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Validity

From: Gez Lemon <gez.lemon@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, 4 Nov 2005 05:07:54 +0000
Message-ID: <e2a28a920511032107n177f5484j@mail.gmail.com>
To: WCAG WG mailing list <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>

I'm becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of discussion about
guideline 4.1 (the importance of validity). This is obviously an
exceptionally contentious guideline, and I can't help thinking that it
would be better to tackle this guideline openly, rather than hoping we
can push it through at the last moment and hope that no one noticed.
This is one of those issues that it would be incredibly useful if
someone who was unbiased could regularly and accurately summarise, as
it is highly likely that those who feel passionately about this issue
(myself included) will attempt to overwhelm contradictory views by
rewording the same argument in the hope that each rewording is counted
as an opposing opinion.

My only interest in validity is about accessibility. I have no other
agenda that I'm hoping to sneak by anyone other than in the interest
of accessibility. I would really like to understand the opinions of
those that object to validity being important enough to be included in
the guidelines. The arguments put forwards against validity (from the
face-to-face meeting in Seattle) can be summarised as:

1: Validity isn't essential for accessibility
2: Some developers think they're being clever creating accessible
content, but they aren't
3: The people who wrote the specification don't really want anyone to
be bothered by it
4: Legislation could result in people being prosecuted for invalid markup

Point 1 is concerning, particularly considering that level 1 issues
tend to be about ensuring that content is understandable by assistive
technology. If content is invalid, I don't understand how it could be
testable that assistive technology is able to make sense of the
content. If something is intended to be machine readable then validity
is obviously important, as it needs to be read by software
unambiguously. In simple terms, validity is important for assistive
technology.

Point 2 is a bit of a strange argument - It's an edge-case argument
directed at people who write valid markup, but miss the point about
semantics and accessibility. The analogy provided for this argument is
cargo cult programming [1]. Ignoring the issue that very few web
developers are programmers of any variety, it's an extremely
patronising viewpoint. It's fair to say that alternate text is rarely
appropriate, or not provided at all for non-text content on the Web,
but I've never heard a suggestion that we shouldn't trouble developers
with the task of providing alternate text because some developers miss
the point. Surely this issue would be better addressed with education
than dismissal? An equivalent analogy would be, "I know someone that
was knocked down by a car on a pavement (sidewalk), and so I therefore
conclude that it's safer to walk in the road." Common sense tells us
that this is nonsense. Validity alone doesn't ensure that content is
accessible, in the same way that walking down a path (sidewalk)
doesn't ensure we won't be run over by a car, but it reduces the risk
in a way that is too significant to ignore. It's a fundamental
principle that I believe is essential in ensuring that content is
accessible.

Point 3 is just someone else's opinion, which I assume is meant to
carry more weight than the average WCAG member's opinion. For the
easily impressed, this is a good argument; for the rest of us, an
explanation of how this person's (or persons') opinion is more
relevant than ours would be useful. Maybe they should be invited to
participate in the discussion to avoid the danger of
misrepresentation?

Point 4 appears to be a serious issue. WCAG 1.0 has required that
validity be addressed at priority 2 (level 2) since 1999; has anyone
heard of any organisation being sued (or threatened with any kind of
legislation) because their content was invalid? If not, is this really
the issue we think it is?

Validity as a level 1 issue could only serve to encourage
organisations to consider accessibility from the ground up. I really
don't understand how validity could be dismissed as not being useful
for accessibility, as at the very least, web content needs to be
machine readable - ultimately, a user-agent has to be able to render
the content so that it unambiguously understandable by the user. What
are the issues of validity that have a negative impact on
accessibility?

Best regards,

Gez

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult_programming

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Received on Friday, 4 November 2005 05:07:59 GMT

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