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Text is best for website accessibility

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Text is best for a small, but important and growing, group of Internet users, most obviously the blind. Other users who may benefit are users of small form factor devices such as PDAs, users connected by slow lines, or users who need voice response because they are using their eyes for other activities.

However for the majority, a text-only site does not provide the best experience. Use of graphics and multimedia can enhance the message being provided and in many cases make the site easier to use. Users with limited sight, or English as a second language, or reading disabilities, may well find graphic sites more usable.

The accessibility guidelines define how to make a graphic site accessible. They also say that if the site is not, or can not be made, fully accessible a text equivalent site should be provided.

A text-only site is a band-aid fix for a site that is not fully accessible. It is also an ideal solution for a small group of users. The problem is that providing a text-only site manually is expensive and time consuming. Also note the word "equivalent" which has many connotations but implies that the user must get the same content and function as the graphic site. Trying to keep a graphic and a text site equivalent over time is probably beyond the ability of any webmaster doing it manually.

The answer is obviously to automate the process and UsableNet have developed LIFT text transcoder that does precisely that. It sits on the server alongside the website and will convert most any page into to an equivalent text-only version.

The minimum change the webmaster has to do is to add a "text only" button on the home page, or preferably on all pages. Once the user has clicked on that all the pages from that site are rendered as text only, until the user clicks on a button to go back to graphic mode. As part of the function the user can also define parameters for text size, background colour, etc. so creating the best experience for the individual.

It will work on static pages, dynamic pages (e.g. asp, jsp), on pages produced by a Content Management System or pages pulled out of a database; on pages with any sort of Web content and even forms. The transcoder does not automatically process forms that are based on javascript: to properly handle them you need to customize the transcoder.

The transcoder will work with non-accessible sites so providing the band-aid solution but it will also work with a fully accesible site to provide a specialised user interface. Hence it provides both an immediate and long-term solution to improved accessibility.

In an ideal world LIFT text transcoder, or an equivalent, should become a standard part of any website.

© IT-Analysis.com

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