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RE: Section 508 article on CNN

From: Kynn Bartlett <kynn-edapta@idyllmtn.com>
Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2001 13:37:12 -0700
Message-Id: <>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
This is an explanation of why I was critical of the CNN article at

I probably should point out that in this, I'm not critical of anyone
working for the Access Board or involved with the establishment of
the 508 regulations.  I'm just critical of the reporting style used
to present this issue to CNN's readers.

Okay, here's my problems with the article:

 > The government's so-called Section 508 goes into effect on
 > June 21, leaving federal agencies, IT vendors and government
 > contractors scrambling to comply with the stringent new rules.

"So-called" as used here, in context, is not just a way of saying
"the rules called Section 508" but it serves to cast a "dubious
air" upon these regulations.  It's like quoting someone and
saying, e.g., "Judy Brewer, apparently the head of the so-called
Web Accessibility Initiative..."  It's reporter-speak for "there
is something shady here" -- but there's not.

The next questionable bit in that sentence is about "scrambling",
something which isn't supported in the story, which doesn't give
much in the way of "scrambling" about -- it's scare words, meant
to imply that 508 has produced some sort of chaos, which then
gives the impression that it's rather ominous and scary.

This impression is followed up with the idea of "stringent new
rules" -- except the rules really aren't all that stringent after
all, and there's certainly no sign of "stringent" rules quoted in
the rest of the story.  In other words, the second paragraph leads
off with an immediate slant that -isn't supported by the rest
of the article-.

 > Much of the angst over the new rules surrounds the requirement
 > to make federal Web sites accessible to people with disabilities.

We're told about "the angst" but don't see it.

Bill Sahlberg of JetForm says:

 > "Federal agencies have already built these sites. There's a huge
 > amount of information in them. . . . In the blink of an eye, they
 > have to convert everything to work with assistive technology like
 > screen readers," he adds.

You know, I really must have missed that part of 508 which says that
web sites have to convert, with the blink of an eye, to work with
screen readers.  In fact, I thought it was explicitly new (or
updated) pages that are primarily affected.  Did the reporter or
Mr. Sahlberg get it wrong, or did I?

Here's a quote from an April 18, 2001 _Federal Times_ article:
 >> "Pre-existing Web sites do not have to meet Section 508 standards,"
 >> said Doug Wakefield, information technology access specialist at the
 >> Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, known as
 >> theAccess Board.
 >> Only Web sites launched or substantially redesigned after June 21
 >> must be compliant with Section 508, Wakefield said.

Yet the CNN article gives the impression that thousands of pages
must be "fixed" at the blink of an eye.

So who's right?  Well, it's the reporter's job to find out the

There are some misstatements about 508 requirements, which, coupled
with the previous statement of "stringent" rules, seems fishy.  Take
for example the eternally-misunderstood "use of color" rule:
 > And they need to make sure color doesn't convey meaning as in a stop
 > sign image or bar chart.

...which is of course completely wrong.  Color -can- and -should-
convey meaning; it simply should not be the ONLY way in which that
is conveyed.  In fact, stop signs are an excellent example of GOOD
use of color:  They are red, but they are also shaped in a specific
way (octagonal), and they say "stop" on them.  [This is how stop signs
look in the US -- apologies to anyone who has different types of
stop signs.]

About tools:
 > Still others provide regular reports on Web site accessibility that
 > can be used as an audit trail in litigation.  [...]
 > Indeed, it's mainly fear of Section 508-related lawsuits that is
 > driving companies to get serious about accessibility. 

The above is all that's said about the threat of 508-related
lawsuits.  What does that mean?  Who will get sued?  We never find
out, we just are left with the impression that someone, somehow,
can get sued from Section 508.  Oh no!

Some details should have been provided here; you can't just walk
in and say "lawsuits might result" and then not follow up.  Yet this,
coupled with leading terms such as "fear", is what this article

In fact, in my experience, it's not "fear of lawsuits" at all, it
is a desire to retain or attract Federal dollars by selling accessible
products, which is driving this new interest in web accessibility.
508 is a carrot much more than it's a stick.

About fixing a site:
 > Even with the new automated tools, Web developers will spend a couple
 > of hours per page diagnosing and fixing accessibility problems.

This figure is -very- suspect, and they give no support to indicate 
that this is accurate.  No sources are cited for this (e.g. "according
to Paciello" isn't there) and it just begs for web developers to
multiply the number of pages by two hours, which doesn't strike me as
necessarily an accurate assessment of accessibility problems for all
sites.  A general figure such as this -- completely unattributed --
is irresponsible reporting.

 > Static Web pages are easier to fix than dynamically generated Web
 > pages, and pages built from templates are easier than those
 > without templates. 

The latter is a true enough statement, but the former isn't, and 
doesn't even make sense in conjunction with the latter.  Static pages
might or might not be easier to fix than dynamically generated pages;
in some cases, a change to a single script or template may be enough
to effect a change over the entire site.  So a statement such as the
above -- again unattributed -- deserves to be challenged.

The quotes by Compaq are good, though.  I don't want to give you
the idea that I totally hated this article, but I just feel that
the reporter's slant was poorly chosen and a bit too obvious ("508
is scary!") and there are a number of errors and omissions that
should have been caught (and attributions demanded).

--Kynn, took a journalism course years ago and is now more dangerous
         for having done so

Kynn Bartlett <kynn@reef.com>
Technical Developer Liaison
Reef North America
Accessibility - W3C - Integrator Network
Tel +1 949-567-7006
Received on Monday, 18 June 2001 16:37:16 UTC

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