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Re: Politics: Strict Guidelines Considered Harmful

From: Kynn Bartlett <kynn@idyllmtn.com>
Date: Mon, 18 Dec 2000 09:47:00 -0800
Message-Id: <a05010402b663f9e0955c@[]>
To: "Marti" <marti@agassa.com>, "Charles F. Munat" <chas@munat.com>, "'Anne Pemberton'" <apembert@crosslink.net>, <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
At 5:17 AM -0500 12/18/00, Marti wrote:
>First, Thanks to Charles for clarifying my comments on graphics, and my
>apologies for a poorly chosen example that would in anyway imply I was in
>favor of text-only sites.
>I think there are actually three sides to this argument.  IMHO, both the
>primary sides have a number of good valid points.
>1. <font>, and its like, if allowed are likely to be misused. (decreasing
>2. If disallowed, <font>, and its like, will be used anyway as that level of
>the guidelines will be ignored. (decreasing accessibility)
>Under the occasionally hot rhetoric some good points have been made on both
>sides and it is my hope that some common ground can be found that will help
>us move to a web where <font>, and its like, are curiosities of the past.

Marti, a good posting.

Here's what I think -- I look beyond the _specific tags used_, as
accessibility is primarily a matter of mindset and of intent, and
not of coding.  In fact, I think it's more important to get past
what I sometimes call "tag trivia" and instead concentrate on the
wider picture.

In this case, I think the concepts of increased accessibility are
far more important than if someone chooses to use the <font> tag
or CSS or anything else.  I believe that the following are true,
in addition to Marti's comments about <font>:

1.  CSS, and its like, if allowed are likely to be misused. (decreasing
2.  If disallowed, CSS, and its like, will be used anyway as that
     level of the guidelines will be ignored. (decreasing accessibility)

Why?  Because I feel that the portions of CSS which correspond to
the <font> tag are pretty much indistinguishable from <font> from a
"big picture" view.  They are specific technologies which can be
used with certain browsers to get certain effects.

Why is that important?  Because of the web designer mindset; web
designers are looking for those _certain effects_, they are not
setting out to use _specific tags_.  Few people sit around going "gosh,
how can I include a <font> tag here?" or "wow, wouldn't it be neat
if I did _something_ with CSS on this page?"

Merely saying "don't use <font>, use CSS" reduces the problem back
down to the "tag trivia" level, instead of the higher conceptual
level where you have to consider browser support, audience needs,
and so on.

That loss of the big picture certainly simplifies things and makes it
easier to simply scan source in order to condemn someone, but it
doesn't consider the intent, motives, audience and other demands of
the page and page designer.

"Tag trivia" thinking completely skips over the higher reasoning
necessary for true accessibility; it gives an entirely false impression
that web accessibility is about HTML and CSS specs and not about
human beings and their access to the web.

There are as many potential accessibility problems in CSS as in HTML,
and if we taught web designers the right "tag trivia" and got them
to use CSS, but didn't teach them the bigger principles, then would
have successfully migrated everyone to CSS _and still have the same
kind of problems_.

(I realize that for a long time CSS was regarded as the "magic bullet"
for web accessibility, and it was dogmatically insisted that CSS is
inherently more accessible by decree, but judging accessibility by
fiat rather than direct observation is surely a path to ruin.  "CSS
is more accessible because the W3C said it has to be" doesn't hold
much water.)

Over-emphasis on one type of web design technique -- of declaring
certain technologies as "bad" and others as "good" -- misses the boat
in a number of different ways.

Kynn Bartlett <kynn@idyllmtn.com>
Received on Monday, 18 December 2000 13:03:45 UTC

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