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RE: Validity

From: Bailey, Bruce <Bruce.Bailey@ed.gov>
Date: Sat, 5 Nov 2005 22:07:26 -0500
Message-ID: <CCDBDCBFA650F74AA88830D4BACDBAB50B2D4980@wdcrobe2m02.ed.gov>
To: <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
> We are discussing about a single AT bug with a proprietary 
> technology in a single OS and with a single Browser...

I donít think this is fair.  We are being a little casual in allowing Flash to be the straw man, but I regard that as a convenient shortcut.  On the other hand, I do believe the actual real world examples of valid code leading to accessibility problems to be discrete, relatively well know, and temporally constrained (although we have been coping with them since at least 1999, *deep sigh*).

This is opposed to the concern of how close WAI is to promoting the institutionalization of the meme that code soup is acceptable.  The real world examples of broken code leading to accessible problems are virtually too numerous to list, not well explored nor documented, and change with each new version of OS, browser, plug-in, and AT.

I have detected an underlying stereotype that those promoting validity at WCAG2 Level 1 are academics and unpractical.  I reject that notion.  I have been posting web pages for the last nine years or so (about the time Wilbur went live) including two years as web master for a small state agency.  For the last five years, a large portion of my routine work duties have revolved around testing web content for accessibility.

I learned HTML from the spec and coded for years only using a text editor.  I was naive in my assumption that was how most authors wrote content.  I also assumed that validity was, of course (!), a base constraint.  Yes, I realized that the browsers worked okay with broken code (that was part of their spec), but would it not be pure folly to rely on error recovery from the browser?  You all can reasonably intuit how those preconceptions worked out for me.

Nevertheless, in all that time, the potential cost reduction benefits of business processes that incorporated basic syntax checking always seemed obvious.  The problem, of course, is the practical necessity to use COTS tools (the majority of them) which havenít embraced this perspective.  At this point in time, we are left with code soup.  The costs (in both time and money) of being the rare developer to take validity seriously are just too high.

It is in industryís selfish best interests to take validity seriously.  Unfortunately, it is not in an individual companyís selfish best interests to be an early adopter of the practice.  This impasse can only be resolved through fiat of statute.

We have heard this argument before.

It is in industryís selfish best interests to take accessibility seriously.  Unfortunately, it is not in an individual companyís selfish best accessibility to be an early adopter of the practice.  This impasse can only be resolved through fiat of statute.

Yes, validity will benefit lots of folks besides those with interests in disabilities.  And yes, there are are more of them than us, so therefore validity will be or more utility in the mainstream than with assistive technology.  Nevertheless, the benefit of widespread validity to the disability community will be disproportionate to that of the general population.

My last five years of work has only deepened my conviction that this is true.  In the majority of Accessibility Reviews we end up inspecting the source code.  If all that code had been valid, my work would have been much easier.  If developers had only brought me valid code (assuming it was easy for them to do so), the repairs they would have had to make to address accessibility would have been much easier.  Still, the implication of valid code for accessibility is lost on my close colleagues I work with every day.  This is in spite of the numerous times I have isolated a specific accessibility problem by first repairing the code.  My colleagues are as passionate as I am about accessibility.  They donít care at all about validity.  But I know HTML better than they do.  I can connect the dots in my heart and in my own head.  I wish I could better articulate that here for the skeptic.

I recognize that were validity to become a requirement overnight (which it could, I suppose, in some places) it will cause significant discomfort to the likes of Matt May and Bob Regan.  But I earn my living by this stuff too.  In most venues, the requirement for validity will take a year or (much) longer to cascade from guideline to statute.  The return on investment for accessibility will be tremendous.  And yeah, we get to bring much of the rest of the web along with us for the ride.  I donít feel bad about that.
Received on Sunday, 6 November 2005 03:07:30 GMT

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