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Bill Frezza

From: Bruce Bailey <bbailey@clark.net>
Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2000 17:24:33 -0500
To: <rpreston@cmp.com>
Cc: <frezza@alum.mit.edu>, "Web Accessibility Initiative" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <001601bf855f$40528380$53fe330a@msde>
Dear Editor,

I take great issue with Bill Frezza's Internet Week Online article dated
February 28, "The ADA Stalks The Internet: Is Your Web Page Illegal?"
Reference URL:

The Americans with Disabilities Act is civil rights legislation.  To frame
it as anything less is offensive and ignorant.

Lawyers make money protecting all kinds of people from all kinds of
discrimination.  Is this a serious argument to do away with such laws?

We don't expect corporate and private largess to address most of our basic
rights.  The right of access to public information is no less fundamental.

The ADA has had a profoundly positive effect on the day-to-day lives of
MILLIONS.  Many of the primary benefactors have NOT been persons with
disabilities.  A few examples:
Delivery men and bicyclist use curb cuts and ramps more than persons with
Young children and adults learning to read benefit more from closed
captioning than do the deaf.
Doesn't everyone appreciate how elevator doors announce themselves before
they open?  That little feature was originally conceived so that people
using crutches wouldn't hold up traffic!

Like most accommodations, all of the above cost very little when they are
considered at the beginning of a project.  They seem like obvious "common
sense" now, but would not have happened without legislation!  They are all
also examples of accommodations necessitated BECAUSE OF MAN-MADE BARRIERS
created in our environment!  The same is true for why web content, at least
that which is paid for by tax dollars, should be expected to adhere to
reasonable levels of accessibility!

It use to be that a competent blind computer user, who had the latest
equipment, pretty much had control and access to everything in his computer
environment.  Graphical applications, like desktop publishing and photograph
manipulation, were the rare exceptions.  They had the same issues everyone
else faced with incompatible file formats and the like, but things were
fairly under control.  As the mainstream business world migrated to
graphical operating systems, there were a few bumps in the road, but not too
bad.  Windows 95 remains remarkably screen-reader and keyboard friendly
(economic issues and the threat of legal action played a large part there,
but I will skip over that bit of history).  During most of its existence,
the Internet was extremely accessible too.  It is only the last few years
that things on the electronic frontiers have started to turn worse for the
blind and others with disabilities.  The omnipresence of the web marks the
first time that a competent blind computer user, who has the latest
equipment and training, can routinely encounter obstacles that they cannot

The problem is NOT with them -- it is incompetent web authors who routine
post content that is not standards compliant!  The W3C HTML 4x specification
mandates meaningful ALT text tags.  It is ALT text which allows an image
picture of words to be machine readable.  That ALT text content makes a page
accessible to someone who uses a screen reader.  It is also that ALT text
that is read by search engines, indexing spiders and web crawlers, as well
as cell-phone and futuristic car dashboard browsers.  You would think that
it would be "common sense" to include such content.  It seems ludicrous that
such accommodations are in need of being legislated.  American history is
rich with examples of companies who resisted practices which were not only
in the best interest of the country, but also in their own economic
self-interest.  The WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is not
just a good idea, it SHOULD be the law.  There are just too many examples of
poorly coded sites.  Does YOUR site pass a formal test of validation?

Mr. Frezza wrote that Internet accessibility is "a noble goal and a
fascinating technical challenge".  He could not be more wrong on either
point.  Access to information is a basic right not a "noble goal"!  The
"technical challenges" aren't all that tough!

See the WCAG "top ten" list (distributed on business cards) at URL:
The very specific document (with links to techniques) can be found at URL:

Bruce Bailey
webmaster for the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE)
Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS)
Received on Friday, 3 March 2000 17:27:21 UTC

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