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RE: Politics: Strict Guidelines Considered Harmful

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2000 16:10:51 -0800
To: "'Anne Pemberton'" <apembert@crosslink.net>, "'Marti'" <marti@agassa.com>, "'Kynn Bartlett'" <kynn@idyllmtn.com>, <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <003601c06886$fbd4fd80$0100a8c0@aries>
Anne wrote:
"Sometimes the quibbles over the guidelines...."

Anne, we aren't quibbling. This isn't about the <font> tag. We are arguing
about the entire philosophy underlying the guidelines. There are two or
three issues being discussed:

1. On one side are those of us who believe that the separation of structural
and formatting elements is vital to the future of accessibility on the Web,
and that softening the standards to permit greater mixing of the two is a
step in the wrong direction with potentially grave consequences to our goal
of an accessible Web.

On the other side are those who feel that the guidelines are too strict in
this respect for the current level of technology, and that if we don't
soften them a bit, we will lose the battle here and now.

This is a hell of a lot more than a quibble, and is the reason that tempers
are flaring.

2. Also, there is the issue of compliance with the guidelines. On one side
are those of us who believe that the three-tiered approach of Single-A,
Double-A, and Triple-A compliance is workable. We believe that Single-A
compliance is easy to achieve and should be enough for most sites. That
Double-A is, and should be, more difficult to achieve, and that prohibiting
deprecated elements, including the <font> tag, is a reasonable requirement,
especially given that the preponderance of browsers now support some level
of CSS.

On the other side are those who feel that companies will not be satisfied
with Single-A compliance, and that an honest (they call it "strict") reading
of the Priority 2 checkpoints will discourage those companies, who may
reject the guidelines as a whole. They contend that it is accessibility that
we're after (we all agree, I hope), and that this may better be achieved
with a much looser interpretation of the WCAG (some of us strongly
disagree), therefore we should interpret it that way.

The first group see this as a sell-out and an unnecessary compromise of
principle. They believe that companies can be persuaded to make sites
accessible without diluting the current standard (or that at the very least,
we should modify the standard rather than encouraging people to have a field
day interpreting it any way that suits them).

The second group respectfully disagree. They think that the first group is
not seeing the big picture, and that they've mistaken compliance with the
guidelines for true accessibility (we haven't, but that's another argument).

This is not a quibble either. It is vital to the future of our cause that we
get this right. If group 1 is right, then watering down the standards and
delaying the separation of structure and formatting will greatly delay an
accessible Web, perhaps indefinitely.

If group 2 is right, then failure to compromise with the powers that be in
the web world will marginalize us and end our chances of accomplishing our

Anne continued:
"Every guideline needs to be grounded in here and now, what does it take to
accomplish it, and exactly who (how many) does it actually benefit, and who
is dis-served by it."

I reply:

Yes, and no. True, guidelines need to account for the current level of
technology. Thus the ubiquitous "Until user agents support..." But
guidelines must also look to the future. A guideline that says "It's OK to
do exactly what you're doing now" is no guideline at all. Thus there are
three levels of compliance for the WCAG. Single-A represents items that can
(and should) be accomplished right now. They're not that difficult, and they
will help the majority of users with disabilities.

Double-A raises the bar. While these techniques are less vital to
accessibility, they are also frequently more difficult to implement.
Triple-A raises the bar to it's highest point, addressing every
accessibility issue the writers of the WCAG could think of. (Yes, they
missed a few.)

But your comment regarding "who (how many) does it actually benefit" is
exactly right. And that is the key to one of our arguments. I (and others)
contend that permitting <font> at Priority 2 does little to serve anyone,
and that it so weakens the standard and the overall goal of separating
structure and presentation that it does far more harm than good. So it is a
cost/benefit analysis.

I further contend that Kynn & company are stressing compatibility (and minor
benefits to graphic design) in Netscape 3 in a vacuum, tossing out the
window much of our hard work towards a separation of structure and
presentation. They've found a tiny (and, I think, illusory) benefit, but are
ignoring the cost.

Anne finishes:
"As Kynn also pointed out picking a group, and pointing a finger to those
who can be beat up on for all the ills of the web serves no one.  I am a
"vision impaired person" who makes use of "text only versions" for
occasional print uses ... I am flummoxed by sites that include an "all text
version", a "regular version that is all text", and no graphical versions.
I don't have fancy access at home - I have plain old modem access, rural,
so we rarely get more than 30 on downloads even tho our modem will do
faster .... yet both hubby and I use the graphics on the web as much or
more than text ... I know of only one sighted friend who ever used text
versions instead of graphics, and even he changed up when he got a T1 at
home! Most folk I know got into the web because of graphics, not to avoid

"I suspect that most of the folks you're trying to convince to see it your
way, have experiences similar to mine. It's tough to argue with what's

I reply:

Anne, despite repeated attempts on my part, we seem completely unable to
communicate. I really cannot understand why you have so much trouble
grasping this simple concept. You continue to post comments like the comment
above that imply that someone here is in favor of text-only sites. I am
going to try one last time to make this clear. Please, please listen


I repeat: NO-ONE is against graphics. No-one. Really, Anne. In fact, the
entire argument between Kynn and me has revolved around the use of style
sheets vs. presentational tags like <font>. Not only has no-one bashed sites
for including graphics, but in several posts recently I've specifically
mentioned graphics as necessary to sites for accessibility to people with
disabilities. So Anne, I AM AGREEING WITH YOU. Can we stop arguing now?

As for Marti, what he said was that his friends used text-only versions
because they didn't want to wait for graphic elements (like tables for
layout, Flash applets, etc. ) *that didn't increase the usability of the
site.* And he's exactly right: most of the Flash, etc. on-line is NOT used
to convey important information or to make the site more accessible to
anyone, cognitively disabled people included. It's there just to add
"flash," and it's a pain in the butt.

As someone who appears to be an expert on the needs of the cognitively
disabled, you must be aware that images cannot be plopped down willy-nilly
on a site and be expected to increase accessibility. The images (and colors,
etc.) need to be carefully chosen and properly used if they are to direct
the user's attention correctly. Graphic design *is* both an art and a
science, as anyone familiar with attempts at "universal" icons can tell you.
Just slapping images on a site randomly is as likely to distract a user as
to improve usability.

But most importantly, Anne, please realize that everyone here is on your
side. While we may disagree with the type of graphics, the number, the
layout, the meaning, etc., I doubt that anyone on this list would prefer a
text-only web. What we want is a web where graphics are used intelligently,
efficiently, and effectively, not haphazardly and gratuitously.

I hope we can now lay at least this issue (graphics on the Web) to rest.

Charles F. Munat
Received on Sunday, 17 December 2000 19:06:24 UTC

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