater for the full range of potential disabilities. e.g.: does textualise create transcripts of audio/video ? no, it doesn't...so a deaf/hard of hearing person is still left with a potentially inaccessible site. saying that textualise solves all these problems is ridiculous, and dare i say it, false advertising.

    Also is it a good intermediate step between having a semi ok site and a site that is fully standards compliant?
    no, because for most people deploying these text only versions, that's it. they feel they've done their job. keep their main site as inaccessible as possible, and then say "hey, we've done our bit, see? it's got a text-only version". it's not an intermediate step for them, it's the finished deal.
    text only *can* be a stop-gap solution, but needs to be part of a wider strategy for the full conversion of a site to a fully accessible, single version. the way these products are marketed, they do pretend to be the be all and end all.
    Last edited by redux; Jul 31, 2004 at 17:56.
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    eCommerce specialist hotnuts21's Avatar
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    SitePoint Enthusiast trigxine's Avatar
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    failing that, purely decorative images should be given a null ALT attribute, which then causes assistive technology (screenreaders etc) to ignore them completely
    That may be true of screen readers, but text-based browsers (like Lynx), if they see an image with a null alt, they display the URI of the image. Funny, that doesn't strike me as accessible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by xhtmlcoder
    If an additional version has to be created then there is strong possibility the original site is lacking in quality.
    Well said xhtmlcoder.

    If the site is dynamic there is no need to have a second version. For example you could make a PHP function that will change the page to read a “text only" version of the CSS. This is very easy to do with little skill or effort.

    This thread is great. I must say that I haven't read a whole thread of this size in a while but I was glued to the arguments.
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    Text only is boring even books have illustrated pictures and your website doesn't that is a step backwards and do not let people that use old browsers or mobile phones to surf stop the great evolution of the internet.
    Mobile phones have to be compatible with our websites and not us with mobile phones.

    It is people that not update to a new browser version that slow down evolution, innovation, inventiveness and some other intelligent words I can not spell. This counts for the internet, the world and everything else.
    Analyze only 1 day of your life and you will see who much people stop you from innovating and inventing new things because the can not follow you, are intimidated by you or most likely are too lazy.
    Follow me to the better place and easier way or stay behind but don't you dare to block my way!!

    If 5% of your visitors doesn’t have for example: flash or JavaScript.
    Will this stop you from making something that illustrates for example who to tie up your shoes in a trendy way?
    Or will just write a boring article about it so every can read it?
    Or will you do both so every one can read it but by this you will have less time to invent a new trendy way to tie your shoe.

    If you make a text website let it be for its simplicity, informational or SEO reason and not so your website will look good in lynx too. Wake up most of your visitors are not nerds.
    The time where internet and websites where for nerds only is over else I and all you would not have been here right.

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    SitePoint Enthusiast trigxine's Avatar
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    not so your website will look good in lynx too. Wake up most of your visitors are not nerds.
    Or college students. Can't forget those. Or anyone using shell access to get online, or connect to a remote network. My site (the version that isn't public at the moment) is coded in XHTML 1.1, and when I test it in Lynx, lo and behold -- it renders it just fine. Why? Because I used semantically-valid code that breaks down on PC clients. When I open it on my cell phone, it's spaced strangely and only has some of the CSS attributes, leading to a complete mess. But, when I use a simple PHP script to parse the XML feeds of my articles into a WAP page my cell can handle with ease, it cuts load time, but keeps the content.

    Is coding a page seperately necessary? No. But with some scripts, it can be done for you, achieveing the results anyway.


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