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Re: More on 3.4

From: Anne Pemberton <apembert@erols.com>
Date: Sun, 29 Jul 2001 19:46:34 -0400
Message-Id: <>
To: "Matt May" <mcmay@bestkungfu.com>, <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>

         I've savored all day while Hubby was surfing, waiting to reply to 
your philosophical post ....

         It is not only in guideline 3.4 in which we presume to suggest to 
the author of a page that his/her horizons be expanded .... we do this 
throughout the guidelines. An author who intended content to be a graphic 
is required to expand that concept to include an alt text and sometimes a 
long description. Do we ask if the author has the skills or tools to do so? 
No, we just say do it .... If an author has created a multi-media, we don't 
just say thank you for expanding the horizons of those who will benefit 
from it, we say "march back to your computer and write a script for it and 
synchronize it" ... before it's good enough ... So why stop and get 
squeamish over telling authors to provide an equivalent/and/or illustrate a 
unit of text (of whatever size) .....


At 10:41 AM 7/29/01 -0700, Matt May wrote:
>I need to get a little philosophical here to describe (I hope) precisely the
>kind of rathole this constant debate is dragging us into. The issue I have
>with 3.4 which precedes all others is that we are not justified in telling
>authors we know more about their content than they do. This is an
>ill-conceived assumption which will backfire if it makes its way out to
>The reason the W3C has authority to produce documents such as WCAG (and have
>an audience) is as a result of technical leadership. It produces the
>protocols and formats, and for that it has the right to state
>authoritatively how they are used.
>What the W3C does _not_ have the authority to declare is what people are to
>say and how they should say it.
>I don't object to the presence of Guideline 3. (In fact, I think it might be
>better placed above Guideline 2, since most interaction is done after
>comprehension...) It is, however, the least technical and the least
>normative of the four, and that's no accident. The full cycle of
>comprehension is dependent on:
>- The domain knowledge of the author (that is, the originator/communicator
>of the message);
>- The skills and tools of the author to craft the message;
>- The medium of communication; and
>- The skills and tools of the recipient to interpret the message as
>accurately as possible.
>What we need to do is to rely on the author's knowledge of the chosen
>subject matter and ability to communicate it as effectively as s/he is able.
>To that end, we can suggest best practices outside of technology to augment
>that knowledge (such as "write clearly and simply" and "emphasize
>structure"). We can even suggest to them that images or other media can be
>beneficial for important concepts.
>It is completely nonsensical, however, to create blanket requirements
>respecting the clarity of a message relative to the number of images
>present, FOG index, or any other ratio. Comprehension is neither reliable
>nor quantifiable. If it were, there would be no need for tests in school,
>and anyway, if one were held, everyone would have perfect scores. It is,
>alas, not that way. No words-to-pictures (or, for that matter,
>words-to-anything) algorithm makes all content quantifiably clearer, or more
>universally understandable.
>3.4 should acknowledge, at least implicitly, that its effect is limited to
>the ability of the author to communicate using non-textual means. It should
>be there to draw an author's attention to another means of making a point to
>users. What we need not to do is to turn this into anything more than a
>"where appropriate". It is an untenable position to say we're sure that for
>all content, any image you produce, irrespective of quality or subjective
>relevance, is better than none. We _must_ respect the role of the author if
>we expect to influence authors.
>I feel I've already made all the points I need to make regarding content in
>the web design process, as well as the complexity of communicating messages
>visually. Frankly, the messages I've seen regarding, say, the insufficiency
>of verbal communication with abstract art fail to sway me. In fact, they
>only make me more steadfast in my position: the author's grasp of her or his
>own subject matter is and should be the determining factor in offering
>illustrations. The author doesn't care what the W3C says about content, nor
>should s/he.

Anne Pemberton

Received on Sunday, 29 July 2001 19:53:28 UTC

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