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RE: QED & Marshall McLuhan

From: Wayne Myers-Education <wayne.myers@bbc.co.uk>
Date: Tue, 8 Jun 1999 16:21:49 +0100
Message-Id: <41ED4776F432D211ACBD0000F8EF7D7A01287C79@w12wcedxu01.wc.bbc.co.uk>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
> Wayne looked at 
> the extremes,
> and decided it wasn't the goal of the Internet to reach 
> EVERYONE after all.

I don't think that's what I said. I looked at the extremes and decided that
it wasn't the goal of the Internet to connect everyone to everything,
because that isn't possible. It may well be the goal of the Internet to
reach everyone, but not everyone will be able to be reached by the whole of
the Internet. This ought to be self-evident.

> If it is important to accommodate the blind on the web, it is equally
> important to accommodate other groups of disabled as well, 
> including the
> cognitively impaired, or else it isn't accessibility at all, 
> it's merely
> favoritism. 

It is important to make information accessible. That is, it is important to
store and distribute information in such a way as to make the physical
faculties of the user irrelevant in terms of whether or not they are able to
get to that information. Brutally, it is not as important to store and
distribute information in such a way as to make the mental faculties of the
user irrelevant in the same terms. It's an actual logical impossibility.

When you start changing the actual information itself to make it 'more
accessible' to a given group you are no longer talking about the same
information. You are talking about a precis or a rewrite or whatever - with
which there is nothing wrong, and I am wholly in favour of doing it in the
appropriate contexts. But it's not the same information any more, and it's
not 'accessibility' in the same sense that we are talking about it when we
do so in terms that disregard the complexity or otherwise of the information
itself. It's 'understanding', or 'communication', or 'horses for courses',
and in terms of the cognitively impaired, the most that can be hoped for -
and should be fought for - is an accessible subset of the rest of the web.

After all, the accessibility requirements for the blind do not include the
removal of all graphic elements, but rather the provision of an accessible
alternative. Similarly, the accessibility requirements for the cognitively
impaired ought not include the removal of all cognitive complexity, but, as
before, the provision of an accessible alternative. In the first case, the
accessible alternative is simply a different 'view' of the same information.
In the second case, the accessible alternative is a different, though
related, and simplified subset of the original information. It is not
necessarily the same information. In some cases it may simply not be
possible to make a simplified version, while in other cases it will be
possible to replace the original with the simplified version. Depends.

But this is all already in the guidelines: number 4 - 'Clarify natural
language usage', number 12 - 'provide context and orientation information',
and number 13 - 'provide clear navigation mechanisms', and it is manifestly
quite right that this kind of guideline be followed appropriately. Doing so,
however, is never going to make a non-reader read, any more than it will
make mountains skip like lambs or turn water into wine. And it won't make
the revised, simplified version of the information into the original either.
You can take the original away and pretend that the revised version was all
you ever had - in many contexts that might be wholly appropriate. In many
contexts, however, it won't be appropriate at all.

In terms of the implication that 'accommodating those with cognitive
limitations' does not constitute 'dumbing down', I would be interested to
know why not, except that one description uses loaded language and one
doesn't. But it's an extremely interesting comparison. Maybe 'dumbing down'
isn't such a bad thing in some cases. Maybe 'accommodating those with
cognitive limitations' isn't possible in all cases. Maybe that's the point,
and the answer lies in the middle ground, in the subset of information that
is accessible to all regardless of cognitive ability, and in the shape and
size of that subset.

After all, no-one gets more than a subset of the internet anyway, regardless
of cognitive ability.

Cheers etc.,

Wayne
Received on Tuesday, 8 June 1999 11:22:19 GMT

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