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Re: Mandatory and Important

From: James Graham <jg307@cam.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 21 Aug 2008 15:06:10 +0100
Message-ID: <48AD7652.1000102@cam.ac.uk>
To: Laura Carlson <laura.lee.carlson@gmail.com>
CC: Doug Schepers <schepers@w3.org>, Karl Dubost <karl@w3.org>, Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch>, HTML WG <public-html@w3.org>, W3C WAI-XTECH <wai-xtech@w3.org>, wai-liaison@w3.org, John Foliot <foliot@wats.ca>, Gez Lemon <gez.lemon@gmail.com>, Al Gilman <alfred.s.gilman@ieee.org>, w3c-wai-pf@w3.org

Laura Carlson wrote:

> As Gez Lemon has said before "Lowering conformance requirements so
> that authors who cannot be bothered to provide alternative text, or
> allowing broken authoring tools to be considered compliant, obviously
> goes a long way from solving the fundamental problem here - that of
> providing content that is accessible by users with disabilities." [4]
> This type solution may help to address conformance requirements and
> mandatory alt text.

I am not clear on how this kind of rhetoric relates to the general accessibility 
burden we expect for the creation and distribution of artistic works. Consider 
some examples:

An artist creates a painting. Is it the responsibility of the artist to create a 
non-visual alternative work for those who cannot perceive the original? Does it 
make a difference if it is displayed in public? What if it is on a cafe wall? 
Does a gallery who make money from exhibiting the work have to ensure that a 
non-visual alternative to the work is available? This is different from ensuring 
that blind people are given access to the gallery which, as I understand it, 
they are legally (and imho morally) obliged to do.

A bookstore distributes works of literature. Must the bookstore ensure that the 
books are available in multiple media to cater for disabilities (evidently not)? 
Must the publisher? What about catering for people with learning difficulties? 
Should Project Gutenburg be considered non-conforming to HTML for distributing 
James Joyce's Ulysses, since Ulysses willfully fails all of WCAG 2 section 3.1 
[1] by going out of its way to be obtuse and hard to grasp?

A band releases their home-made music video on to YouTube. What responsibilities 
do they have in making alternate versions of the material available to the deaf? 
What would constitute an acceptable alternative even if they did want to do this?

A group of people with a particular type of synesthesia put together a website 
with animations designed to invoke a response amongst people with the same form 
of synesthesia. Should they feel obliged to put a textual description of the 
response in order to provide a limited form of access to that content to people 
without the same cognitive function?

Obviously I have an opinion here but these questions are not rhetorical. I may 
well be wrong :)

My opinion is that there is a responsibility for those providing services to 
provide universal access to those services; to take the much-overused example of 
flickr I believe that they should ensure that their website can be navigated 
blind; that blind users are able to upload photos, make comments, and so on, to 
the same extent that a sighted user can. I believe this is the focus of most 
accessibility legislation although I admit I know little about this area. On the 
other hand I see little precedent for requiring people who publish work in a 
single media, or work that is for some other reason inaccessible to part of the 
population, to make an alternate version of that work which is accessible to 
some of the people who cannot access the primary version. So flickr should not 
be required to make people provide text-alternatives for their photographs. My 
feeling is that in general (i.e. not just in the case of flickr) such a 
requirement would have a chilling effect on free speech and on creative arts.

For this reason, I also feel it is inappropriate for HTML to point at WCAG for 
any of its normative requirements. Whilst I agree that people should strive to 
create accessible HTML documents where possible, and should be particularly 
careful do do so when they are providing services, HTML should also meet the 
needs of authors who are producing single-media content and content that is 
otherwise inaccessible per WCAG (cf the Ulysses example above). Trying to 
address these additional cases in WCAG can only make that document longer and 
harder to understand than it is already, so detracting from its primary focus in 
explaining how to achieve accessibility. Instead of stuffing a small subset of 
WCAG checkpoints into HTML conformance requirements, I suggest that we promote 
the idea that a) HTML conformance does not ensure accessibility and b) WCAG is 
the go-to place for information on how to make HTML documents accessible.

Note that I am not advocating ignoring accessibility in the design of HTML. 
Clearly we need to consider accessibility needs as part of the design for things 
like tables, images and so on. Indeed good design where accessibility comes for 
free in the course of the author achieving her primary goal is likely to be more 
effective at improving accessibility than many of the features that require 
special accessibility-related additions.

[1] http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/#understandable

-- 
"Eternity's a terrible thought. I mean, where's it all going to end?"
  -- Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Received on Thursday, 21 August 2008 14:07:15 UTC

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