Text Only Sites

Introduction

Since the mid 1990s, when web accessibility first emerged as an unarguable concern, ideas and attitudes have evolved to a point where we understand a great deal about not only the technicalities but also the psychology of achieving true accessibility. This evolution of ideas means methods first proposed as ideal solutions for accessibility are now outmoded and no longer provide the sustainability required by content rich web sites and ever widening audiences. Once it was deemed satisfactory to design a web site with unrestrained visual creativity and simply append a text only alternative site to bridge the gap to accessibility. This is no longer necessary. [1] The technology now exists to design a single, visually engaging web site that can be accessed by everybody. Moreover, the importance of considering human nature in achieving this has now propelled web accessibility into a field combining a surprising variety of disciplines. The reasons for choosing this single site approach are not legion but they are compelling:-

  • Cost Effectiveness;
  • Sustainability;
  • Inclusivity.

Cost Effectiveness

It is an insurmountable fact that running two sites, instead of one, will be more expensive. There is simply no way to avoid this. At best it will require additional hosting and storage space in which to house the duplicated pages. If your site is only small then this may not be problematic, but when a site runs to hundreds of pages or more this can represent a significant and unrelenting cost. If your pages are dynamically generated then each additional version of the site will require more processing power. At worst there is the further expense of maintaining the replicated sets of pages and the inevitable increase of web development costs this involves. Both of these financial commitments are continuous and will need to be maintained for as long as the dual web sites exist. Whether you are a private sector organisation, answerable to shareholders, or a public sector body, answerable to the taxpayer, it is difficult to justify increasing project costs to implement an unnecessary solution. There are products that automatically create text only sites such as Content Management Systems, and scripts that will recreate your site without graphics. However, these products cannot add additional information and structural cues that people who use access technologies cannot get out of a regular site. When a regular site (such as this one) is set up to be compliant with international accessibility guidelines [2] and follows web standards, there is no need for a text only version. For example, you can remove images and remove the style to see only this page's text - all without the need for a second version. (JavaScript required for these functions. Press your browser's refresh button to restore this page to its original form.)

Sustainability

The case for removing the distraction of a text only site is profound. The task of attempting to sustain two sites, each on an equal footing, is wasteful of both time and resources. It may also be to the detriment of the organisation's reputation. Demographics clearly indicate that the percentage of people using a text only site will be significantly smaller than the mainstream audience. This means that the majority of traffic will pass through the primary site, generating the most revenue and interest. The logic is therefore to allocate considerable resources to sustaining the site that is driving the organisation forward most effectively, but the inescapable consequence of this is the demise in quality of the secondary site. If the dual sites cannot be sustained with equal vigour and resources, the discrepancy in quality merely grows to a point where the text only site is an appendage without purpose or integrity. It is far better to opt for a single site from the inception and to focus development and effort into sustaining it as a singular example of the brand it represents.

Inclusivity

The brand factor is key to the decision of whether a single or dual site approach is appropriate. It may be believed that an organisation who provides a text only site is acting altruistically. However, when viewed by someone who is compelled to use such a site, the perspective is starkly different. In our recent past we have impelled people to use different services on account of their race and we have insisted that they do different jobs on account of their gender -- we have now come to recognise the error of our ways. Now that the technology exists to offer a single site that is accessible by everybody, do we really want to suggest they use a different one on account of their disability? It is at the very core of humanity to belong to a community. Whether it is a football team, a group of pub regulars or afficionados of a television series, we all band together because we like to feel included. No one likes being excluded, and understanding this is a powerful tool in web accessibility. An organisation that manifests this understanding by choosing one site for all people will benefit from an enhanced brand reputation. In our multicultural society the need to embrace all potential Internet visitors is a requisite for an organisation that aims to be forward thinking and successful. The very people who are assumed to benefit from a text only site would prefer not to use one.

Conclusion

It can all be reduced to a very simple argument. If an organisation is serious about their reputation and quality of service, if they want to be cost and resource effective over a sustained period of time and if they want to be an example of social responsibility -- the single site approach is simply the only choice. 'One for all and all for one!' - Alexander Dumas, 1884.

References and further reading

  1. Accessify: Attractive accessible sites.
  2. W3C: Web content accessibility guideline 11.4
  3. RNIB: Avoid text only sites
 

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