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Re: Why I Disfavor Using "Universal Design" in the Title

From: Jason White <jasonw@ariel.ucs.unimelb.EDU.AU>
Date: Sun, 13 Dec 1998 14:00:19 +1100 (AEDT)
To: WAI Markup Guidelines <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.SUN.3.95.981213133245.22625B-100000@ariel.ucs.unimelb.EDU.AU>
At the core of this issue lies the definitional problem of what, for the
purposes of the guidelines, are the conditions under which a document
to be considered accessible. The priority 1 guidelines merely require that
it be possible for the document to be presented in any of a range of
sensory modalities (auditory, tactile and visual). This stratum defines a
minimal level of accessibility and does not entail that the information
will be comprehensible, or even that inner structural relations will be
apparent to the reader. Most of the technical considerations which
determine whether this minimal degree of accessibility is attained, have
the advantage of being readily identifiable by automated tools (absence of
textual alternatives to multimedia content, failure to comply with W3C
standards, etc.).
At a second level one finds those issues which concern the structure of
the document, which provides cues that indicate an appropriate reading
order and facilitate browsing strategies. Yet another layer is added by
questions of readability and comprehension, which, however, are implicitly
at work throughout the guidelines (for example in determining what
constitutes appropriate and sufficiently detailed alternative text, what
should be included as a structural aid in a table summary, etc.). Cultural
and linguistic aspects of comprehension also emerge at this stage.

Thus, leaving aside the requirement for alternative
descriptions/transcriptions, and table summaries, which involve
supplementing the text with additional material to compensate for
information that is lost when the document is displayed in different
media, I think the range of problems addressed by the guidelines can be
categorized according to three levels: (1) the perceptual; (2) the
structural and navigational; and (3) the comprehension issues.

The guidelines strive to be comprehensive in respect of levels (1) and
(2) and to offer limited suggestions with regard to level (3). The latter
relate mostly to those aspects of comprehension which are most affected by
the rendering of the document in different media (ALT text etc.), and
navigation (links which can be understood out of context), with
supplementary references to readability.

I think it is necessary to circumscribe the guidelines' treatment of
comprehension-related problems, and to do so in a principled manner,
either by describing (as a profile) the expected characteristics of the
intended reader of an "accessible document", or by developing other
criteria. Obviously, there can be no such entity as a document which is
readable and comprehensible to everyone. Thus it is necessary to define
the scope of the guidelines carefully and to justify the boundaries which
necessarily have to be imposed.
Received on Saturday, 12 December 1998 22:00:31 GMT

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