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Re: Labelling web page functionality for blind users

From: Gregory J. Rosmaita <unagi69@concentric.net>
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2000 00:34:54 -0500
Message-Id: <>
To: Scott Luebking <phoenixl@netcom.com>
Cc: WAI Interest Group Emailing List <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
on the GL list, scott luebking asked me:

Suppose that you were appearing before a congressional sub-committee.How 
would you argue before them why no functionality provided on web pages 
should be labelled as being appropriate for blind users? Why would this be 
of benefit to most blind web users of various levels of computer/web 

to which i reply (on the WAI-IG list, as per the request of the GL listowners)

first of all, i'm not exactly sure what you mean by quote How would you 
argue before them why no functionality provided on web pages should be 
labelled as being appropriate for blind users? unquote, but since ignorance 
has seldom stopped me from airing my views in the past, let me attempt to 
answer your question...

quite simply, what is needed by _all_ users is structured content...  the 
user should be the one to decide how the content is presented, not the 
server...  my main complaint with your server-side solution to 
accessibility is that it is based on categories that are far too 
broad...  is there really such an overlap between the needs slash desires 
of collections of individuals who happen to share a singular trait, such as 
quadriplegia or blindness?   i'm not convinced that there is, but since i 
do not presume to speak on behalf of other disabled individuals, i will 
limit my remarks to blindness...

my first objection to your approach is your use of the term quote blind 
unquote as an all-encompassing classification...  your approach (as 
articulated on the WAI-IG and GL lists) is based not upon the needs of 
individual users, but upon an intellectualization of what it means to be 
blind and what a blind person might want most out of a specific site, and 
_that_ is the unreasonable burden your solution places on a site's 
administrator when you tell him or her to tailor content according to 
disability type...

so, since there is no such thing as a prototypical slash stereotypical 
blind user, were i appearing before a congressional sub-committee, it would 
be quite easy for me to argue against a blindness-specific solution for 
accessing content from a specific web site, as -- i have pointed out in the 
past -- what works for me, as someone who was fully sighted until the age 
of 20 may be vastly different for what works for someone who lost their 
sight at a more advanced age, and will probably be quite different from 
what works for someone who has never had any usable vision or someone who 
lost his or her sight during their adolescence...  similarly, what works 
for a braille reader may be quite different from someone who lacks the 
requisite tactile sensitivity to feel braille...

the only common denominator between the types of person listed in the above 
paragraph is their inability to see -- to categorize them simply as quote 
blind unquote, and to serve them content based upon such a broad 
characterization, ignores the vast differences between each individual, and 
their individual modes of perception and comprehension, which is why i 
vehemently oppose labeling quote accessibility solutions unquote by 
disability type...

what the blind user wants is access to all of the content that is being 
served up to visitors using the browser or set of browsers for which the 
site has been tailored, or which are best capable of rendering the content 
produced by the specific authoring tool being used to construct and 
maintain the site...  what the blind user needs is 1) structured content, 
2) browser- and OS-neutral content, and 3) a wizard (or shopping cart) type 
interface which allows that user the ability to pick and choose what 
constitutes that user's personal stylesheet, as well as user agents that 
fully support CSS, as well as other W3C recommendations that have been (to 
borrow a phrase from CAST) quote approved for accessibility unquote, not a 
solution imposed from above, based upon a criterion as general as "blind"

the real debate isn't over labelling, however -- it is over where control 
over the presentation of content properly lies -- on the server or the 
client side...

in a post to the GL list, dated 11 january 2000, and archived at:
you asked me to:

Look at the issue of what would make web pages easier to use for people 
with upper arm limitations like myself.  While it may not be possible to 
solve the problem for all people with upper arm limitations, there can be 
enough in common that providing appropriate features on web pages could be 
useful.  I believe denying everyone with upper arm limitations because not 
all is provided is not reasonable.  Would you want to go into a room of 
people with upper arm limitations and tell them that you believe they would 
be better served by denying them all the benefits of
such features since not all people with upper arm limitations will 
benefit?  (Personally, I would be as pissed as hell.)  Does this really 
make any sense?  Would people be opposed to web pages saying they have 
special features for people with upper arm limitations?

in a long postponed and ultimately unsent reply, i wrote:

i'm not trying to restrict anyone's interaction with web content -- quite 
the contrary, i, like you and everyone else who is participating in the 
WAI, am trying to remove any such restrictions...  my concern with your 
approach is that it involves the imposition of a solution from above upon 
individuals, rather than enhancing each individual's ability to control the 
presentation slash reordering of the structure in which the content is 
contained in whatever modality that individual chooses...

the key words are: content and structure...

what i want shipped to me, plain and simple, is consistently and logically 
structured content...  by logically structured, i mean that semantics have 
been utilized in the classification and contextualization of the structure 
the author is attempting to convey...  the problem with most web content is 
a total lack of structure, and it is structure that provides the framework 
upon which to build individually-tailored presentations of web-based content...

while i personally do like the restructuring of the deja news output that 
you posted in your private web space, do you actually think that the 
sponsoring organization, which relies upon advertising revenue, would 
permit the placement of advertisements at the bottom of the page, where 
there is a greater than 90 percent chance that the content of the 
advertisements will never be read,  _before_ the page is sent to the user?

a more practical solution would be to encourage a site such as deja news to 
use more consistent (and proper) structure -- there isn't, for example, a 
single header on the page, which makes it difficult to navigate by 
structure, if one's adaptive equipment or user agent supports structured 
navigation, and/or the ability to jump directly to the first header on a 

again, it all starts with content and structure -- yes, the user should 
(and, in my opinion, must) be given the ability to restructure according to 
his or her needs), but in order for information to be re-structured, it 
must first contain some sort of structure, and the more semantically 
sensible that structure, the easier it will be to re-structure according to 
individual needs...

only in an educational setting, i believe, could one expect the server to 
perform the sort of transformation that you so skillfully performed on the 
deja news results page mounted at:
with the express purpose of tailoring content for a single-browser campus 
or course, but that is -- in my opinion -- still the wrong approach to the 
problem...  information needs structure in order for it to be of any 
utility to anybody, and i, personally, would not want someone _else_ 
deciding _for_ me how the page should be structured simply based upon the 
fact that i am totally blind...

which is why i continue to argue that restructuring needs to be done on the 
client, rather than the server side...

yes, writing one's own stylesheet and performing transformations upon page 
content is intimidating, but i have been consistently asking 
representatives of mainstream UA manufacturers who implement CSS and offer 
the user the choice of using a local style sheet, to provide a wizard-type 
mechanism with which users without any knowledge of CSS can construct 
stylesheets that work for _them_, not that which i, you, or any entity 
decides is most appropriate for them, based upon one characteristic out of 
the hundreds that comprise an individual...  yes, my inability to see 
influences my perception of the world that surrounds me, but it is not the 
sole arbiter of reality -- my perception of the world in which i operate is 
as colored by my 20 years of functioning as an extremely visually-oriented 
individual as it is by leaps of faith, intellectualization, and 
extrapolation ...

my identity is in no way based upon my disability -- neither should the 
content which i choose to peruse...


He that lives on Hope, dies farting
      -- Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, 1763
Gregory J. Rosmaita <unagi69@concentric.net>
    WebMaster and Minister of Propaganda, VICUG NYC
Received on Monday, 14 February 2000 00:25:42 UTC

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