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Mr Tamez and the train timetable

From: Charles McCathieNevile <charlesn@srl.rmit.EDU.AU>
Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1998 13:32:58 +1100 (EST)
To: raspberryw@washpost.com, webnews@washpost.com, WAI <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.SUN.3.91.981118130354.6918C-100000@sunrise>
I refer to Mr Raspberry's recent piece on the topic. While it is very 
accessible in tone, it appears that Mr Raspberry has not stopped to think 
for more than 2 seconds before he wrote. It also appears that those 2 
seconds were not inspired by any flash of genius, but a knee-jerk and 
thoughtless reaction.

I agree with his principle that there is a point at which it is not
reasonable to keep making accomodations. I am not sure of the specifics of
his claims, so I cannot comment on whether he has outlined a sensible 
case in point, or is just whinging.

This is the single point of the entire article that was worth writing. 
And it is a point which is acknowledged in Australian Discrimination Law,
(which affects me because I am Australian, in Australia, reading the
Washington Post via the Web) and I believe in the Americans with
Disabilities Act, very explicitly. It hinges on definitions of words like
reasonable. 

Which brings us to the meat of the article (ignoring the whining). Mr 
Raspberry suggests that the super-dooper, whizz-bang, bells and whistles 
website is there to support most of the people, for whom it works well, 
and that people who are blind (or partially so) are too small a group to 
worry about. This is just plain wrong. Very very wrong. This is the sort 
of idea that makes less kindly people laugh out loud at stupid people.

First, the 'bells and whistles' website does not work well for most 
people. How many people have tried to find information on a website, only 
to be told that 'you need a new browser'. And when you get it, 'you need 
a new plugin'. You go to get the plugin. 'Sorry. There will be a version 
for your computer released next year'. Or you simply dial up, and wait. 
and wait. After half an hour, your computer resets the connection - it 
thinks you have fallen asleep. Or you get a form to fill out that you 
cannot read. In fact most of the bells and whistles websites do not work 
well for the rest of us. Some of us are just lucky enough to have 
sufficient ability that we can actually amke sense out of such rubbish.

And more importantly, there is no need for a bells and whistles website 
not to work for blind people. Or deaf people. Or even deaf-blind people. 
It is perfectly possible, with the same amount of effort, planning and 
thought, to write a website which works well for both groups as it is to 
write one which works for only one group. The difference is not in the 
amountof work, nor in the excitement of the visual presentation, nor in 
any amount of 'user-friendliness' which can be provided. The difference 
is simply in the skills of the creator.

And here we come to the nub of the problem. When a city commisions a bus 
stop, or a nation build a hydro-electric dam, they ensure that the person 
doing it knows what they are doing. They ensure that University buildings 
don't collapse on students, that train lines don't simply fall apart and 
spill the train into a river. Yet when it comes to fantastically 
expensive websites, which are providing basic information (because it is 
cheaper than printing it, and it is more useful to many people than an 
automated telephone system) we seem to be prepared to accept anything 
that looks good. If I build a skyscraper that wins design awards for its 
glass and steel cladding, but has no stairs and the lift only works 
sometimes, people will quite rightly vilify me. Yet when a government 
agency spends taxpayer dollars to produce an information service that 
fails the needs of the people most likely to rely on it, they are 
defended on the grounds that 'it looks good'?

Indeed there is case for 'getting a grip'. And it seems that Mr Raspberry 
is one who has his grip in the wrong place.

Charles McCathieNevile
Received on Tuesday, 17 November 1998 21:36:41 GMT

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