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RE: LIFT Text Transcoder

for

From: Philip Kiff
Date: Jul 26, 2006 9:50AM


Another overly long post. Too much time on my hands this morning.

On July 26, 2006 06:08 EST, Jason Taylor wrote:
> In light of your recent postings on WebAim I wanted to extend an
> invitation to you all to become more educated with how LIFT Text
> Transcoder works...
[....]
> I would be happy to take you through a simple web demo to help you
> see why many are adding this to their overall strategy....

I think it is pretty clear how it works and no additional demo is necessary.
The Text Transcoder pulls the page from the source, manipulates it and
augments it according to specs and "annotations", then sends it to the user
as a new, improved page. With the use of these "annotations", page content
can be programmatically re-coded and/or re-ordered. The product also
provides users with the option of selecting various layout options for
themselves. That about covers it, right?

As a piece of technology, it is neat-o: I am always interested in seeing how
website data can be manipulated. But that doesn't make it a solution I
would recommend except in very special and/or temporary circumstances. I
feel the same way about the Apache server mod_accessibility that I mentioned
in my earlier post.

The criticisms I listed against the use of a text-only (or "dynamic
assistive friendly view") version still stand, I think. And now that I read
them, the ones that Tim identified on his blog posting back in 2003 all seem
to continue to apply as well.

On July 26, 2006 06:08 EST, Jason Taylor wrote:
> I hope you agree that having this ability to quickly improve a sites
> access without having to find and schedule the changes on the original
> site is powerful. Although we would agree and continue to encourage
> our customers in better original design (we even sell tools to help
> with this), many times the resources are not allocated quickly enough
> and assistive users get left out. With this solution we can act as a
> partner to the organization and help quickly to improve vast amounts
> of content.

Yes, this seems to me to be the strength of the product and the service
provided by LIFT. Speed. And yes, I am impressed with the example of the
service you can provide by putting through overnight changes to your Text
Transcoder version of the UGA site. But that's not a strong enough selling
point for me.

Besides, it is difficult to evaluate the actual value of the service in this
particular case without knowing the costs involved, reviewing the total UGA
web budget, and understanding how this fits in to the overall UGA site
development plans. I mean, this is summertime, right? Having an overnight
turnaround on changes to the Text Transcoder version of a university website
in the summer is not really necessary. And a site the size of UGA shouldn't
be resorting to quick fixes...UGA has a total annual budget of 1.3 billion
dollars, they've got their own massive IT department with hardware resources
that lots of companies can only dream of, and an entire computer science
department (with both an MA and a PhD program) full of bright, energetic
website whizzes who are struggling right now to find enough paid summer work
to get them through the next academic year. These students would LOVE to
get a well-paid job working on the UGA site. Why would UGA (or any other
university for that matter) even consider turning to an out-of-house
solution for anything to do with their own website? Indeed, I bet I could
make a good case that in the long-run a university will actually save money
by investing now in the human resources required to improve their site now,
in-house rather than off-loading it to a service like LIFT Text Transcoder.
But I digress...

On July 24, 2006 17:45 EST, Ann Jenkins wrote:
>> I don't know anything about the product except what is on their web
>> site, and I realize UsableNet LIFT products are reputable, but
>> somehow this feels like a
>> quick fix, too good to be true solution to their web accessibility
>> problems. I felt a bit alarmed that they think this can meet their
>> government required accessibility problems. Any thoughts?

On July 26, 2006 06:08 EST, Jason Taylor wrote:
> ...Although we would agree and continue to encourage
> our customers in better original design (we even sell tools to help
> with this), many times the resources are not allocated quickly enough
> and assistive users get left out.

On July 26, 2006 07:44 EST, Patrick Lauke wrote:
> However, particularly in certain management circles, LIFT won't be
> seen as
> a transitional solution (until the original is made more accessible),
> but
> as a permanent one (why do we now need to make the original more
> accessible? we've just spent money on that text only version, that
> covers us doesn't it?)

I am happy to hear that LIFT continues to encourage clients to improve the
original design of their sites to improve accessibility. And I am quite
certain that LIFT and its entire staff are 110% committed to web
accessibility issues. However, the danger that Patrick identifies is real,
as evidenced by Ann's original question. Non-technical managers who are
looking to meet governmental or legal obligations may very well see the LIFT
Text Transcoder as a quick fix method to accessibility problems. It fits
very well into a common management problem-solving structure: throw some
money at the problem, assign the responsibility to an external body, and
then simply forget about it until a complaint comes in. I would hope that
the community of people working on web accessibility issues would discourage
this kind of approach and instead highlight the value of making incremental,
ongoing improvements to a website -- not only because this will benefit
people with disabilities, but because that is the correct, long-term
solution for all users in almost all cases.

The WCAG 1.0 includes specific mention of the use of "alternative" versions
of pages and it discourages against it:
"Content developers should only resort to alternative pages when other
solutions fail because alternative pages are generally updated less often
than "primary" pages. An out-of-date page may be as frustrating as one that
is inaccessible since, in both cases, the information presented on the
original page is unavailable. Automatically generating alternative pages may
lead to more frequent updates, but content developers must still be careful
to ensure that generated pages always make sense, and that users are able to
navigate a site by following links on primary pages, alternative pages, or
both. Before resorting to an alternative page, reconsider the design of the
original page; making it accessible is likely to improve it for all users."
(Note to 11.4: <http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT-TECHS/#gl-use-w3c>; )

I think that the purpose of including the possibility of "alternative"
versions is really to address situations where content simply cannot be made
accessible, i.e. "when other solutions fail", and not really to address
situations where someone just doesn't have the time or money to figure out
the available solution. In that context, I see the LIFT Text Transcoder as
a tool that is interesting as a demonstration of what kinds of site
transformations are currently possible and that may be of use, usually
temporarily, in specific cases, for certain websites, and that is all.

But that is not what a non-technical manager will think when they visit
usablenet.com. No. In fact, on the current home page of usablenet.com
<http://www.usablenet.com/>;, the LIFT Text Transcoder appears under the
heading "ADA Web Solution" and the product's name LIFT Text Transcoder
actually includes the acronym "A.D.A." in parentheses beside the title, as
though it is part of the name itself. And in the copy on the home page it
explains "LIFT Transcoder immediately - at no impact to client IT or web
development resources - creates an accessible (compliant) view of all web
content." The word "compliant" and the repeated use of the acronym ADA
would naturally lead someone to believe that the LIFT Transcoder is the
"solution" for web managers who need to make their sites "compliant" with
the "ADA". In my opinion, this is misleading advertising, and it is adding
to the potential confusion amongst non-technical managers about the purpose
and potential use of the LIFT Transcoder, despite the fact that elsewhere
the usablenet.com site is more clear about the idea of the Transcoder as
just one part of a larger accessibility strategy.

In light of the confusion that this seems to create, I would encourage LIFT
to change some of the promotional copy associated with the LIFT Transcoder
product.

None of this means that the LIFT Text Transcoder is a bad product. It looks
to me to be a great product at doing what it does -- really ingenious in
many ways. It's just that I don't think that function is particularly
useful except in very rare cases. And I also feel that at the moment it may
in fact be encouraging principles or understandings that don't line up with
my personal view of how to promote the use of accessible website design
across the world.

Regards,

Philip Kiff.