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Re: Kynn's WCAG Proposal

From: Kynn Bartlett <kynn-edapta@idyllmtn.com>
Date: Mon, 14 Aug 2000 23:06:01 -0700
Message-Id: <a04320403b5be89f1b821@[10.0.1.2]>
To: Jason White <jasonw@ariel.ucs.unimelb.edu.au>, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
At 3:00 PM +1000 8/15/00, Jason White wrote:
>This is ground which has been well covered. Providing the practicing web
>site designer with guidance is only one of the purposes of the document.

Which is why the WCAG document is currently useless to a number of
audiences.  It tries too much to be everything to all people.

>Its other functions include: (a) defining what it means for web content to
>be "accessible", more abstractly than can be achieved by a set of
>technology-specific requirements so that the guidelines can continue to
>apply as technologies evolve;

I'm not sure if it is possible to define "accessible" in this way in
any sort of definitive manner.  I also question whether or not it is
worthwhile to attempt to do so.

>(b) offering technology designers (including
>those creating, or extending, data formats) criteria with which to ensure
>that their technologies are accessible; and (c) providing input to other
>groups concerned with the design and development of accessible
>technologies, authoring tools, etc., associated with the web.

I think we have too many goals here.  Trying to do too much at once
means that nobody gets an adequate answer.  The information you give
a data format designer is vastly different from that you give to a
web content developer.  We're not just talking about presentation
or "translation" here, we're talking about very different kinds of
content itself.

>One of the central shortcomings which this working group has identified
>with WCAG 1.0 is its failure to specify what "accessible" design means,
>independently of (or more abstractly than) requirements which pertain to
>particular, existing, standards and technologies. At the other end of the
>continuum, it has been argued that the checkpoints in WCAG 1.0 are not
>sufficiently specific and verifiable. This led to the so-called
>three-level hierarchy of requirements, its having been generally agreed
>that the upper two levels should comprise the guidelines.

Yes, it may be generally agreed, and I certainly don't want to upset
applecarts just for the sake of upsetting them, but I also don't feel
that the current approach is going to meet the needs of the various
constituents that you describe.  I feel that the fact that we get
arguments from BOTH sides indicates not that "we're doing it right"
and it shouldn't be touched, but rather that the current approach
is simply too complicated to make it worthwhile.

(I think the fact that the proposed 2.0 outline is ready to rename
and restructure the existing setup is proof alone that the matter
is NOT nearly as cut and dried as your reply would make it seem.)

>The guidelines themselves cannot be changed without proceeding through the
>W3C process. They are supposed to be (and must comprise) a stable
>document, subject to change only infrequently. Consequently, it is not
>practical to generate a new version whenever a new technology or standard
>emerges.

Then we should not have such things as "compliance with the WCAG"
if the WCAG is meant to be a stable, unchanging set of principles.
We should have compliance with the "techniques" and WCAG should
be entirely theory.

However, that's not the current case now and I don't think it will
be in the future.

WCAG as "a set of principles which you should agree too, and some
vague natterings about what might fulfill those principles" is really
of little value to _anyone+.  People are, like it or not, expecting
for WCAG to be something you can _conform_ to.  Perhaps all conformance
claims should be taken out of WCAG?

>However, this working group has also undertaken to publish checklists and
>a techniques document which should address the need for specific and
>precise, technology-specific requirements. These must be founded in, and
>constitute an application of the guidelines--but unlike the latter, as
>they are non-normative, they are more easily subject to change.

Which makes me wonder why the W3C AC would even want to approve
such a document as the WCAG you describe.  I don't see the value
in a philosophical statement about good web design being of the same
caliber as the XHTML spec, for example.

>Of course, as Charles has often pointed out, most web content developers
>should not be expected to read the guidelines, just as most content
>designers don't (and are not expected to) read the HTML specification.

Except when they need to refer to the spec when they have a question;
really, it does happen sometimes.

I don't think this reasoning is a valid excuse for deliberately
making the WCAG inaccessible to the average web content developer.
The idea that we are writing guidelines which are not meant to be
read is frankly preposterous.

>Rather, it is the task of authoring tools, training materials, checklists
>(including those furnished by this working group) and the techniques
>document to give practical guidance.

Yes, people have been proposing that for years.  While it certainly
has kept _me_ busy with things to do, I honestly don't think that it's
a good excuse either.  "Our document is meant to be inscrutable,
because some unspecified third parties will be translating it into
something that real people can read?"  Come on now.  Where are these
third parties to come from, and how will they know that they are
accurately stating what the WCAG really says?  Do we just take it on
faith, for example, that my SUNY presentation is accurate and complete?

Do I tell my web accessibility students, "Don't even BOTHER reading
the WCAG -- it wasn't written for you to be able to understand, they
don't really want to reading it, and here, instead just listen to
what I tell you?"  I find such an approach preposterous and a very
dangerous attitude for us to have regarding the creation of a
standard for use on the web.  I think we are doing a grave disservice
if we continue to allow ourselves this "excuse" indefinitely as a
way of avoiding serious issues regarding how we present this
material.

I hope I don't sound hostile -- I mean to sound opinionated and
very strongly opposed to this current course of action.  Naturally
I support the W3C's work and will continue to do so; I just think
that continuing on the current strategy will do more harm than it
will increase accessibility.

--Kynn, back on the list for a day and already uppity?
-- 
--
Kynn Bartlett <kynn@idyllmtn.com>
http://www.kynn.com/
Received on Tuesday, 15 August 2000 02:08:49 GMT

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