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Re: Green Fingers was Re: COPUS was Re: alternative content for cognitive disabilities

From: Matt May <mcmay@bestkungfu.com>
Date: Sun, 22 Apr 2001 16:49:09 -0700
Message-ID: <00d101c0cb86$e3f7d4e0$6601a8c0@sttln1.wa.home.com>
To: "Jonathan Chetwynd" <j.chetwynd@btinternet.com>, <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jonathan Chetwynd" <j.chetwynd@btinternet.com>
> The front page might be a little heavy, however please read the short
> on page 5:
> http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/scforall/CopusOutandAbout.pdf
> I've found that many museums in London are willing to create resources for
> our students if given reasonable notice of a visit:
> The British Museum provided us with a particularly busy and brilliant day
> activities around Mummies and dessication with lots of dried fruit to eat.
> The Tate gallery  arranged for us all to dress up in period costumes and
> appear in various paintings.
> The National Portrait Gallery took photographs of each student posing with
> props.
> These are just a few of the activities arranged in order to attempt to
> their works more accessible.
> Corporations have every responsibility to attempt something similar, and
> so in many instances.

I can't agree with this, no matter how much I want to.
The British Museum, the Tate, and so on are publicly-funded organizations
chartered to educate the public in art, history, and culture. This work was
also done with funding from COPUS grants requested by educators and produced
under the direction of a Ph.D. And the work they did in the Sensorama
exhibit isn't really paralleling the concepts being discussed here, because
what they made accessible were scientific concepts in general using methods
in the physical world, not the core focus of a single document published on
the web involving, say, plant science.

I think it's a gigantic leap to say that because of this example, it's
incumbent on corporations (or, for that matter, any other organization
outside of education) to do the same. Where the Sensorama project began with
the explicit intention of educating young students, that's not at all a part
of the goals of corporations, or even a significant minority of governmental
bodies, independent organizations or individuals. There are, however, a
number of these groups who want to build the proverbial curb cut as a
secondary goal, and where WCAG 1 facilitates that, I'm afraid that requiring
more content to be produced, in any medium, is going to make a future set of
guidelines somewhere between unpalatable and impossible for sites that still
would like to increase access. Where you say:

> Individuals and small businesses naturally are less easily able to
> contribute, however they can be expected not to be deliberately

I can only think that you would consider zero effort at compliance to be
deliberately obstructive. Or, if you don't, there are accessibility
activists who would, and are threatening lawsuits against corporations who
aren't demonstrably increasing access. If the minimum bar for proving their
efforts is a set of guidelines that requires substantial (which I'll define
liberally as anything that adds more than 10% to the workload) increases in
labor to achieve, their recourse (in the US, anyway) is more likely to be
fighting it out in court than making an effort. The end result is more harm
than good. I believe it's necessary to facilitate reasonable modification
(which is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act), rather than use
the guidelines to effect change we want now, and presume that no matter what
is created, our standard will be adopted and adhered to. In the grand scheme
of things, I think that it's more important to offer the carrot (i.e., the
goal of a certain level of compliance) than the stick to achieve the greater
goal of making what's on the web more accessible.

I'm re-reading the WAI overview presentation [1], and Judy Brewer's
description of the accessibility issues for people with cognitive or
neurological disabilities [2] are:
* lack of consistent navigation structure
* overly complex presentation or language
* lack of illustrative non-text materials
* flickering or strobing designs on pages
These are all adequately addressed in WCAG 1 and the draft of 2.
Additionally, satisfying these criteria does not put a substantial burden on
content providers. And, as Judy mentions, these steps also help content
providers and users without disabilities by simplifying the web experience
all around. It's the concept of "a rising tide lifts all boats" and a
reasonable investment in time and process-modification that helps
accessibility initiatives gain traction in organizations where it's not
compulsory, but opens doors to people with disabilities nonetheless.
Microsoft is one such example.

I cannot see how downward revision of reading levels, requiring site-wide
summaries or omnipresent illustration has anywhere near the cost-to-benefit
ratio that is present in WCAG 1. This is something that is beneficial to
relatively few (by which I mean "few, relative to the number who are
benefitted by WCAG 1"), and would require a company like Microsoft, which
has gigs of textual content resident in web pages and databases, to choose
between a Herculean accessibility remediation task, or dropping efforts at
compliance. And in the case of illustration, I think what we need to do is
to provide the kind of information Anne is developing as a demonstration,
but trust the judgement of the content provider with respect to the best
medium or media they have available to them to communicate their ideas.
Again, this is what I meant to do by creating a required-reading list within
the guidelines.

I wonder if this is just a problem of two different viewpoints on what
purpose WCAG is supposed to serve. My impression is that the guidelines are
for taking the Web as we see it today and doing what we can to remove
(primarily technological) barriers to people with disabilities. It seems
like the recent concepts of summary, illustration and writing level have
been added to the mix with a view toward catering specific pages or sites to
PWDs, and I think that's a much more limited audience of developers and
users alike to target, and would result in only isolated movement toward
WAI's goals.

[1] http://www.w3.org/Talks/WAI-Intro/slide1-0.html
[2] http://www.w3.org/Talks/WAI-Intro/slide5-0.html

Received on Sunday, 22 April 2001 19:51:40 GMT

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