FIR, Accepted Defeat!

Relates to Web Standards and Accessibility, CSS Design

Ok, yet another FIR technique has been created by Levin Alexander to resolve the inherent problem for CSS enabled browsers with images disabled. While this solution does display the header in plain text when images are disabled, it falls foul of reintroducing a span element, which the techniques of Stuart Langridge and Seamus Leahy had tried to resolve. While this new approach makes nice use of the relativeabsolute relationship between parent and child in CSS positioning, it fails with transparent PNG (or GIF) header graphics, and for any design with coloured background, transparency is a prerequisite to avoid visual discrepancy between the browser interpretation of the color and that defined in the image file.

Determined to resolve this, I tried changing visibility, third dimension placement (z-index) and container heights, but there is always going to be one scenario that breaks the hack. Since FIR and its many derivatives are just that, a hack, I have come to the conclusion that FIR by itself cannot succeed as an Accessibility tool. It does present an excellent method for separating design and content, implementing alternative graphics with each stylesheet, and fortifying the semantics of the XHTML document's markup. But once accessibility is contemplated, other methods must also be introduced to present each user with the same material. The obvious way to acheive this is to use a Stylesheet Switcher to offer a plain text version of the page. Here I am not talking about the plain text of 90's websites, where the content of the site must be completely duplicated in the appropriate format. With the tools of the DOM the same XHTML marked-up page can be used, and a simple alternative stylesheet created to display plain text for the entire site.

So the graphic design version of the site can implement a FIR technique to ensure the content does not contain superfluous code. For example a header would be just a header.

<h1 id="header">This is the page header</h1>

And the stylesheet would implement FIR to replace the text with the graphic. This can offer an accessible page to most users. For the neglected few, switching to the plain text style sheet presents the header as is (there are simply no FIR techniques declared). Hence, users browsing with CSS enabled browsers with images disabled can also access all the material. Everyone is happy!?

Well there is still the possibility of a user with CSS-enabled browser, no images and no Javascript! Then what? Fall back to server-side scripting perhaps, with a GET string appended to a URI in the Stylesheet Switcher anchor when it is loaded (using the noscript tag). Then the correct stylesheet for the pulled page can be set as default before the page is sent to the client.

Posted on Monday, Aug 18, 2003 at 20:00:46.

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