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RE: Challenge: Defining accessibility

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Mon, 23 Oct 2000 23:38:54 -0700
To: "'Steve Baty'" <steve@redsquare.com>, "WAI Interest Group \(E-mail\)" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>, "'davey'" <davey@inx-jp.org>
Message-ID: <000e01c03d85$14bf4d00$8e21e7d8@aries>

Steve Baty wrote:
"You can't blame the content when the problem is actually lack of access to
the technology as a whole."


True, but you can when the content requires a certain *type* of equipment.
For example, if a site required an expensive browser to be accessible, that
might constitute an unfair barrier. I was actually thinking along the lines
of high- vs. low-bandwidth connections, but the idea is equally applicable
to other technological barriers.

To draw your suggested parallel to TV, it would be like requiring a "color"
TV, or a certain size TV, or a TV with stereo to access the content. The
current WCAG already addresses this to some degree.

If you think it's a laudable goal to make the Web accessible to all, why
flinch? Why assume that it will be any more difficult than making it
accessible to people with disabilities? It's certainly more inclusive: it
doesn't leave anyone out.

If a person cannot afford an Internet connection at all, then true, the WCAG
can't help. But ensuring that content is accessible using older technology
or on less expensive browsers/connections isn't really all that difficult
and might be easier to sell. Look back at some of Kynn's comments on how
"accessibility helps everyone" in the archives to see what I mean. Kynn has
been an aggressive proponent of making sites work on phone browsers, etc.
for a long time.

Why make exceptions? Why fight for the enfranchisement of one group - people
with disabilities - and disregard another with similar problems: the
economically disadvantaged? Especially since so many in the former are also
in the latter.

That's why I say, when the method by which content is presented
unnecessarily excludes *any* group of people, then that content is

Davey Leslie wrote:
"Seems you'd have to define what 'unnecessary' means. Do they stand in
contrast to necessary barriers? What might those be?"


Perhaps unnecessary isn't the right word, but I can't think of a better one
just yet. As for necessary barriers, I would think that those would
represent barriers which the technology creates which have yet to be
overcome. Or barriers that cannot be corrected via the technology. For
example, if a person has no Internet connection at all, then we can't
overcome that barrier with better content.

Dick Brown wrote:
"That task is tough enough -- can you imagine drafting guidelines for how to
make the Web accessible to the economically disadvantaged?"

Yes I can. In fact, I think that the current guidelines do a pretty good
job. The key is to make web content cross-browser compatible and to avoid
sites that only work on one technology (e.g., only on cell phones, or only
on IE). Another key is to make content independent of connection speed. That
means optimizing text and graphics for fast downloads and allowing users to
opt out of large downloads (making sure that the content is delivered in
some other way).

My concern is that in our rush to address the needs of one group, we will
exacerbate the problem for another. I think that narrowly defining
accessibility to refer *only* to people with disabilities hurts our efforts.
Not only does it overlook other types of barriers, it implies that there are
people who are *not* disabled. Now we have another "us vs. them" situation
in which the needs of one group are pitted against the needs of the other.
There should be no dividing line: it is a continuum. Everyone is able to
some degree and disabled to some other degree. If we are drawing a line,
where do we draw it? By stressing accessibility for *everyone* we avoid
stigmatizing one group.

We also greatly simplify the definition because we no longer have to
determine whether something is a barrier to people with disabilities or not.
A barrier to anyone is a barrier, and if it can be eliminated by better
organization and coding of content, then it should be removed. Can a site
that takes an hour to download on a 14k connection truly be called
accessible? Can a site that can be viewed by any person with a disability
but *only on IE 5.5* be called accessible?

(Just thinking out loud here on our late night pacific northwest net.)

Charles F. Munat
Seattle, Washington
Received on Tuesday, 24 October 2000 02:34:04 UTC

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