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RE: Politics: Strict Guidelines Considered Harmful

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2000 14:16:07 -0800
To: <jim@jimthatcher.com>, "'Kynn Bartlett'" <kynn@idyllmtn.com>, <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <001201c066e4$9fdb2610$0100a8c0@aries>
Jim Thatcher wrote:
"...now I am writing a course on Web Accessibility for 508 training. This
has to be practical. This must be realistic."

Reply:
In my experience, "realistic" is an industry code word for "requires little
effort and costs us nothing." Every -- EVERY -- standard ever imposed on
industry, from seat belts to emissions standards, has been met with
tremendous resistance and the cry of "be realistic." In my mind, what is
unrealistic is expecting people with disabilities to continue to accept
second-class status because industry doesn't want to be bothered.

Jim Thatcher:
"Part of the problem is that the list members and group members so work and
rework the wording that when it comes out the other end, those responsible
for doing something about it can't understand what has been said."

Reply:
What is unclear about "Use style sheets to control layout and presentation"?
About "Avoid deprecated features of W3C technologies"?

I don't see how re-interpreting these so that they mean nothing at all adds
clarity, while those of us who insist that they mean exactly what they say
are "work[ing] and rework[ing] the wording."

Jim Thatcher:
"Like you said, we all share the dream of an accessible web. For some of us,
being practical is much more important, will gain much more for everybody,
than strict interpretation, over-bearing detail and incomprehensible
abstraction."

I beg to differ.

Who is this "we" who share the dream of an accessible web? Does this include
the thousands of web designers who continue to ignore accessibility
requirements whenever they are inconvenient? Does it include those
corporations and government agencies that have resisted accessibility
requirements despite repeated appeals from disability groups and
individuals?

Let's translate the newspeak into plain English:

What corporations "dream of" are sites that are accessible without any
effort or expense (or better still, that the whole issue would simply go
away).

"Practical" is another industry code word that means "do it our way."

"Will gain much more for everybody" means "will be a lot more acceptable to
our stockholders" and certainly doesn't include those with disabilities who
will have to settle for gutted standards and continued denial of access.

And "strict interpretation, over-bearing detail and incomprehensible
abstraction" means simply "we don't want to do it."

There is nothing "strict" about reading "Use style sheets to control layout
and presentation" to mean "Use style sheets to control layout and
presentation." There is nothing overbearingly detailed about using style
sheets. I could teach my 3 year old niece to use them in about half an hour.
And if the standards seem incomprehensibly abstract to Mr. Thatcher, I would
suggest that he seek another line of work. Compared to say SGML or C++ or
even XML, they seem wonderfully simple and straightforward. Yet I don't see
industry refusing to use SGML, C++, or XML.

What we have here, now that Section 508 is forcing web designers to
recognize accessibility issues, is the standard backlash: It's too hard, we
can't do it, it's impractical, we don't understand, it's too abstract, etc.,
etc., etc. Or, to put it another way: Don't get in the way of our
never-ending pursuit of greater profit, and civic responsibility be damned!

Bull. Those who don't really want to make their sites accessible will
complain loudly and continually, applying steady, annoying pressure, until
they reduce the WCAG to mush. If you think this is exaggeration, compare our
current labor laws to those of 30 years ago. Look at OSHA and the EPA now,
vs. in the 1970s. Consider the deregulation of everything from the banks
(remember the savings and loan debacle?) to the airlines to the food
industry. All gains not defended are eroded away by the constant pressure.

This is the way it works. If the members of this list believe that passage
of 508 solved anything, they are sadly mistaken. If we want progress on this
front, we will have to fight for it every step of the way. Take a day off,
and we will return to find everything back to the old status quo. And there
will be plenty of reasonable-sounding people like Jim and Kynn --
well-meaning, no doubt -- who in the spirit of cooperation will go along to
get along. In the end, we will find that all our effort didn't really buy us
much at all.

Resistance, as they say, is probably futile. There are too many of them, too
few of us. And they have all the power. But I'll be damned if I'm going to
sit by quietly while the WCAG gets reinterpreted into oblivion. And that, my
friends, is exactly where all this is headed.

Sincerely,
Charles F. Munat
Received on Friday, 15 December 2000 17:10:20 GMT

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