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RE: Simplest and clearest...

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Sat, 18 Aug 2001 14:15:13 -0700
To: "WAI Guidelines WG" <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Anne Pemberton wrote:
> Well, not exactly. The mathematical equation is but one way of expressing
> Einstein's theory, it is only "the simplest" if you are comfortable with
> mathematical notation.

No, Anne. Exactly. It is exactly the simplest way of expressing it, whether
you are comfortable with mathematical notation or not. Simplest does not
have anything to do with what one is comfortable with. You are probably
confusing it with easy. Easy means not difficult. Simple means not complex.
They are commonly confused.

Checkpoint 3.3 says nothing about making things easy. It says to make them
clear, and to avoid complicating them unnecessarily. Let's get that
straight. Making things simpler often makes them easier, but sometimes it
does not. That was my point.

> Again, sites with boring polemics and unpublishable poetry are under no
> requirement to be accessible, so there would be no problem with Thomas
> Pynchon publishing obscure prose, as long as he doesn't try to
> insist it's "accessible" ...

Oops! You've given yourself away, Anne. You are biased against text. Why
else would my examples of poetry and a polemic become "sites with *boring*
polemics and *unpublishable* poetry" (emphasis mine)? And Thomas Pynchon's
Gravity's Rainbow -- arguably the greatest American novel of the Twentieth
Century -- becomes "obscure prose" in your mind. You've added value
judgments, and those judgments expose your bias.

As I see it, you've just disqualified yourself from being taken seriously.
Most of the members of this group are non-partisan. We are trying to ensure
equal treatment for all. You, on the other hand, are clearly a partisan. It
appears that you are only concerned with making sure the guidelines address
the issues that are important to you. What a shame.

I've read back through the archives and I see that you've been involved in
many heated exchanges. I suspect that the frustration of your opponents in
those exchanges stems from your single-minded pursuit of comprehensibility
at all costs. People with cognitive disabilities need voices in this group,
but the disdain for text that you evince so clearly in your comments above
does nothing to further your cause.

I'll remake my point for the benefit of others. Suppose that Thomas Pynchon
DID publish "Gravity's Rainbow" to the web in text-only format. Clearly, you
would consider that he had not met the guidelines. You say that this is OK,
"as long as he doesn't try to insist it's 'accessible'."

But I say (pay close attention here): Not only would his work be accessible
as is, it would meet the guidelines. I would have no problem with Pynchon's
"Gravity's Rainbow" flying a "Meets WCAG 2.0" icon even in text-only format.
I'll say that again as clearly as I can:

If Pynchon published Gravity's Rainbow as-is to the web, it would:


Gravity's Rainbow is a work of art. As such:

1. It requires no explanation. It is what it is. You get it or you don't. I
get some of Gravity's Rainbow, but no doubt I've missed a lot. If I asked
Pynchon to explain, he'd be within his rights as an artist to simply smile
and say nothing. And if he did explain, his explanation would be an
explanation. It would not be Gravity's Rainbow.

2. There is no visual equivalent of Gravity's Rainbow. It doesn't even work
in translation. You might get a similar effect, the plot might be the same,
but the power of Gravity's Rainbow depends in large part on the *way* it is
written. Change one word and it is *no longer Gravity's Rainbow*.

Thus Gravity's Rainbow, as with all art, IS in its clearest and simplest
form at the time of its publication and *no equivalents are possible*.

Now, if you wanted to create a site that "explained" Gravity's Rainbow in
pictures, then -- assuming you had the copyright owner's permission -- that
would be fine. And you would need to write your explanations as clearly and
simply as is appropriate to the content you are providing. But that is not
the same as Gravity's Rainbow, and your explanation, no matter how hard you
tried, would never BE Gravity's Rainbow.

We live in a society where everything is being reduced to commerce, to a
commodity. Many people can no longer distinguish between art and commerce.
They think that art IS commerce. It's very sad.

Commerce should be comprehensible to everyone. Art should be art.

> 3. There is no need to write for the widest audience. What gives us or
> >anyone else the right to tell Web site developers who their
> audience should
> >be?
> Excuse me, but I think this is the point many have been making for a long
> time, that by adding accessibility to web pages it increases the audience
> beyond what they initially presumed. My intended audience for my
> web pages
> is the 45-8 year olds who use my lab. Why should I worry about making the
> pages "accessible" in any feature or fashion that is not needed
> by my kids?
> The ONLY reason is because I "may" have a wider audience in parent and
> taxpayers who are curious what the kids are doing in school. Why should I
> bother to include text links with the site map if all of my
> intended users
> are sighted? Why should I include keywords that could lead other
> educators
> to my site, if they are of no benefit to my intended audience?

First, making web pages accessible does not increase the audience, it
increases the *potential* audience. If no-one in your audience needed those
features, then they had no effect.

Accessibility is not in the code or the content. A site is accessible when
everyone who has a legitimate need to use it can do so. If one legitimate
user is locked out, then the site is not fully accessible. If I do a site in
backwards Flemish, and every member of my audience can read and understand
backwards Flemish, then my site is accessible.

A site intended for the general public must be accessible to *anyone* who is
a member of that public. The King County web site needs to be accessible
(and comprehensible) to everyone in King County. It does not need to be
accessible to the citizens of Uganda.

The IRS site needs to be accessible to every American. A site that sells ski
equipment should be accessible to everyone who might want to purchase ski

If Thomas Pynchon publishes Gravity's Rainbow on-line following the
guidelines but without explanation or illustration, then it is accessible.
Art does not require explanation or illustration. But if he adds a page to
sell copies of the book, then he is engaging in commerce and that page must
be accessible/comprehensible to every potential purchaser of the book.

This is a vitally important distinction, and, IMO, the source of a great
many misunderstandings in this group and on the IG list.

Chas. Munat
Received on Saturday, 18 August 2001 17:12:56 UTC

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