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RE: What assistive technology does (and doesn't do)


From: Rachel Tanenhaus
Date: Dec 17, 2003 8:28AM

Tim gave me this fantabulous response:

<stuff deleted>

> I would say that if the information is not encoded in the mark-up, it
> should somehow be explicitly indicated in the page content.

That's a really useful rule! Thank you so much! (Even better, I can
explain it to designers, and they'll *get* it!)

> This is what I mean.

> <img src="picture.jpg">

> That mark-up tells you that the content is an image. It also
> where the image is located. It does not tell you what information the

> image may contain. Therefore, the alt attribute for the image does
> need to include information such as that this content is an image or
where > it is located (if that is important to the user.) It does need
to contain > other information that is not part of the mark-up for the

> This is why it is so important to separate presentation from
> When the mark-up is serving double duty, it is no longer clear whether
> something like the h1 element is being used to indicate a level 1
> or just that someone wanted to use larger font sizes or whatever.

Indeed. I'll point that out to them too.

> Rachel, I personally have concerns about the approach of designing to
> common functionality. Which AT are we letting set the common
> functionality standard? Are we looking at just the most current
versions > or which versions are owned by what percentage of the user
> When I answer those questions, I also seem to find serious flaws or
> concerns with the answers.

Exactly. And when I see that debate on some of these lists, I've
noticed that it's turned into something of a religious war - no one's
really going to convince anyone else anyway. :)

> I sometimes wonder if the best approach is just to design with
> test with real users (every chance possible,) remain open to
> from customers, and use what you learn to improve upon future efforts.

La. I'm the choir. Preach on. :)

Unfortunately, so many people design web sites these days relying on
their authoring tools rather than knowledge of HTML that "design with
standards" is a new concept for them. I do emphasize in my trainings
that designers should involve real, honest-to-God people with
disabilities in evaluating their sites.

Thanks again for a useful and thoughtful response.


>-----Original Message-----
>[mailto: <EMAIL REMOVED> ]
>Sent: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 1:55 PM
>Subject: What assistive technology does (and doesn't do)
>While giving a web accessibility workshop last week, I was
>approached by a few web designers who had what I thought was
>an excellent question. I had been explaining that there was
>no need to reference a link in the alt text on an image map
>(in other words, one doesn't have to include "link to <foo>"
>in the alt text), because user agents, including various forms
>of assistive technology, were capable of identifying links.
>"So all assistive technology [used for browsing the web] can
>identify when something is a link?" they asked.
>I answered in the affirmative - at least I *think* it all can
>- and they wanted to know if there existed some list of
>functions that all AT could perform, so that they could design
>their web pages accordingly. (frex: they can all identify
>when something's a link, so you don't have to) Is there a
>list of standards to which screen-readers, refreshable Braille
>displays, etc. are designed? I don't know of one, but then
>again, there's lots of stuff I don't know. :) And if no such
>list exists, then how do we know that "all AT" performs a
>given function, and at what point do we say that enough AT
>does something that we can design web pages under the
>assumption that most AT can do that thing?
>Thanks muchly,
>Rachel H. Tanenhaus, MPH
>Information Specialist
>New England ADA & Accessible IT Center
>374 Congress Street, Suite 301
>Boston, MA 02210
>Phone: (617) 695-0085 (v/tty)
>or (800) 949-4232 (v/tty) (in New England)
>Fax: (617) 482-8099
>URL: www.NewEnglandADA.org
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