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Re: Flickr and alt

From: Boris Zbarsky <bzbarsky@MIT.EDU>
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2008 19:06:58 -0400
Message-ID: <48AA0092.6080407@mit.edu>
To: Sam Kuper <sam.kuper@uclmail.net>
CC: W3C WAI-XTECH <wai-xtech@w3.org>, public-html@w3.org

Sam Kuper wrote:
>    1. I don't believe David threatened violence.

I didn't say he did.

> The enforcement of most
>       laws in countries where accessibility is a legal requirement, does
>       not require the use of violence, if I am not mistaken.

Sam, all law-enforcement is based on the fact that the state has more 
force than you do, and in particular in the fact that it can bring more 
violence to bear than you do.  Naturally it rarely actually _uses_ 
violence, when things are working.  But consider what happens when one 
defies a court order, say.  It's not all peace and love and coaxing.

I wasn't upping the ante, merely pointing out that threatening legal 
outcomes means forcing people just as much as if you were dispensing 
with the legal-system middleman and directly doing it at gunpoint.  This 
is not to be read as saying there aren't situations where such forcing 
needs to happen: clearly there are.

>    2. Having the (HTML5, in this case) spec require alt text for images
>       would not, if I am not mistaken, automatically make the publishing
>       of images without alt text against the law.

Indeed.  David was advocating that it should, as far as I can tell from 
his rather disjointed replies to my mails.  In particular, the claim 
that being able to get alt text is a right (presumably protected by law, 
if it's going to be called that) certainly implies it.  My objection was 
to this attitude and its general implications for this specification, 
not to the idea of requiring alt text specifically.

>       Boris desires the right to publish images without alt
>       text,

Did I say that in any of my mails to David?  Can you please point out where?

All I desire is an acknowledgement that fundamentally the right to 
accessibility cannot be an absolute right.  Just like any other right 
cannot be absolute.  That would be a much healthier basis for 
discussion, in my opinion, and quite independently of my views on any 
particular aspect of accessibility.

 > Whose is the greater right? That is what is under discussion.

Neither, when the question is phrased that way.  When two rights 
conflict the resolution of the conflict always depends on the exact 
circumstances. If there were a blanket resolution there would be no 
conflict to discuss.

 > I am inclined to David's side, for while
>       it is merely an inconvenience for Boris to provide alt text, it is
>       in many cases an /impossibility/ for David to know the content of
>       an image without it.

Assuming this were all true (and I'm not convinced it is), that doesn't 
necessarily mean much, to be honest.  For example, banning multi-level 
dwellings before the invention of elevators would be merely an 
inconvenience for those who can navigate stairs, or hire someone to 
carry them up and down stairs, while allowing them makes it impossible 
for some people to get to some rooms.

At the same time, banning multi-level dwellings would have priced many 
families more or less out of having a roof over their heads in many 
urban areas at the end of the nineteenth century.

I'm not claiming this is in any way similar to the alt situation, by the 
way.  It's merely an example to illustrate that when weighing a "mere 
inconvenience" for the many against the needs of the few one has to keep 
in mind that there are many groups of "the few".  And once you add up a 
lot of "mere inconveniences" life can get pretty intolerable.

Again, none of this has anything to do with the alt attribute per se; my 
issue here is the "my needs trump everyone's convenience, absolutely, no 
questions asked" mindset.  Sometimes they should, and sometimes they won't.

> As the level of education in web technologies improves, and the tools 
> for creating (X)HTML improve, the level of conformance is, I believe, 
> gradually increasing.

I'm not seeing that as a web browser developer, but we might be looking 
at very different data sets...

> Being conformant is not too much pain (at least, not for everyone)

I didn't imply that it currently is.  Nor that requiring alt attributes 
would make it so.  I do want some recognition of the fact that it's 
quite easy to make it too much pain for a large fraction of authors, and 
that this is something to avoid.  I couldn't quite tell whether David 
agreed with this, since he never bothered to respond to my questions.

> Please note: if any of the above seems combative, it isn't intended to 
> be.

It doesn't seem combative to me.  In like vein, what I say is not meant 
to be combative, and I hope it didn't come across that way.  I just feel 
like David and I have a fundamentally different view of the way society 
does and should function.  For what it's worth, I'm not getting that 
impression with you, Sam.  ;)

-Boris
Received on Monday, 18 August 2008 23:07:42 UTC

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