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RE: WebCam


From: Paul Bohman
Date: Aug 29, 2002 1:07PM

Your question about captions for webcams brings up some interesting

I was involved in discussions about this very topic during meetings of
the workgroup at the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) for version 2.0
of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. We didn't arrive at any
definitive conclusions that would fit every situation, but there are
some general rules of thumb that you could follow.

The key is to ask yourself what the purpose of your Webcam is. For
example, at Utah State University, there is a Webcam which shows the
campus grounds in front of one of the prominent buildings that we call
"Old Main." This Webcam, in principle, conveys a large amount of
information, but not all of it is relevant to the viewer.

So the first thing to decide is what your purpose is. In the Utah State
University example, my guess is that the purpose is to show the campus
grounds. I'm not the developer of that particular content, so I can't
say that for sure, but that's a pretty good guess. If that's the case,
then I would say that synchronous captions are not important. I would
simply provide a text description of the campus grounds right on the
page itself. I would describe the grass area, the "Old Main" building,
the mountains in the background, and so on.

Just for the sake of argument, let's look at a couple of other potential
purposes for a Webcam at Utah State University. Maybe the purpose of the
Webcam is to show the current weather. If this is the case, you could
probably argue that it would be sufficient to either have current
information about the weather right on the page itself, or provide a
link to a site that provides such information, e.g. weather.com.

You might argue that such a solution would not show the exact same
information about the weather that is available via the Webcam. In some
ways, this is a valid argument. For instance, on a partly cloudy day,
you could look at the Webcam and determine whether it was cloudy in that
particular instant. A person reading the weather information in text
would probably not get such up-to-the-minute information. The text could
say "partly cloudy" but it probably wouldn't be able to say "it is
cloudy right this very second."

Another, completely different scenario: If you have a Webcam pointed at
a stretch of freeway, with the purpose of the webcam being to show how
busy the traffic is, this is a situation where any text equivalents
would have to be updated very frequently. You wouldn't want to have a
static text description, you'd want it to be very dynamic. You'd
probably have to have a human being entering in the text description on
a continual basis, unless you've got the webcam hooked up to an
elaborate system that counts the number of cars as the pass or
something. But do you have to provide this as captioning? Would a text
transcript be sufficient? My personal opinion is that captioning is one
acceptable solution, but that text would work also. In fact, the only
way to make it accessible to screen readers would be to provide a text
version of the information anyway.

You could probably come up with some scenario where captioning would be
more appropriate than text alone, but these situations will be few.

MY CONCLUSION: Evaluate your purpose for the Webcam. Much of the time, a
text description will be sufficient. Sometimes you will need to have a
system that constantly updates the text to match the visual aspect of
the Webcam. Sometimes true captioning will be the best solution.
Sometimes it will be extremely labor intensive to provide a true,
accessible version of a Webcam when the text equivalent and/or captions
must be very current. There is not one solution that fits all scenarios.
Choose the most appropriate one.

And as for the Section 508 requirement and or WAI requirement is
concerned, sometimes you have to look beyond the guidelines just a bit.
The guidelines are there for a reason, but sometimes you just have to
say "my solution really is better." So if providing a text equivalent is
the best solution for your situation, don't go for "compliance", go for

Paul Bohman
Technology Coordinator
WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
Center for Persons with Disabilities
Utah State University

-----Original Message-----
From: Sunghee Oum [mailto: <EMAIL REMOVED> ]
Sent: Thursday, August 29, 2002 11:42 AM