Today, documents are usually prepared electronically using a word processor such as Word or OpenOffice. Such programs allow their users to make good-looking documents easily and quickly. However, there are problems associated with the multitude of different formats and programs used to produce documents. For instance:
- users can become locked into specific file formats;
- conversion to other formats becomes more difficult with time;
- the storage media used can quickly go out of fashion making document retrieval an expensive specialist service;
- formats change over time and vendors might not provide conversion mechanisms from old to new formats.
OUCS has adopted an open, vendor independent format approach to maintain our documentation in an accessible and interchangeable format. Our system uses XML or eXtensible Markup Language to store documents. XML allows the user to develop their own rules to code up their documents. However, there are already many different versions of XML rules available so we do not need to develop anything new for OUCS. Our system uses a modified version of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) XML for writing documentation.
The Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) Guidelines are an international and interdisciplinary standard that enables libraries, museums, publishers, and individual scholars to represent a variety of literary and linguistic texts for online research, teaching, and preservation.
The TEI standard is maintained by a consortium of leading institutions and projects worldwide; Oxford is one of these institutions. Two of the major players in the TEI are members of OUCS: Lou Burnard and Sebastian Rahtz. Lou joined the Text Encoding Initiative project as its European Editor back in 1989 (a post he still holds), while Sebastian is one of the consortium's directors and actively develops the TEI itself.
Since 2002 it has been law to provide documents (including web pages) in accessible formats to users of alternative technologies such as screen readers. The relevant legislation is the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) 2001 which is part 4 of the Disability discrimination Act (DDA). This act brought Education establishments into line with commercial providers in the way that they provide information and services to the disabled community.
The W3C organisation have created various standards for web accessibility. These are:
- Priority 1 (A)
- Priority 2 (AA)
- Priority 3 (AAA)
All OUCS pages should reach level 1 standard. The University has decided that its web sites should ideally conform to the level 2 standard and meet as many level 3 points as possible.
The following document includes details on how to make your XML documents accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Please make sure that you follow these accessibility guidelines - it's the LAW!