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Re: At Slashdot: Ask an Expert (sic) About Web Accessibility

From: Matt May <mcmay@w3.org>
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2002 16:26:34 -0800
Cc: "WAI-IG" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
To: "Catherine Roy" <c.roy@camo.qc.ca>
Message-Id: <09B4CA40-0BD6-11D7-B5E2-000393B628BC@w3.org>

On Monday, December 9, 2002, at 03:02  PM, Catherine Roy wrote:
> My my.  After reading through the various posts, I have to admit to 
> being a
> bit surprised (yeah, I'm still that naive) at the considerable number 
> of
> intentionally silly or hostile comments.  To me, this is indicative of 
> what
> I consider the core problem :  mentality.  Forgive my dark outlook but 
> most
> people just don't care and generally, unless there is some 
> life-changing
> experience for them or someone close to them or unless they suddenly 
> think
> they are losing zillions of dollars, they are not likely to go out of 
> their
> way.

I think it's important not to consider Slashdot responses to be 
representative of public opinion on accessibility.

Slashdot's audience is made up of (some may say overrun with) 
early-career software engineers. I've known a thousand of them, and for 
most, production of code with minimal effort is their core value. In 
some of the responses, though, you may see a breakpoint where posters 
see standards-compliance and accessibility as signs of a good designer 
(these are the "arrows in the quiver" folks Joe mentions).

The former group does not desire to be reached, usually because they 
have no skin in the game. Tell them to design something, and you will 
receive a minimally-conforming implementation of your design, and 
nothing more. They will never learn HTML 4.01, CSS or accessible page 
design until instructed to do so, and are perfectly happy to roll 
around in their rut until the Web freezes over.

Now, here's the encouraging part: the latter group is growing in 
numbers, and people like Mark Pilgrim (of Dive Into Accessibility[1] 
fame), sites like A List Apart[2], and groups like the Web Standards 
Project[3] are pushing forward good practices to that audience. That 
crowd also begins to gravitate toward standards bodies such as the W3C, 
as well.

My advice at this point is to first latch onto that second group. They 
are the technological drivers, they understand the savings and benefits 
of built-in rather than bolted-on accessibility, and they communicate 
it effectively with management. And, it should be noted, they become 
vocal defenders of Web standards and accessibility to the first group, 
in fora such as Slashdot.

The other ones, well, the best I think we-in-accessibility can do is to 
minimize the damage they cause, which means pushing vendors to make 
browsers (User Agent Accessibility Guidelines[4]) and authoring tools 
(Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines[5]) support accessibility 
comprehensively , to make languages (XML Accessibility Guidelines[6]) 
more accessible (or rather, harder to make inaccessible), and building 
accessibility in tightly with W3C and other technologies and standards 
-- all things WAI is working on presently.

Many of these people throw cost around as an issue when it's not even 
something they have to deal with: "cost" is a way to say 
"inconvenience" to management without sounding lazy. Honestly, 
retrofitting sites for accessibility is a pretty boring task when it's 
handed down as some vague action item to someone who doesn't understand 
it, and I think that's the case for many of the angrier posters.

The cost issue is sometimes a rationalization designed to keep any 
given project off the table. The way to combat this is at the 
management level, explaining how most of what people with disabilities 
need is well within the reach of nearly every Web site, and most of 
that is the byproduct of simple good design practices. WAI has 
resources such as "Business Benefits of Web Accessibility"[7] on the 
Resources page[8] that are meant to address management's concerns.

Chin up! :)

[1] http://www.diveintoaccessibility.org
[2] http://www.alistapart.com
[3] http://www.webstandards.org
[4] http://www.w3.org/TR/UAAG10
[5] http://www.w3.org/TR/ATAG10
[6] http://www.w3.org/TR/xag.html
[7] http://www.w3.org/WAI/bcase/benefits.html
[8] http://www.w3.org/WAI/Resources/

Received on Monday, 9 December 2002 19:26:27 UTC

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