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Re: Re[2]: Diabetes websites too complicated

From: Charles McCathieNevile <charles@sidar.org>
Date: Wed, 15 Sep 2004 17:27:35 +0300
To: "Mike Brown" <mike@signify.co.nz>, w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Message-ID: <opsedjv9e2w5l938@widsith.local>

On Wed, 15 Sep 2004 09:50:43 +1200, Mike Brown <mike@signify.co.nz> wrote:

>
>>> Is the "reading age" of a site, assuming it can be measured, an
>>> accessibility issue? Is there a limit to how far information can be
>>> "simplified" before it loses its usefulness?
>
> C> Certainly there is a limit to how far information can be simplifie  
> before
> C> it uses its usefulness. But there are plenty of 7 year-olds with  
> diabetes
> C> (to pick one example) who are for the most part able to manage their
> C> condition by themselves, given information in an appropriate form.

> My reading of the article was that it suggested that the
> diabetes sites be written in such language that "an average educated  
> nine year old" can understand it. And that the author was critical of the
> current sites which "would need the reading ability of an educated  
> person aged between 11 and 16.8 years old to understand [them]".

Yes. My readong of it was the same, and that author suggested this is not  
appropriate for a site directed at "the general public", since it is  
consistently demonstrated taht a large section of them do not have the  
reading level of an educated 11 to 14 year old.

> I don't see that this is an accessibility issue. Yes of course make
> resources for children available if they are part of the target
> audience, but how can a site's content be considered unaccessible if
> the "average educated 11-16.8 year old" can understand it? I don't
> think that's an unrealistic expectation.

In my original email I tried to provide examples of people with  
disabilities which resulted in their being unable to use sites written at  
this level. The stated goal of accessibility  (at least within the work  
done at W3C) is to ensure that people can use a site regardless of their  
disability, or something along those lines. There are many more examples  
than the ones that have been cited on this list, but I think there is a  
very clear argument that this is an accessibility issue. The next question  
is what to do about it...

> Content is the hardest part of a website. I'm a web developer and
> invariably the content for a website is the last thing that arrives
> from a client. They almost inveitably underestimate what's involved in
> writing and getting together the content.

Yep. And you know, if they took a little more time, they could probably  
make it simpler, clearer, and easier to fit into the presentation model.  
But the real world is a compromise.

> I guess the underlying interest in my asking the original questions
> is something like:
>
> How far is it realistic to make comprehension of content an
> accessbility issue?

I think it is realistic to make it an accessibility issue (it either is or  
isn't). If you mean "how far should one go to try and resolve this issue?"  
then you have a very good question indeed. To which the answer is "as far  
as feasible, but not further".

I think it is important to note that we are not ust talking about children  
here. Childhood is not very widely recognised as a disability. On the  
other hand there are a range of conditions affecting reading ability  
(dyslexia, which may have no impact on general intelligence, various forms  
of brain injury which can severely impair cognitive proceses in general,  
autism, which has a much more complex effect, and plenty of others) in  
adults, and which are recognised as "common-or-garden" disabilities pretty  
generally. Jonathon Chetwynd will explain if you ask him that one of the  
problems with a lot of content meant for people with intellectual  
disabilities is that it is written as directed for children, when the  
people he works with, who may have an overall cognitive and reading  
ability of a 5 year old also have the understanding of a 5 year old that  
they are more grown up than smaller younger people, and deserve to be  
treated like that... add the level of emotional control of the average 6  
or 7 year old, wrap it in a man who is 30 years old, 190cm tall, and  
weighs 110 kg (that's something like Jonah Lomu), and you may get an  
interesting perspective on the problem we are trying to resolve. To the  
extent that we can.

> In building a site, the aim is to make it accessible to anyone. I
> don't think that's unrealistic. We may fail at times, or not do it the
> best way, but it's something we try to attain.

Oh, I think we will fail all the time. But as you say, we keep aiming for  
the best w can do.

> But to make understanding the content an accessibility issue? How far
> do you go? At what reading age does it become unaccessible?

If it's a text-only site, then at the point wherre you put the words in it  
is probaby inaccessible. As Kynn used to remind us, accessibility isn't a  
yes/no proposition in general - only for a given individual. The art of  
accessible design is figuring out how to be inclusive (in terms of  
providing for the widest posible audience). Indeed, you cannot make the  
text alone accessible to everyone. Often, as you note, text ncan be made  
clearer. Just as, for visually impaired people a text supplement is useful  
to understand the images that a 7-year-old child can understand, for  
people with cognitive disabilities a handful of images can make the  
difference between not understanding anything on a page and being able to  
understand it - as would any educated 7 year old child who actually can  
read the text. There are a number of other things that help besides just  
looking at the words - the structure, the information that can be used to  
present the site in the most appropriate way for a given user, ...

> Note that I'm not at all arguing against clear, well-written and
> edited content. Or against providing content that is understandable by
> a 9 year old, or someone with Down's Syndrome if they are part of the
> target audience. But does every site have to provide content that is
> understandable "an average educated nine year old" in order to be
> considered accessible?

I would say, yes. On the other hand, I don't think every site will ever be  
considered accessible. Some shouldn't (art tends to work by playing around  
with "accesibility" - particularly in the area of understanding). Some  
should but won't have the time, money, or human resources to get there.  
Some sites need to provide information that is understandable by a barely  
literate 9 yaer old who has spent most of his life avoiding school in  
order to justify the effort of making them in the first place.

> That's not a requirement of every book in the library on diabetes. Why
> should it be a requirement of every website on diabetes?

I don't know. I didn't suggest that it should. But I think it should be a  
requirement on sites directed to the general public. Not every book in the  
library is useful, and certainly not every book in the library would be  
considered accessible to the general public. (Ever seen a blind person  
browse the humourous books section of the library looking for their  
favourite relaxing read? The point is that the Web can do better. It may  
not, always, but it is worthwhile finding out what it needs in order to do  
better...

cheers

Chaals

-- 
Charles McCathieNevile         charles@sidar.org
FundaciĆ³n Sidar             http://www.sidar.org
Received on Wednesday, 15 September 2004 15:28:10 UTC

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