Elements or Lower

Wed, 04 Aug 2004

More on “Text Only” Versions

The Register is carrying a story lifted from IT Analysis that’s essentially a plug for UsableNet’s LIFT Transcoder, which seems to act in a way not unlike the BBC’s old BETSIE filter.

The story claims that, whilst it’s only a “band-aid fix” for sites that are otherwise inaccessible, a text-only site is nonetheless an “ideal solution for a small group of users”. The author seems to feel that adding a text-only layer (using automated tools such as the LIFT transcoder) to any site, even if it’s already accessible, is a positive thing.

I guess this is another side to the debate, and I’d be genuinely interested to know the extent to which others feel the addition of a text-only layer to an otherwise WAI-kosher site is valuable. Whilst Matt and I ended up agreeing to disagree on whether the use of terms like “segragation” was appropriate, our brief email (and blog-comment) conversation made me realise that the real focus of his anger was the way some sites pay lip-service to accessibility by tacking on a badly-maintained and begrudging text-only version. It’s much easier to see someone’s point when you no longer feel they’re attacking you.

Whilst it’s not strictly a text-only version, I’ve been giving the whole issue of the value of our “Easy Access” version more thought, in lieu of being able to actually knuckle down on the CSS-only redesign of the Woking site.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Easy Access version is worth keeping, because:

  1. It offers a genuinely useful alternative view of the site content, that can strive for truly-comprehensive, AAA-level accessibility, in ways beyond the design changes afforded by a simple CSS-switcher.

  2. It offers a better screen-to-printout relationship for a “printer-friendly” view of the page.

We may have to re-brand it, though, to emphasise the idea that the main site will have become (at least) AA-level accessible itself. And then, I hope, we can go for RNIB accreditation on the main site. When we first launched the Easy Access site, the RNIB refused to assess it independently of the main site, claiming that we couldn’t get the award unless the main site passed muster. We felt aggrieved by this, because it represented a profound change of policy. So, although we thought that the main site would probably pass anyway, we never pursued it further. If the Easy Access version becomes simply a “graphics-lite” version, reopening that wound may become a realistic prospect.