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Re: Politics: Strict Guidelines Considered Harmful

From: David Woolley <david@djwhome.demon.co.uk>
Date: Sat, 16 Dec 2000 13:02:53 +0000 (GMT)
Message-Id: <200012161302.eBGD2re30551@djwhome.demon.co.uk>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Kynn wrote:
> <span style="font: Arial"><font face="Arial">Text</font></span>

This is ineffective on all common browsers, as the font element has a more 
restrictive scope than the element that carries the style, so takes

Also, why was the font selection necessary.  If this is really a heading,
it needs to be an Hn element, not a span, etc. (and in spite of what some
popular authoring tools do:

<font face...><h2 style=...>heading</h2></font>

invalidly nests a block level element within an inline one).

Also, why is it using a Microsoft proprietory font with no fallback to
a generic font (and other common sans serif fonts).  I get a lot of very
ugly pages on Linux Netscape 4 because  people specify explicit Microsoft
fonts and no generic alternative - NS seems to fall back to monospace when
an unknown explicit font is used.

Also, using an inline style implies that someone has not thought about
the real significance of the markup.  (Although the blue text style on
the open.gov.uk site indicates a similar problem.)

> (In fact, the first bit of markup works in Netscape 3, while the
> second one does not.)

However <h2 class=...> works back to Mosaic, and before, if that's what
is really meant, as more often than not is the case when people select
this font.

> Yes, I believe that an overly dogmatic and unachievable WCAG document
> will have no credibility, either with the designers (for voluntary

The problem is that the document is designed to meet the needs of people
writing invitations to tender and organisations trying to make themselves
safe against legal action under disability discrimination legislation.

Taking the invitation to tender case, all the companies I've ever come across
will prepare a bid based on doing only what is actually enforceable in the
contract.  They do not want a situation where the buyer can make a decision
on compliance which they would consider subjective, and may even refuse to bid,
or bid counter proposals, in that case.  Otherwise, contract completion can
be deferred indefinitely, with no corresponding income for the contractor.

You can only achieve this by having some fixed criteria, or by having a scoring
scheme that is objective, based on the number of rules violated and a ranking
for each rule.  I wouldn't expect the latter to happen in practice, and if it
did, I think that creative interpretation might well not produce the expected

By having multiple levels of compliance, you can have a basic level that 
achieves some of the objectives without too much hardship for the developers,
but also have higher targets.

To be honest, I'm not sure that AA and AAA are really that useful, on the 
assumption that they are not going to be made conditions of fixed price
contracts or used as the basis of legal actions.  However, they do represent
specific goals that bureaucracies can strive for.  For someone who is committed
to accessibility and has control over development, even A is probably not
relevant, except in as much as they may meet up with someone who likes taking
people to court, or their insurance company may insist.

Actually, there may be a case for a distinction between a level for 
general business sites and which might be the basis of legislation, and
ones for organisations with real accessibility aims.  The latter type might
be the basis of contracts between such organisations and external site

Disability discrimination legislation is only necessary because the market
will not act without coercion that puts them at an equal disadvantage with
their competitors.

> the effect of, "I would rather see an 'easier' WCAG document which
> overcomes most of the barriers and is easier to implement, and thus

Are you saying that level A compliance is too difficult.  The document
should include levels that require real committment, as well as ones that
businesses are prepared to contemplate.

> Well, not right.  Instead what it does is it leads to situations in which
> if a web designer considers _any aspect of Double-A compliance_ to be
> unreasonable, then Double-A compliance itself becomes an unreasonable
> task and it simply won't be done.

It is precisely under these conditions that you need fixed compliance
levels for contracts and legislation, as, the tendency is, if there is
no constraint to replace double-A with single-A in the above, and not
do anything at all.  (In reality, this is the commercial position, but
individual designers may well exceed the brief at any contractual

> "That's right," you may say.  "Compliance is a measure of accessibility,
> and your site doesn't live up to the right standard.  Therefore it
> can't claim Double-A compliance."

Compliance isn't a measure of accessibility; it is a rough approximation
that lends itself to contractual documents (and to the creating of the
incentive of being able to put a sticker on your site - somewhat devalued
by the lack of audit on those stickers!).

> The problem really is with the compliance system, something which was

This is true of any compliance system.  Unfortunately people want such
systems, to keep the lawyers happy.  A lot of questions on the list
earlier this year were not "how do I make my site accessible?", but 
"how do I avoid getting sued?".

> it was far too late.  But make no mistake, the Single-A, Double-A,
> Triple-A conformance system is -a barrier to increasing accessibility
> on the web-.

It's not a barrier in the UK at the moment, as businesses perceive no
legal risks with poor accessibility.  Current levels will remain far below
A unless statutory or contractual constraints are imposed and while
statues can use "reasonableness" tests (to keep the lawyers employed)
contracts rarely do.

I do agree, though, that they have a bad effect for those organisations
that would want to produce accessible sites for reasons other than legal
pressure.  However, without them, I think you can rule out accessibility
on commercial sites, and, to a large extent, where non-commercial sites
contract out web design (or employ people with a web design background,
rather than with a background related to the organisation).

> confusing untabler link is available) -- within reason.  I think that
> a strict, dogmatic reading of WCAG is possible and has value, but I
> refuse to believe that it is the only way to view these
> _guidelines_ on how to create better web pages.

A dogmatic approach is required to create enforceable contracts or
as the basis of self-certification.  I don't think a really accessible
site would need to boast about accessiblity with a certification mark.

The real problem I see is that the guidelines are not precisely enough
worded to avoid legal disputes.
Received on Saturday, 16 December 2000 09:02:40 UTC

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