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Re: belittling designers, two kinds of accessibility

From: Anne Pemberton <apembert@crosslink.net>
Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2000 18:45:05 -0700
Message-Id: <>
To: Wayne Myers-Education <wayne.myers@bbc.co.uk>, w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

     Your rant wasn't bad, in fact it was informative, though nothing new
was said, but you said it well. 

	The web is probably no longer what was originally envisioned, but the
original vision was limited and didn't take into account either the
mushrooming of bandwidth and technology, or the popularity that the web has
gained. At some time in the years to come, the "original" concept of the
web will go away and the "horseless carriage" as a toy of the privileged
will be gone ... it's almost there already!  

	Unlike most on this list, I am very much "up" on cognitive issues because
the needs in this area, especially as they affect education, have been my
career. Because of long-term friendships in the adult disability community,
I have kept up with the issues and am part of this debate. I care very
deeply about the part of the population who labor through life inspite of
cognitive disabilities - they are friends and family a-many. I am proud of
each one who conquers the financial and learning hurdles and climbs on
board the Internet. I know that for each one, there was a different reason,
a different hope, a different need that brought them to this table. I could
bore this group to tears with specific stories of how things came to be. 

But I cannot say that any one of them came to the web expecting to cherish
"documents" ... Should they be sent back to tv just because the originators
of the web didn't envision they would be here? Perhaps purists can argue
so, but these people are too real to me for those arguments to have much

My concern with seeing the cognitive issues included in WAI is because the
published purpose is to insure the web accommodates all people with
disabilities. WAI says it promises accessibility to ALL, and, when they're
not damning business, promise the buying power of ALL disabled persons ...
therefore, if it's called "accessibility for disabilities", it can't ignore
some disabilities just because they weren't originally expected to come

	On the gl list there is a member who is both personally disabled
cogitively, but also works as a teacher to those with more severe
cognitively disabled. It's likely that a complete "translation" from text
to icons will sometime be technically possible, but these needs are the
extreme. The middle stream need is to illustrate text. If this is
expressed: Every web document would be illustrated to reach the widest
audience. Saying that document must be illustrated is a long way from
saying "if you have to put a graphic on your page do this ..." .... It
should say: "Illustrate your page; do this for each illustration ..."
Notice it doesn't say "decorate your page" ... Will there be "documents"
that can't be illustrated? Sure! but is it because the content isn't worth
the effort?

	I would hope that more commercial sites would look at the IKEA-usa.com
site suggested to me this morining, and look at the "glitzy" directions to
put together a bookcase ... add the needed sound, and add a printable
version, and a basic text version, for every item sold with directions, and
leave it there so the customer could find it every time they needed it
(instead of cluttering up a drawer full of directions and schematics ...)
but this is much more than asking for mark-up language ... yet it seems to
be in the same spirit, at least to me ... 


At 07:29 PM 10/19/00 +0100, Wayne Myers-Education wrote:
>> PS: To constantly belittle those who design in 
>> multi-media and graphics is
>> never going to get this group anywhere close to acceptance by 
>> those very
>> people you are supposed to be addressing. 
>Argh. Ok. Rant time. Apologies in advance...
>Here's my take on the problem here, including why those who refuse to accept
>certain facts about the web are always going to be belittled, and why I
>believe there are two kinds of accessibility that require entirely different
>approaches, but which can lead to amusing arguments-without-end between
>people who conflate the two and confuse the issues.
>The web is plagued by people who misunderstand it, but who nevertheless
>build large parts of it.
>The web is a collection of documents - in the loosest form of the term -
>which are deliberately constructed in a format which is - by design -
>supposed to be independent of the way in which those documents are accessed.
>That is what the web is.
>People who approach the web in terms of multi-media and graphics - and
>nothing more - are therefore missing the point of the medium. The medium
>allows people to construct documents that may or may not contain multi-media
>or graphics, but where the inability to view any multi-media or graphics
>does not stop them from getting the content from the document.
>The fact that hordes of multi-media and graphics focussed people have
>misunderstood this and have flooded the web with pages that break the rules,
>tell you what screen resolution you require, tell you what kind of browser
>you require, assume that all users have a certain level of bandwidth in
>their connection, assume that all users can see, and so on and so on, is,
>AFAIK, precisely the reason that the WAI was set up.
>Sites where the content relies upon multi-media and graphics are not
>websites. They are something else, and they just happen to use web
>technologies to be distributed. But since they rely on highly specific
>software/hardware configurations in order to be viewed, they are not
>websites - whether they claim to be or not (and they usually do). People
>might say that their content *is* the multi-media and the graphics. Fine.
>But it's not a web document, even if it uses the web for distribution.
>Personally, I prefer the multi-media and graphics you can get from real
>standalone multi-media/graphics fest stuff (such as games machines) and have
>yet to see a 3d environment online that came close to Quake (a popular 3d
>environment action game where you run around shooting at monsters, friends,
>or both). The web is the web, and Quake is Quake, and that ought to be an
>end of it.
>The reason that people trying to funnel something Quake-like into web pages
>get belittled is that anyone working in a medium which they clearly do not
>understand (by their work) is going to cause serious frustration among those
>who do. In other media, there is a threshold of publishing control - of a
>sort - which means that people who do not understand those media do not get
>to pollute that media space with it. Someone who thinks that 1000 words is
>sufficient for a novel is simply never going to get that 'novel' published
>as a novel. Someone who thinks that text containing nothing but libellous
>attacks and cuss-words is suitable for publication in a broadsheet newspaper
>is going to find that no editor will publish them (or indeed commission them
>On the other hand, someone who thinks its ok to make a large executable file
>requiring a specific plugin containing rotating teapots and so on and who
>then sells that file to someone in the guise of a 'website', *is* going to
>be able to 'publish' it. More commonly, too many seem to think it's ok to
>make and sell a 'normal' website using some automatic site creation tool
>which fails to ensure that the resulting site will work in any but the most
>recent generation of browser software, and then focus on the 'look and feel'
>of the site in those browsers, without bothering to find out what it will
>look like in other browsers, on PDAs, through voice portals, screen readers
>or whatever other new systems for accessing the web will have been invented
>by the time I finish ranting.
>Since people paying for websites - almost by definition - hardly ever have
>much understanding of quite what they are paying for, rotating teapots and
>the like can easily impress the people with the purse strings; as can
>'normal' sites presented as flat images. This process can take business away
>from people who actually do know what they are doing, and that is more than
>enough grounds for any belittlement that may be going on here. Such will
>continue, as will pages like this:
>Meanwhile, the WAI works to make the web back into a document collection
>where you can access any document in any way and get content back, without
>exception, from wherever, and despite whatever physical barriers have to be
>overcome. This is why the WAI lists largely revolve around discussion of
>specific ways of marking up documents of different sorts in such a way as to
>guarantee that documents are 'viewable' independently of what equipment is
>used to do so. We call this 'accessibility', and the goal is to work towards
>a web where all documents are fully accessible in this sense.
>Anne's posts and those of some others, over the last while, unless I have
>seriously misunderstood them, have tended to focus on ways of taking the web
>to a place where you can guarantee that all documents are 'understandable'
>independently of what (cognitive) equipment is used to do so. That is a
>highly laudable goal (to a degree), and, confusingly, is also called
>However, the two kinds of accessibility are not the same. They operate in
>different domains - one operates in the domain of things a users gets, and
>one operates in the domain of things a user understands. In consequence, the
>ways in which those goals can be reached are not the same. Conflating the
>two helps no-one.
>There is also a deeper difference. There is no reason why the goal of the
>first kind of accessibility should be impossible. I can conceive - in the
>abstract - of a system of markup where there was simply no way to produce a
>valid document that was inaccessible - and I am sure that this is the
>precise direction that the WAI is leading Son-Of-HTML, call it what you
>will. (I only wish I could be more specific on the details of this
>However, while it should not and will not stop people working towards it,
>there seems to be a clear reason why the goal of universal cognitive
>accessiblility is impossible - at least in terms of the web. While one might
>be able to produce a document system where, similarly, no-one could produce
>a document that someone, somewhere, couldn't understand, this would of
>necessity impose semantic restrictions on the scope of ideas and the depth
>of discussion that such documents could contain. Web pages impose no such
>semantic restrictions.
>If you worked out a way of restricting the semantic content of web pages in
>order to produce a subset of webpages that everyone could understand,
>without exception, there would immediately be another set of webpages - all
>the ones that were rejected by your semantic-content restriction schema -
>which, by definition, would be inaccessible to people that couldn't
>understand them. This is why I say that the goal of making all webpages
>cognitively accessible is only highly laudable to a degree, since the only
>way to actually enforce it would be to actually censor anything that was too
>difficult to convert to a universally understandable language of icons and
>non-verbal cues.
>You might see that as a counsel of despair written by someone who knows
>nothing about cognitive ability issues. You might suggest that there are no
>documents anywhere that cannot be rewritten so as to be universally
>understandable, but I think I can come up with a counter example, and would
>suggest that as soon as there is any document anywhere which someone
>somewhere can't understand - because of the content - then your system for a
>web where everyone understands everything has to start banning such
>documents on the basis of semantic content and content alone. Take Unlambda:
>Unlambda is one of a number of programming languages constructed
>deliberately to be obfuscated. Unlambda code is deliberately designed to be
>almost impossible to read and understand - even by those people who invented
>How would you propose to allow such content in the putative 'web where
>everyone can understand everything'? If you change it - replace it with a
>system of icons, say - it is no longer Unlambda, and you have lost the
>original document in an effectively censorial way. If you just ban it (for
>being too hard to process into an iconic format), you are also banning some
>things on the basis of semantic content. Either we are back to what is
>effectively a subsetting process, where some documents are always going to
>be too hard for some people to understand.
>Nevertheless, as ever, the real world meets us all somewhere in the middle,
>and we do need to find ways to make more or less most documents both more or
>less viewable and more or less understandable by more or less everyone.
>Since they are so different, however, the accessibility of view (what the
>user gets) and the accessibility of cognition (what the user understands)
>must be kept seperate from one another. Otherwise we can't achieve either
>goal. In practice, it is likely that both kinds of accessibility are only
>going to be partially achievable in the short term. Until there is a form of
>HTML where accessibility of view is guaranteed, accessibility of cognition
>is likely to take second place, since the former does not step into the
>dodgy political waters of allowing or disallowing documents on the basis of
>semantic content that the latter does; moreover, the former is at least
>theoretically possible to universally achieve and the latter is not.
>I'll shut up now. Sorry to have ranted on...
>Cheers etc.,
>Wayne Myers
>Software Engineer, BBC Digital Media,
>Coder/Producer, Betsie Project
>This e-mail, and any attachment, is confidential. If you have received it
in error, please delete it from your system, do not use or disclose the
information in any way, and notify me immediately. The contents of this
message may contain personal views which are not the views of the BBC,
unless specifically stated.
Anne L. Pemberton
Enabling Support Foundation
Received on Thursday, 19 October 2000 19:52:05 UTC

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