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RE: The Problem with WCAG (was RE: CSS Techniques for WCAG 2.0)

From: <Ianl@dyslexic.com>
Date: Mon, 23 Aug 2004 13:10:39 +0100
Message-ID: <6EAA2EBD3DDF4E4F95649DEA2B10D24264A9D4@dyslexic.com>
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
In the UK the Plain English Campaign has been getting good publicity and
some results for many years. A lot of "small print" and legal
documentation now carries their Crystal Mark. Arguably something that
wasn't Plain English could fall foul of the DDA and unfair contracts
legislation, although I haven't seen any cases yet. 
They also produce some good guides to writing Plain English.
www.plainenglish.co.uk. No doubt there is something similar in the USA.
I'll enjoy looking at John S's links.

Ian Litterick 
Support the Right to Read Campaign <http://www.dyslexia.org.uk/r2r.php>
. Sign up at www.dyslexia.org.uk/r2r.php 

	-----Original Message-----
	From: w3c-wai-ig-request@w3.org
[mailto:w3c-wai-ig-request@w3.org] On Behalf Of Kurt_Mattes@bankone.com
	Sent: 20 August 2004 17:44
	To: john_slatin@austin.utexas.edu; lois@lois.co.uk;
	Subject: RE: The Problem with WCAG (was RE: CSS Techniques for
WCAG 2.0)
	I fully understand the desire for simplified language - benefits
go beyond accessibility for people with disabilities
	However, there is the law of many countries that require certain
agreements to be written with specific language - and in the US,
provided in a specific text size with specific presentation treatments
[e.g in a box with a border of a specific thickness].  Creating a
"simple" language, text only, version would be a violation of existing
laws and not providing it would be a violation of the W3C 2.0
guidelines.  Should the US section 508 adopt the language guideline I am
left to wonder which law wins?  Should I as a web designer/developer
even have to contemplate this?  Does the W3C realize they are creating
the potential for this situation?
	IMHO - I would like simpler language in legal agreements also,
but realize this is not going to happen for reasons I have little or no
control over.  If I want a simple interpretation, I must hire an
attorney - paid for by my hard earned money.

	Kurt Mattes 
	Application Development Analyst 
	Technical Lead - Web Accessibility 
	[302] 282-1414 * Kurt_Mattes@BankOne.com 

	-----Original Message-----
	From: w3c-wai-ig-request@w3.org
[mailto:w3c-wai-ig-request@w3.org]On Behalf Of John M Slatin
	Sent: Friday, August 20, 2004 9:36 AM
	To: lois@lois.co.uk; WAI list
	Subject: RE: The Problem with WCAG (was RE: CSS Techniques for
WCAG 2.0)
	Lois Wakeman wrote:

		[JMS] ...  Native language, written culture, specialised
knowledge, proficiency with words, reading and learning difficulties
are, like all human attributes, very variable in the average population.
In my opinion, having words that will suit everyone is at least a
magnitude of difficulty greater than getting a delivery mechanism that
will suits the same audience.

		(It's hard enough single-sourcing print and online
documentation for exactly the same narrowly defined audience without
compromising the usability of one or the other, IME.) Of course, just
because it's hard doesn't mean WGAG shouldn't try to address some of the
issues, but concepts like simplified vocabularies (which are available
and useful for example in aerospace and defence documentation domains)
often have no real meaning in the world of e-commerce, creative writing,
journalism and so on (even The Sun waxes lyrical occasionally!). And as
they are generally deadly dull to read, unlikely to captivate many
audiences at all.

		And as Rust says, text accessibility is not measurable
in any meaningful way (without conducting huge programmes of user
testing on every single page).

		Just my tuppence,



		These are important points, and thank you for stating
them so clearly.


		It's certainly true that we're unlikely to find any
interesting writing that's equally accessible to everyone; it's equally
true that simplified vocabularies developed for specific contexts such
as aerospace engineering or other industries.


		In my own view, the WCAG 2.0 draft guidelines about use
of language (especially under 3.1) do not (and should not) require "one
size fits all" approach to text content; that's doomed to failure for
many reasons.  But it is possible to provide (for example) summaries or
paraphrases of complex texts that use simpler language than the full
document, and to provide these as *supplementary* material-- in other
words, provide both the complex original and a simpler, shorter version.


		Before everyone gets riled up about this apparently
outrageous demand for extra writing, I'd like to point out that there
are many cases and contexts where it's routine to produce such

		- so-called "executive summaries" often accompany
lengthy technical reports, policy and legal reviews, research proposals,
and so forth.  These are often attempts to "boil down" a long, highly
detailed text to its bare essentials, and to present them a highly
simplified form, for example as bullet points; the intent is typically
to communicate the critical points to people who are assumed (politely)
to be far too busy actually to read the entire document, or people in
executive positions who lack the specialized knowledge to negotiate the
details but who still need a basic understanding of the issues in order
to make appropriate decisions.


		Moreover, I don't think there's a mandate in the WCAG
2.0 draft to make every document on the Web fully comprehensible to
everyone on the planet. A technical article on search algorithms need
not be accessible to an 11-uear-old child, whether or not that child has
cognitive impairments. But there *are* computer scientists who have
cognitive impairments or learning difficulties, whether these arise
through injury or illness (stroke or automobile accident, for example)
or from genetics (dyslexia is a neurological condition). And it might be
possible, even desirable, to take a few additional steps to support such
colleagues, employing a variety of strategies in the process: clear
writing, use of visual materials to illustrate complex processes, and so


		And there *are* ways to quantify at least some aspects
of writing-- at least for English-language text; I'm not sure whether
there are comparable things for other languages.  For example, the
Accessibility Toolbar recently released by the Accessible Information
Solutions group at the Australian National Information and Library
Service  (http://www.nils.org.au/ais/web/resources/toolbar/#download)
includes a submenu pointing to tools developed by Juicy Studios.  One of
these is a Readability Index.  This yields a page that provides a few
measures indicating *roughly* how many years of schooling would be
required to read and understand the text on the page.  The report also
includes a lucid explanation of the process for generating these
measures, and even lists the algorithms for different indices.  It also
provides a good explanation of how to read the report.


		Another useful tool is the Plain Language Audit Tool
published by the Northwest Territories Literacy Council in Canada
(http://www.nwt.literacy.ca/plainlng/auditool/cover.htm).  This provides
a step by step guide to reviewing documents (print or online) for "plain
language," including instructions for creating a readability index based
on a sample of five 100-word passages.  It also offers some guidance on
what grade-levels (years of schooling) might best be suited to audiences
with different characteristics.


		There are lots and lots of problems with things like
readability indices, and I would personally prefer to see much more
rigorous and systematic application of human intelligence to the task.
And, as I said earlier, I don't know whether such tools exist for other
languages-- I suspect that there are some cultures where the very notion
of a readability index would be greeted with a mix of laughter,
bewilderment, and rage.    But when used well by people who are
reasonably well informed, they can be helpful.  (Just like
spell-checkers, accessibility evaluation tools, HTML validators... all
require some human judgment, and isn't that a good thing?).


		Sorry to have gone on so long.

		John Slatin

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Received on Monday, 23 August 2004 12:10:51 UTC

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