E-mail List Archives

RE: LIFT Text Transcoder

for

From: Philip Kiff
Date: Jul 24, 2006 9:00PM


On July 24, 2006 17:45, Ann Jenkins wrote:
> I am wondering if anyone on this list has any experience with or an
> opinion about the LIFT Text Transcoder...

I have no experience with it, but I have an opinion: LIFT Text Transcoder is
not a good way to address accessibility issues with a major website.

I hadn't taken a look at this before, so I took some time to go through it a
bit just now. Please excuse the overly long response to your short
question.

Most of the standard arguments against creating a second, stand-alone,
text-only version of a site apply equally to creating an on-the-fly
text-only version of a site. For example, (1) It provides many clients with
a second-rate browsing experience. Text-only does not mean accessible to
all: text-only really serves only a specific subset of the much larger group
of users who benefit from a site being "accessible" in other ways. Someone
who is quadriplegic with 20/20 vision and who browses using sip-and-puff
input control does not need or want a text-only version of a site, they just
want a version that is fully accessible to a keyboard user, and that does
not depend too much on fine motor control. An older, novice web user with
weakening, but still good vision does not need or want a text-only site,
they just want a site that will increase font sizes when they use the
View -> Text Size -> Increase in Internet Explorer. (2) There is a tendency
for the "main" or "high graphics" version of a site to get all the design
team's attention, and for the second version of the site to be used as an
excuse not to implement or concentrate on normal accessibility improvements
to the main site. (3) It is not easy to ensure that all users who come to a
site will know or figure out that a text-only version exists.

As an example of how these issues can occur with the LIFT Text Transcoder,
check out the University of Georgia site. This site is listed first in the
set of examples of sites employing LIFT Text Transcoder that appears on the
www.usablenet.com home page. Here is the main page of the U of G as
transcoded by LIFT Text Transcoder:
http://transcoder.usablenet.com/tt/http://www.uga.edu

Click on the main link to the "UGA NEWS Service" and when you get to that
page, ask yourself, where are the headings? where are the skip navigation
links? where are the alt attributes for images on the original page? This
is accessible?:
http://transcoder.usablenet.com/tt/http://www.uga.edu/news/

Something funny I noticed (in a depressing/funny way) is that on the
original hi-graphics version of the UGA NEWS Service page, the "Text Only
version" link is actually a graphic link with tiny letters, and you need
JavaScript enabled to access the link!! Ha, ha. Check it out for yourself:
http://www.uga.edu/news/

And there is no "TEXT-ONLY VERSION" link at all on their Events page, which
is linked prominently from the home page:
https://db.uga.edu/mastercalendar/

On most other UGA pages, the "TEXT-ONLY VERSION" link is at the very bottom
of the page, where admittedly some blind screen reader users may actually
find it, but the link does not actually take you to the text-only version of
the page you are looking at, all the links lead only to the text-only
version of the home page. Hardly a good experience for an end user.

All of the arguments I identified above against using a text-only version
can be found at play in the University of Georgia's current implementation
of the LIFT Text Transcoder. And this is the site that usable.net is
listing on their home page as an example of the LIFT Text Transcoder
technology in action. How bad does it get on sites that they wouldn't
select as an example?

The point here is not that such a technology couldn't be useful in specific
cases for specific user groups, but that it is not a magic pill that will
make all of a site's accessibility issues go away. The amount of time spent
trying to configure the software and re-organize a site to conform to it
would in all likelihood be better spent directly fixing the accessibility
problems on the main site. If you start with a well-formed, well-designed
site, then you will output a beautiful, text-only version. But, hey, then
you wouldn't need the text-only version to begin with, would you?

Also, LIFT Text Transcoder should be compared to:

Betsie
http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/betsie/
This is a free, text-only translator created by the BBC, though it is no
longer updated or used by them I think.

mod_accessibility
http://apache.webthing.com/mod_accessibility/
This is a server mod for Apache servers that can be configured to do fancy
things like create tables of contents or lists of links on the fly as well
as create a text-only version of a page if that is what a client wants.

Phil.