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Re: WAI and the Feb 9. congressional hearing

From: Scott Luebking <phoenixl@netcom.com>
Date: Fri, 4 Feb 2000 21:10:23 -0800 (PST)
Message-Id: <200002050510.VAA05776@netcom.com>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

I was thinking a little bit about what information might be helpful to
for the congressional sub-committee to hear at next week's hearing.

As has been pointed out, the issues of the net being slowed down because
of traffic related to accessibility or significantly more disk space
being needed to store information related to accessibility are probably
of very minimal concern.  For example, providing the text for captioning an
online video would take up very little additional resource in comparison
to the number of bytes required for the video itself.

More reasonable concerns could be the amount of resources needed to make
a web presentation accessible or the possible limitations that could be
imposed on the web pages.  From some talks I've had with different web
developers on and off campus this week, two key issues seem to be not
being allowed to use tables for layouts and being forced to duplicate
features provided by javascript.  For a number of them, the question
isn't whether the technology, e.g. style sheets, would provide an
alternative for doing doing something.  The concern was how much more
work was required, e.g.  using tables to organize a page is often much easier
than style sheets.

For the various web developers on campus, their web pages are generally
seen as providing some kind of service.  Their concern was trying to be
inclusive while staying with in a budget which is often not very
generous.  For commercial web developers, the questions were more along
the lines of cost-benefit analyses.  For example, in a blind population
of 1 million people, 75% of whom are unemployed, how much discretionary
income would they have?  Is reaching for that population more productive
for the site than using the resources to develop additional features which
might attract more users from the sighted population?

Technology access in some ways is different than other access issues.
There aren't too many solutions to handling issues of elevators and
ramps.  However, technology can be changed to provide more opportunities
for accessibility.  The goal should not be to exclude the internet from
ADA coverage.  Rather, the thrust should be towards enhancing technology
to make inclusion of accessibility in internet easier.

The technology should be created which will let web developers more
easily create accessible web presentations.  There are several aspects
which need to be addressed for this.  First, at the time new technology
is being developed for the web, there also needs to be research at that
same time into how that technology will be made accessible.  The general
problem is that there is a time lag of often years between the time the
technology is developed and when the disabled population confronts the
access problems of the technology.

The people who develop the technology often have little incentive to
address the accessibility issues.  It is often not seen as being
important to their bottom line.  Netscape is an example of this.  The
access issues of the technology are not as interesting and may not be
addressed for that reason also.  A possible problem is that people are often
uncomfortable with disability.

Some possible solutions might be:

    1.  some kind of federal tax incentive for technology developers
	to expend resources in addressing the accessibility issues
	of the resources as they are developing.  (for start ups,
	the tax incentive could be delayed in some way.)

    2.  increase the number of people working in technology who
	also happen to be disabled.  (very few disabled people have the
	in-depth technology background where they could have a technology
	job outside of the disabled world.)

One of the problems that technology developers will run into is that
there is a huge gap in researching what kind of interfaces do different
disabilities need.  Since the disabled world is often behind the
non-disabled world in terms of technology, they are frequently unaware
of the directions that the technology is heading.  As a result, there is
little research being done in anticipation of where the technology is
going.  For example, AOL is an example of an interface which could be
classified as highly interactive with switching among various tasks such
as instant messages, chat rooms, etc.  The AOL technology has been
around for quite awhile, but there has been very little research about
what blind people will need in a highly interactive environment when
multiple tasks are being performed.  A solution is:

    1.  allocating resources to support pro-active research
	in access to technology

The tools need to be developed which will allow web developers
to create web sites which use various technologies while requiring
as minimal an effort as possible to to provide accessibility.
Guidelines like those recently created by WAI for authoring tools
are helpful.  The hard problem is getting the tool developers to
actually include the accessibility features needed by web developers
to create accessible web pages.  I think variations of the solutions
I listed for the technology development issues could apply here also.

User agent developers also may not include accessibility features
in their software.  Solutions developed for getting accessibility
included in tools might also be applicable in these cases.

Received on Saturday, 5 February 2000 00:10:29 GMT

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