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Define Accessibility!

From: Bruce Bailey <bbailey@clark.net>
Date: Fri, 11 Jun 1999 13:14:49 -0400
Message-Id: <199906111720.NAA09726@smtp-gw2.vma.verio.net>
To: "WAI IG" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Cc: "Kelly Ford" <kford@teleport.com>, "<Anne Pemberton" <apembert@crosslink.net>
Thank you Kelly!  I think you have cut the Gordian Knot here!

We have really been debating about the definition of accessibility here. 
Some are equating "accessible" with "understandable" and others with
"available".  I run into the latter frequently when I talk to other state
agencies about if their programs are accessible, and they respond with
something like, "Yes, we have locations in every county".  This is
equivalent with the argument that, "Well your computer CAN get that .GIF
file, can't it?  See, it IS accessible to you."  Accessible means more than

Unfortunately, the WCAG defines what it means by "web content" but not
"accessibility".  I think we would be doing the WAI a favor by defining
this term a little more explicitly!

I'll start us out with a couple of definitions (this needs work)...

Accessible:  Available and usable with appropriate assistive technology.

Accessible:  Functional to persons with disabilities by the same means
(assistive technology) by which they routinely use their personal computer
for other mainstream information technology related activities.

I don't like either of these definitions because they are tied too strongly
to disability, and don't generically address persons who use text browsers
by choice (or for other reasons).  At least both definitions get us past
the current accessible==understandable bottleneck/misunderstanding/impasse
that we are currently at!

Both definitions are also less than satisfactory because they don't address
how "accessible" is used on the WAI site, where the broader "available"
connotation is implied.  I am not aware of any formal (dictionary)
definition of "accessible" that includes PWD or AT.

I like the reference to assistive technology because, as Kelly Ford points
out, all current working definitions of "accessibility" (with regard to
disability) require (implicitly or explicitly) compatibility with
"appropriate accommodations".  This definition also neatly gets past the
issue with learning disabilities because, as AT improves (to allow general
computer use by people with LD), web sites that follow the WCAG (even as
currently written) WILL be usable by persons with LD.

The advent of HTML marked the first (well, most significant anyway) time
that a completely competent computer user with appropriate assistive
technology (e.g., a blind person with a screen reader) could encounter
insurmountable obstacles (e.g., missing ALT tags), even though s/he had
full access to all his hardware and software (i.e., Internet browser). 
THAT is why the WCAG is needed!

Accessible means something different than usable.
Accessible means MORE than available.
Accessible means LESS than understandable.

Bruce Bailey, DORS Webmaster

> From: Kelly Ford <kford@teleport.com>
> To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
> Subject: Re: QED & Marshall McLuhan
> Date: Friday, June 11, 1999 11:38 AM
> After reading the past several days on this topic, it seems reasonably
> obvious to me that something is necessary for some segment of the
> population with cognitive disabilities who has the ability to access the
> web to understand what they are accessing.  What is still not obvious to
> me is exactly what that something is.  I have a couple other thoughts to
> toss into the ring.
> As I mentioned before I am blind.  Even the most accessible web site
> around will not be available to me without a screen reader or some sort
> of talking web browser.  I don't think we'd expect that the W3 guidelines
> on accessibility would require each web site to build some sort of
> self-voicing capability into the site that gives me the flexability and
> independence that a screen reader or talking web browser affords.
> I wonder if the solution to the barriers faced by those with cognitive
> disabilities falls into the same category.  Do we need some sort of
> assistive technology that can tailor information to the cognitive ability
> of different populations.  I realize that such doesn't exist today but
> perhaps some sort of translator could be explored.
> To me accessibility has to include some measure of practicality of the
> solutions being proposed.  Here in the US we don't expect every citizen
> to own a TDD to allow someone with a hearing impairment to communicate
> with anyone on demand.  Instead we all, through a tax on our phone bill,
> fund the TDD relay system which allows telephone operators to handle this
> task.  We don't expect a college professor to give his lecture with his
> or her voice and with sign language at the same time.  Instead we bring
> a trained interpreter or realtime captioning into the lecture.
> None of this is meant to say that solutions at the content level
> shouldn't be explored.  But what I don't hear is a systematic solution
> that I can take to web site developers and say do these things to make
> your site accessible to this population.  I'd bet that the majority of
> people writing content for the web have not clue one about what grade
> level their content is written at and how to effectively change it to a
> different level as just one example.
Received on Friday, 11 June 1999 13:20:28 UTC

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