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From: Shawn Lawton Henry
Date: Aug 13, 2004 2:18PM

> We also are implementing a text version.

I have posted before to this list the dangers of text versions for
accessibility. Those who have seen this before, please excuse the
repeat. I feel compelled to send it again as the issue keeps coming up.

- text-only versions are rarely totally equivalent in content to the
graphic ("real") version
- text-only is accessible to some, and not to others; for example people
with cognitive disabilities often benefit from graphical elements such
as effective icons and navigation areas set apart on a coloured
- when there is a text-only version available, developers usually do not
make the graphic ("real") version accessible

From "Understanding Web Accessibility" in "Constructing Accessible
Websites" [1]:

Myth: Just Add a Text-Only Version

A common approach to providing accessible web pages is to design a site,
and then make a separate accessible site, that is, text-only version.
The issue of text-only versions crosses into the idea of separate versus
inclusive design. In today's environment, providing separately developed
sites is rarely the best approach for accessibility, or for business.
(However, providing truly equivalent information that can be accessed
graphically or textually from the same content source is advantageous.)

In the past, common assistive technologies were not able to handle
complex web page designs. For example, screen readers read across the
screen, so multi-column newspaper-style layouts were not usable. It was
nearly impossible at one time to provide visually appealing, complex,
dynamic web sites that were also accessible. Therefore, designers were
faced with the choice of either significant constraints on their design
or providing a text-only version. Now, technologies let you develop
visually appealing, complex, dynamic web sites that are also accessible.
Style sheets offer more presentation functionality, assistive
technologies can handle layout tables, and browsers provide text
resizing. Many recent technologies from the W3C such as Scaleable Vector
Graphics (SVG) actually provide more flexibility for presentation as
well as accessibility support.

There are several problems with providing a separate accessible site:

- Separate versions are rarely equal. When there are two versions of the
site, invariably, the text-only version does not get updated as
frequently as the main version. Even when organizations and individuals
have the best intentions of keeping two sites synchronized, the
realities of deadlines and limited resources interfere. As discussed
overleaf, emerging technologies and methodologies are minimizing this

- The primary version often lacks even the most basic accessibility.
Commonly, developers of alternative accessible text-only sites spend
little effort making the primary site accessible. The alternative site
is often optimized for screen readers, with all information provided
linearly and without graphics and color. However, some people would be
better off using an accessible primary site.

Some new tools generate both a primary site and a text-only site from a
single source of content, supposedly eliminating the first problem
mentioned, that of separate sites not being synchronized. In one such
implementation that I reviewed, the text-only site was fairly close in
content to the primary site. However, the alternative site was missing
promotional material. Therefore, users of the text-only version missed
out on special offers offered through the web site. Clearly this was

Certainly technologies and development efforts are beginning to provide
the tools and methodologies needed to ensure that truly equivalent
multiple versions of a site can be provided. For example, using XSLT to
transform XML documents into other markup more suited for specific
configurations or ASP to dynamically generate pages from database or XML
files. ... This is a promising development.


[1] From "Understanding Web Accessibility" chapter by Shawn Lawton Henry
in "Constructing Accessible Websites" book by Jim Thatcher, Cynthia
Waddell, Shawn Lawton Henry, Sarah Swierenga, Mark Urban, Michael Burks,
Paul Bohman, Publisher: APress; Reprint edition (July 14, 2003), ISBN: