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Re: WA - background-image in CSS

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2002 10:36:08 -0800
Message-ID: <3C486B18.20400@munat.com>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Access Systems wrote:

> On Fri, 18 Jan 2002, RUST Randal wrote:


Permit me to interject here.

The Web is public space. When you post a page, you are effectively 
opening a storefront and inviting the public in.

Unless you've set up some sort of private membership system, that 
invitation is open to anyone. Even if you set up a private membership 
system, as a society we have the right to insist that you do not 
discriminate unfairly.

When you post a page to the Web, you are BROADcasting. That is, you are 
communicating as one to many.

In a private conversation, you may tailor your approach to the needs of 
that individual (and you will, if you want to be effective). In 
broadcasting, you have two options:

1. Use the Lowest Common Denominator approach. Tailor your content so 
anyone can understand it. This maximizes your potential audience, but at 
the cost of some depth.

Or, better,

2. Build your page so that it adapts to the needs of the individual. 
This does not necessarily mean that the page must be dynamic, only that 
it needs to take into account the differing abilities of users.

In a larger sense, *there is no eye candy*. Every image on a page 
contributes to the message received by a sighted user. If you put 
incongruous images on your page, you will simply dilute your message and 
confuse your audience. A good designer ensures that every page contains 
only those items that contribute to the message.

It is also important to realize that one person's eye candy is another's 
content. People with cognitive disabilities may have difficulty with 
text alone. Images, sounds, video, and other media may be necessary to 
convey your message to these users.

The problem with most web sites now is that they don't contain *enough* 
images (and the ones they do are usually poorly chosen).

Mr. Randall, when you suggest that some content is really non-content, 
you are making a decision for your users, but you are not making it for 
*all* your users. If something is non-content, why include it at all? A 
good designer would eliminate it entirely.

But by hiding it from non-visual users, you are segregating your users 
into two groups -- visual and non-visual -- and you are saying that this 
content is for visual users only.

This is the essence of Bob's complaint. Not that you have chosen which 
information to include (you can do this by editing, as he suggests), but 
that you have segregated your users and are applying different standards 
to them. Since Bob is in the group getting the short end of the stick, 
he is understandably miffed.

The difficult part of building a web page is trying to determine what we 
are really saying. Anyone who has ever written an essay or painted a 
picture or composed a song can tell you that this is the most difficult 
part of any act of creation.

Most web page designers have trouble articulating -- bringing to 
consciousness -- their real message. So when asked to translate that 
message into different media, they are lost. Look at the "eye candy" on 
your pages. Aren't you really trying to say something? What does it 
really mean? Is it really possible for images to contain no message at all?

(And if you think that your images don't contain a message, you might 
want to remove them completely, because your audience *will* expect 
messages and will read them in regardless.)

The difficulty in building accessible web pages is not in the coding, or 
dealing with the limits of technology. The difficulty in building 
accessible web pages is in bringing all of our thinking into 
consciousness. So much of what we do when communicating is unconscious. 
So much of our message is transmitted without our conscious knowledge.

To build a truly successful web page, we must first understand what is 
content, what is structure, what is presentation, and how and why these 
three are intertwined.

Perhaps the greatest goal of this list (after convincing people that 
accessibility is vital) should be to convince web page developers that 
accessibility is not a matter of learning techniques or following a few 
rules, but of understanding the process of communication itself. Once 
we've done that, the rest falls into place rather nicely.

Well, that's my opinion anyway.

Charles F. Munat
Seattle, Washington
Received on Friday, 18 January 2002 13:34:54 GMT

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