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Some follow-up thoughts on the US ADA/Web Hearing

From: Judy Brewer <jbrewer@w3.org>
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 21:53:39 -0500
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To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
WAI Interest Group:

Here are some follow-up thoughts about the February 9th US ADA/Web hearing.
They in no way represent an official summary of the hearing.

Thank you to all the people who helped to get information out about the
February 9th hearing <http://www.house.gov/judiciary/na020800.htm>.
Regardless of what one thinks about the question debated yesterday, it is
good to be able to follow and/or to participate.

From my discussion with Subcommittee members after the hearing, it is
unclear whether there will be a final report issued as a result of the
hearing. My understanding is that this is not unusual -- sometimes the
outcome of a hearing is that there is no action taken. 

We have been told that the record will remain open for three or possibly up
to five days after the hearing. 

I've heard that there were problems with the audio feed throughout the
afternoon, and have made inquiries to see if an audio file or transcript
can be available post-hearing, as others on this list may have also.

The hearing room was standing-room only for most of the afternoon. There
were two panels <http://www.house.gov/judiciary/con0209.htm>, one
technical, one legal. 

The main purpose of the hearing appeared to be to question the US
Department of Justice's statement in a September 1996 Opinion
<http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/foia/tal712.txt> that the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to the Internet and the Web with regard to
effective communication requirements for "places of public accommodation."
A considerable part of the discussion concerned legal points under US law
that I will not attempt to summarize except to mention that they included
questioning whether or not the ADA met the definition of "place" and was
therefore a covered entity, and whether or not the need to use alternative
equivalents constitutes a violation of the first amendment (the right to
free speech under U.S. law).

On the technical panel, several witnesses commented about the importance of
Web accessibility; made references to good work being done by W3C/WAI; and
stated that education and training should be sufficient and that no
regulation was necessary or could be unduly burdensome to industry. 

In my comments on the technical panel
<http://www.w3.org/WAI/References/200002-Statement.html> I sought to
clarify what the issues of Web accessibility are; what approaches are being
taken for solutions; that those solutions are consistent with the direction
of Web evolution and the need for device-independence of information; that
the solutions for Web sites are proportional to the size & complexity of
sites; and that we are seeing extensive interest in and appreciation of
WAI's work, but not yet as extensive implementation as is needed. I showed
a very brief demo of an inaccessible site and then a site that appeared
just the same but was accessible, and I distributed Quick Tips cards to
members of the subcommittee. My statement included a quote from Tim
Berners-Lee <http://www.w3.org/WAI/References/200002-Statement.html#tbl>.

The legal panel, which followed, was asked a number of questions which
included assumptions about technical points, and it was there that
misunderstandings about approaches on Web accessibility were particularly
apparent. For instance, it was repeated several times that the Web Content
Accessibility Guidelines "prohibit the use of graphics or color" (on the
contrary, they encourage the use of graphics, and do not discourage the use
of color). While these points were clarified in discussions with
subcommittee members and witnesses following the hearing, it was not
possible due to the structure of the panel presentations to respond during
the hearing.

A few thoughts: 
- Getting clear and accurate information out about all three of the W3C/WAI
guidelines, and specifically about what is in the Web Content Accessibility
Guidelines, only helps us. Allowing myths to persist and circulate does not
help people understand what Web accessibility is, and people often draw
inaccurate conclusions based on misunderstandings.
- The efforts of people on this list to track and respond to coverage of
Web accessibility are very helpful (refraining from cross-postings please),
and often result in follow-up calls to (and from) the W3C/WAI office for
clarifications. The topic is new to many of the reporters covering this --
who often have a very short time to get a complex story down -- and they
almost always make an effort to clarify any inaccuracies once they have
been contacted.
- The turn-out at the hearing -- of people from the disability community,
from companies that are interested in Web accessibility, people in the
access research community, and people in government -- was impressive, and
shows the high interest for work in this area.

Thank you for all the support on this -- and my apologies for the long

Judy Brewer    jbrewer@w3.org    +1.617.258.9741    http://www.w3.org/WAI
Director,Web Accessibility Initiative(WAI), World Wide Web Consortium(W3C)

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Received on Thursday, 10 February 2000 21:55:29 UTC

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