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Re: Wording issues

From: Al Gilman <asgilman@iamdigex.net>
Date: Thu, 16 Aug 2001 15:45:20 -0400
Message-Id: <200108161927.PAA5663417@smtp2.mail.iamworld.net>
To: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
At 12:58 PM 2001-08-16 , Anne Pemberton wrote:
>         I think I see one point that may help. Is the style of writing 
>related to the site's content, or the site's purpose?


I myself would tend to prefer that we say 'content' rather than 'purpose' 

This is in no way to say that substituting 'purpose' makes the proposition
_wrong_.  The opinion I would like to assert is a relative preference.  Not a
right:wrong binary choice.  'Content' says more of what we want to say and
allows the reader less room to read into the statement things that we don't
mean to say, as compared with 'purpose.'

The argument is a little complex, so please bear with me.

In the group, I believe there is a reluctance to say 'purpose' because "the
purpose of the site" is clearly at the absolute discretion of the site
publisher.  We are in the business of tainting that discretion with a modicum
of public interest and policy, which says the content, independent of the
purpose, should be presented in a reasonably non-discriminatory way.  Making
the site purpose the basis of the test leaves insufficient room to demand a
right of re-purposing, as the jargon goes.  So injecting 'purpose' into the
standard is leading us down a slippery slope we may not want to let the
guidelines reader even get near.

See for example:

giving the user the last word

The potential utility of the content of the site is broader than the purpose
that the site publisher had in exposing the content.  This is part of the
cornucopia effect; why the Web is an engine that creates a whole greater than
the sum of its parts.

For those who can deal with PowerPoint [I don't think that the HTML
provided is
any more accessible than the PowerPoint, but you could tell me otherwise] I do
recommend flipping through Bob Grossberg's witty disposition on data as a
network resource.  You can do this by visiting the briefings page from the
Alliance All-Hands Meeting at


In particular, he produces a tongue-in-cheek "W's Law" that "the interest in
data increases in proportion to the number of columns collated."  He calls
"W's Law" because he goes on to illustrate this principle with data
which profusely suggest there is something rotten in the state of vote couting
in West Palm Beach County, Florida in the presidential election of 2000.

Because many of the interaction-space situations that people with disabilities
find themselves in are outside the understanding of the human web content
provider, we as the WAI are cast in the role of defending access to "the
information" and not only "its purpose" that the publishing activity is
focussing on.

This is very much in our minds in PF, as we try to put infrastructure in the
format construction methods that assure graceful transformation into
interactions that the authors focussed on and those they didn't, too.

So I expect there is a fear that 'purpose' paints the requirement too
and I would tend to support such a fear in the case of defending access by
people of whatever disability.

There is a hypothetical argument that goes like this:

Researcher:  But I am only publishing this to my research peers.  That is who
has to agree it is a contribution so I can get recognition and my next grant.

Al:  But what you have discovered is so simple!  My seventh graders can
understand it, if you wouldn't bury it in such obscure jargon.

Researcher: Go and look to that yourself; I need to be about turning up my
_new_ result.

While there is going to be some middleman duty to be done in dumbing down last
weeks scientific research to kindergarten lesson, the era of Web communication
offers some promise of reducing the number of levels of translation and the
time to run the course.  So we have two things to do.  We do have to fund
popularization -- rewriting by people who understand the general audience
better than the researcher.  But at the same time we should work to put checks
in the process so that at each state the exposition is as accessible as we can
reasonably make it.  I am working on a reply to Gregg dealing with techniques
that make the latter something worth asking for as a reasonable accomodation.

'Content' is the better term because it focuses on _what the user stand to
by way of understanding out of the experience of processing this exposition_. 
And doesn't leave room for the author to poison the criteria with a 'purpose'
stated in terms of _who_ is supposed to get that understanding out of it.  It
is just too easy to write your barriers into your statement of purpose.  If
limits of plain exposition _for delivering the given message_ have been
exhausted, sure; give up.  But 'purpose' is too slippery a domain; it lets the
author get engaged in circularity that merely excuses their failure to
clean up
their act, without asserting what we think the standards for 'clean' should


>Should we be saying:
>         Write clearly and simply as appropriate to the purpose of the site
>         Use clear and simple language that is appropriate to the site's 
>         Use the clearest and simplest language that is appropriate to the 
>purpose of the site.
>                                 Anne
>At 12:15 PM 8/16/01 -0400, Al Gilman wrote:
>>The original is still hard to read right.
>>A likely expectation at the point where you leave 'possible' <br> and hit
>>is to expect a compound predicate or compound sentence, but not to be ready
>>a compound object of the preposition 'as.'
>>The proposed alternate does not substantially eliminate this problem.  It
>>takes two takes to get "in a way" associated with "as possible" and not
>>Consider the following other variations:
>>- Write as clearly and as simply as you can, without misrepresenting the
>>- Write in the clearest and simplest language that is still consistent with
>>site's content.
>>- While remaining faithful to the site's content, write as clearly and
>>as you can.
>>- Write as clearly and simply as you can while remaining faithful to the
>>There is a conflict between the wish to front-load a simple imperative and
>>fact that this rule involves the interaction of two clauses, one a 'satisfy
>>constraint' clause and the other an 'optimize quality' clause.
>Anne Pemberton
Received on Thursday, 16 August 2001 15:27:16 UTC

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