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Accessibility and freedom of expression

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Sun, 09 Dec 2001 19:54:26 -0800
Message-ID: <3C1431F2.7080302@munat.com>
To: W3C WAI GL <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Oops. Didn't mean to just pop up like that. Sorry if I frightened you. I 
was just lurking around back here and I heard someone mention "tone" 
guidelines.

I have mentioned this before but it didn't seem to make much of an 
impression: not everything needs to be accessible to everyone.

There are some things that *must* be accessible: government sites, 
e-commerce sites, some media sites, etc. Access to these sites is 
necessary for equal participation in society. Everyone deserves to be 
able to participate.

There are some sites that have no need of accessibility. Personal sites 
come to mind. Sure, it would be nice if they were accessible, but an 
individual's right to free expression overrides a casual user's right to 
access.

Then there are sites that probably shouldn't be entirely accessible. A 
good example is an art site. It should be accessible insofar as ability 
to *get to* the art is concerned, but it is not incumbent upon the 
artist to "use the simplest and clearest language possible," etc. In 
fact, it would destroy much art if such a limitation were to be placed 
on it.

It should not be the intent of the WCAG to render everything on-line 
intelligible to a three-year-old. To attempt to do so would be both 
impossible and undesirable.

Even within a site, varying levels of accessibility might be 
appropriate. Take a news site, for example. The actual news should be 
written in simple, clear language. In depth coverage might be a little 
more complicated, but should still be fairly straightforward. There is 
no need for metaphor here, just simple reporting.

But on the editorial page the requirements are different. Here, metaphor 
is important, as is tone. Again, this is a matter of freedom of expression.

It may be wise to include information about tone, use of metaphor, etc. 
in the WCAG, but if we do this without specifying *when* such 
restrictions are appropriate and when they are not, we will shoot 
ourselves in the foot. Those who feel that these requirements impinge 
upon their freedom of expression will simply ignore the guidelines, and 
this may mean ignoring *all* of the guidelines.

I strongly recommend that we examine the question of *when* users are 
entitled to access and when those needs are overridden by the author's 
right to self-expression. The assumptions we make should be clearly 
stated in the guidelines.

Sincerely,
Charles F. Munat
Received on Sunday, 9 December 2001 22:53:46 GMT

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