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Gaps: (1) Language readability, (2) Privacy

From: eric hansen <ehansen@ets.org>
Date: Mon, 26 Oct 1998 11:14:00 -0500 (EST)
To: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Message-id: <vines.yRv7+s+8BqA@pclan.ets.org>
I would like to respond to the comments of Nir Dagan and Jason White (see 
their comments below), who have indicated that considerations of language 
readability and privacy should be outside the scope of the page authoring 
guidelines document.

1. Declaring the Scope of the Document

If the guidelines will not address issues such as language readability or 
privacy, then perhaps the document should declare so. Following is an 
example of what could be included in the guidelines:

"There are other considerations not addressed in this document which may 
significantly influence the usability and accessibility of the Web pages. 
For example, the language may be inaccessible because of difficult or 
unfamiliar vocabulary and syntax, poor organization, etc. This issue of 
language readability is particularly important for individuals who are deaf,
 dyslexic, or nonnative speakers of the language. Another example is the 
failure to inform users about how personal information will be used. A user 
with a disability may be unwilling to access Web-based scholarship or 
employment services because of concern about whether information about his 
disability will be shared with schools or potential employers. And of 
course, certain content may be offensive to some audiences for a variety of 
reasons. Such considerations may be just as influential upon usability or 
accessibility of a Web page as those addressed by the guidelines, but are 
beyond the scope of this document."

2. Uncharted Territory

Regarding Jason White's comment ("The guidelines should not attempt to 
prescribe appropriate writing practices but should be strictly limited to 
those aspects of structure and markup which affect the compatibility of the 
document with different input/output scenarios."), the guidelines have 
already "strayed" into the area of writing practices. 

Consider, for example, guideline B.4.2. ("Avoid phrases that are not 
meaningful on their own such as "click here.""). This guideline provides 
guidance in writing, i.e., to ensure phrases that will properly convey 
meaning. This is further backed up by the corresponding Technique (B.4.2 
[Priority 2]: Therefore, it is important that link text make[s] sense when 
read without surrounding text. For example, authors should not use "click 
here" as link text several times on the same pageț").

There are also other places in the guidelines that call for "clarity" of 
expression, which, again, puts the guidelines into the realm of language 
and writing. Technique A.5.1 requires that that the material be 
"perceivable" but also "understandable" through "text" and "semantic clues" 
 ("Don't use color to convey information unless the information is also 
clear from the markup and/or text." "[Priority 1]: Authors must ensure that 
text and graphics are perceivable and understandable when viewed without 
color. To do so, provide other semantic clues in content or markupț".) Also,
 guideline 1.5 calls for "Use a clear, consistent navigation structure". 

Thus, it seems to me that the guidelines have already gone beyond ensuring 
that users can perceive content; they go into the realm of ensuring that 
what is perceived can also to understood. This pushes the guidelines beyond 
issues of markup and structure and into the realms of language and writing. 

3. Reasons for Reticence

I can understand the reticence to get into the area of language 
readability. For example, to suggest that page authors need to pay 
attention language readability may appear to threaten one of the document's 
founding (and comforting) principles, i.e., that "Accessibility does not 
mean minimal page design, it means thoughtful page design." (This statement 
appears to align with principles of "universal design".) Yet at least in 
the field of deaf education, certain texts may be referred to as being 
somewhat or completely "inaccessible" because of their language readability 
characteristics. And the process of rendering these texts more "accessible" 
appears to involve simplification or minimization of some language 
features. For the guidelines to require ensuring readable language may 
place too great a burden upon authors. Yet to allow authors of public Web 
sites to say, in effect, "We are targeting only audiences with high reading 
levels," seems to fly in the face of principles of universal design.

4. Conclusion

I recommend that the guidelines document either (1) include guidelines that 
address issues such as language readability or (2) make explicit that such 
things are beyond the scope of the guidelines. I think that to do otherwise 
would mislead some people to think that if they are following the 
guidelines then the page will necessarily be accessible and usable by 
people with disabilities.

5. Comments by Jason White and Nir Dagan

From Jason White:
> I altogether agree with Nir's sentiment: it is possible to write highly
> accessible content, meaning that it will be displayed optimally by a 
> of different software systems and output devices, which is nevertheless
> poorly written, vague, incoherent, etc. The guidelines should not attempt
> to prescribe appropriate writing practices but should be strictly limited
> to those aspects of structure and markup which affect the compatibility 
> the document with different input/output scenarios.
> Moreover, judgments of stylistic appropriateness are highly dependent 
> the subject matter of the text and its intended audience, and the
> guidelines should not stray into such considerations.

From Nir Dagan
> I do not think that the WAI guidelines should become a general guide  
> to good authoring/writing/web-publishing.
> I can't see any relation to the suggestions below and accessibility.
> Next tell people to spell check and grammar check their documents, and 
not use
> use rude words.

Eric G. Hansen
Development Scientist
Educational Testing Service
ETS 12-R
Rosedale Road
Princeton, NJ 08541
(W) 609-734-5615
(Fax) 609-734-1090
Internet: ehansen@ets.org 
Received on Monday, 26 October 1998 11:37:28 UTC

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