Isn't Text-Only a Common Practice?
Many sites do offer text-only variants. However, it's ironic that, for example, when we visited the National Science Foundation's Web site in July 2001, the first link on the site was a graphical link (!) to a "text version of [the] NSF Web site."  The New York State site also has a graphical link to a text-only version, this one labeled "Welcome to New York State homepage click here for text version."  The states of Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming all offered access to text-only versions of their sites as of late July 2001. The new White House site unveiled in September 2001 had a text-only link (which was still there in early June 2002).  So did the U.S. government's main site for disability information when we visited in July 2001 (Figure 8-1).
 From the home page of the National Science Foundation Web site, accessed July 21, 2001, at http://www.nsf.gov.
 From the home page of the New York State Web site, accessed July 21, 2001, at http://www.state.ny.us/.
 See the White House Web site at http://www.whitehouse.gov.
Figure 8-1. Screen shot showing the text-only link at the upper left of the U.S. government's Web site for disability information before its redesign. Accessed July 21, 2001, at http://www.disability.gov. Used with permission.
The text-only link remained in place on the government's disability information site until the next major update in September 2001, when the site was renamed "DisabilityDirect." Besides eliminating the unnecessary text-only link, the redesigned DisabilityDirect site shown in Figure 8-2 includes a number of accessibility and usability enhancements. The most notable are the clearly labeled Main Menu of navigation links on the left side of the screen and a search field, correctly labeled "Search this site," in the upper-right corner. (This prominent placement of the search engine is consistent with the recommendations of Kara Pernice Coyne and Jakob Nielsen in Beyond ALT Text, which was published a month or so after the DisabilityDirect site went live in September 2001.)
Figure 8-2. Screen shot of the redesigned and renamed U.S. government's Web site for disability information. There is no longer a text-only link. Accessed February 22, 2002, at http://www.disability.gov. Used with permission.
There's no need to go the text-only route in most cases, and we'll see later that doing so can create problems far worse than those it's supposed to solve.
Many of the people who rely on ALT text when they visit your site are already experiencing the site as text-only. Depending on how the screen reader or talking browser is configured, an image (<img> element), image map hot spot (<area> element), or other graphical link without ALT text is either an annoying interruption in the stream of synthetic speech or it's not there at all the screen reader ignores it and the user never even knows it exists. This is one reason why it's inappropriate to create a separate text-only version of your site, aside from the fact that WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint 11.4 and Section 508 paragraph (k) both say that you should do so only as a last resort when you've exhausted all other avenues in your quest for accessibility. Under these circumstances, unless you're prepared to make your entire site text-only for everyone (if you're using Cascading Style Sheets to style your text, for example), you're better off concentrating on the quality of the ALT text associated with the images and other elements on your existing site and, of course, on providing the best possible onscreen text as well. (See Chapter 9 for further discussion of the relationship between onscreen and offscreen text.)