Re: Formal Recorded Complaint

On Jul 30, 2007, at 5:50 PM, John Foliot wrote:

> (cc list trimmed somewhat as I'm sure TBL, Steve and Judy have other  
> things
> to worry about...)

I went ahead and trimmed the other mailing lists besides public-html  
as well.

> Quoting Maciej Stachowiak <>:
>> It's important to keep in mind that when people disagree, there are
>> often different perceptions on different sides of the argument,
>> especially in media like email and IRC that don't convey emotional
>> cues very well. What you see as process abuse, others may see as
>> vigorous discussion that ultimately leads to a better spec.  
>> Similarly,
>> sometimes individuals may perceive a conversation as a series of
>> unwarranted personal attacks on them, where others may see that
>> individuals remarks as trolling or needlessly disruptive.
> Maciej, I agree that often the emotional and visual cues of the  
> written word
> are lacking, however, please do refer to Tina's earlier response
> []:  there can be no mistaking the intent  
> of the
> comments made about her - there is no ambiguity in those written  
> words.

I agree that people said some not-very-nice things about Tina, but  
this was during an earlier phase of the working group when it seemed  
to me there was more hostility and argumentation in general. So I  
would not necessarily assume things are the same today. I will also  
note that Tina's emails to the group were seen by some as disruptive  
at the time.

While we still have some heated discussions in the group, I think we  
are generally in a more peaceful era, and I see a lot of productive  
work taking place. But still, it's best for all of us to try to be  
kind and courteous as much as we can, and also to understand that  
there will be lapses.

> Some might think they are the extreme, or taken out of context, but  
> if you
> care to follow the full thread of this conversation, there are  
> others who
> have felt the same "chilling effect" [Sam Ruby @ IBM
> -]: the superior tone and argumentative  
> attitude
> that brow-beats dissenters on list, and as witnessed by Tina's  
> archived
> comments, ridicules them off list.

Now I'm going to contradict myself a little. It's generally good to be  
nice, but it's also good to be able to forcefully disagree if you  
don't accept someone else's argument. Too much argumentativeness can  
have a chilling effect, yes. But chasing away or banning people who  
seem too argumentative can create another kind of chilling effect.  
People become afraid to point out problems in other people's proposals  
for fear of being seen as one of the mean people. Ultimately, being  
too afraid to criticize will result in a lower quality spec. The  
difficult thing here is to provide the appropriate balance.

As long as we stick to criticizing the idea, not the person, I think  
we're more or less ok.

>  Believe me, I know my name has appeared
> on the IRC logs more than once, and I know for sure that they  
> weren't saying
> I was a swell guy...  That's OK, I have broad shoulders and thick  
> skin; I
> believe in what I fight for, and will fight for what I believe in.
> You also commented:
>> (Personally, I'm not even sure who is involved, besides John; I
>> don't  know who exactly he thought was rude.)
> I thought that the IRC logs in question were offensive (not rude);  
> the tone
> of the conversation was dismissive of legal provisions afforded the  
> disabled
> ("they have no carrots"), the reference to
> "Smell-o-vision" and how the accessibility community would want  
> special
> provisions there too, and the re-enforcement overall that our  
> community and
> our concerns are generally dismissed in private, despite
> "the official position".

I think this may be the heart of the misunderstanding, and I think the  
feelings of disagreement may be partly more about style than  
substance. When I read the transcript, I saw in it some sentiments  
that I can relate to myself.

First, I think most of us here, even those who do not see themselves  
primarily as "accessibility advocates", would agree that it's  
important to support accessibility. No one has disputed that part of  
the design principles.

However, I do think there are some disagreements on how to best  
achieve good accessibility for the web. Here's the major divide I see,  
and these are somewhat extreme statements of the two positions:

[Position A]: Accessibility is important. Therefore we should have a  
lot of HTML features that are there specifically to aid accessibility  
for some classes of users. Authors should be required to add as much  
accessibility stuff as possible to their markup.

[Position B]: Many authors won't think that much about accessibility.  
So the best accessibility enhancements are those that work on top of  
features that also have some benefit in mainstream browsers with no  
added AT. In the course of making the right markup for general use,  
accessibility comes along for the ride, and that's basically all we  

Notice that there is no debate here about whether accessibility is  
important. The disagreement is solely over the best way to address it.  
When advocates of Position B argue for accessibility solutions that  
work automatically with standard markup, and against explicit  
accessibility-specific markup, sometimes advocates of Position A see  
this as being against accessibility. At this point, they may criticize  
advocates of Position B as being against human rights. They sometimes  
argue that instead of making normal markup work well, we should force  
authors to add more accessibility-specific markup; it is sometimes  
claimed that various laws may require this.

I hope you can see how this may be frustrating. I think advocates of  
Position B are mostly sincere in their belief that their approach is  
the better way to improve accessibility. Many of them have been in the  
trenches of slogging through bad markup, and have little faith in the  
likely benefit of complex authoring requirements, compared to  
heuristics that can work on general-purpose content. But simply  
because of their disagreement about technical they are labelled as  
being against accessibility.

It is my sense that this is the frustration that was being expressed  
in the IRC log you cited.

On the other hand, sometimes it seems that advocates of Position B ask  
advocates of Position A to jump through a lot of hoops to justify  
accessibility features that are already in HTML4. And it may seem that  
these kinds of hoops are not always required for features that aren't  
related to accessibility.

I think in some ways this is a fair criticism. But I think the best  
way forward is to carefully examine and justify all HTML features, to  
make sure we have a solid basis for our working group decisions, and a  
record of the reasoning. Also, for accessibility features where a key  
part of the justification is the way such features are handled in  
existing assistive technologies, it's likely that it was difficult to  
do the necessary testing because, for example, screen readers are much  
less readily available than general web browsers.

> I have already admitted that *I* was initially rude in my response,  
> to which
> I have apologized.  There has been sufficient response from other  
> parties
> surrounding this issue that if you do not understand by now why  
> collectively
> the accessibility advocates are upset, then it points to an even  
> bigger
> problem.  Please tell me that this is not the case.

I do understand some of why you are upset. But I also understand why  
people who disagree with some of your technical opinions are sometimes  

>> The first recourse in a dispute, ideally, should be for the parties  
>> to
>> talk directly to each other. Especially if the event that upset you
>> happened in a non-interactive medium or at a time when you were not
>> present. I hope we all consider this option before kicking problems
>> upstairs.
> My personal feeling, and based on many of the private responses I have
> received supporting my outburst, is that it was time to "kick this
> upstairs".  Enough is enough... these two communities have been  
> going at it
> in a similar fashion since May, and the vitriol and division has  
> been well
> documented to date both within and outside of the W3C.  Please do  
> not make
> me research all of the archives simply to prove what is generally well
> known.  I can and will, but let's not.  Let's agree that to date, the
> exchanges very often have been less than cordial, and that from  
> *our* (or at
> the very least, my) perspective certain members of the Working Group  
> have
> not always displayed an appropriate sensitivity that comes with the
> responsibility they have undertaken.

I don't think your outburst was a great way to foster agreement and  
collegiality. In fact, if you look at my description above of why  
Position B advocates are frustrated, you may see how your responses  
play into their mental script of the situation. You seem to be  
interpreting interpreting what they see as a point of technical  
disagreement (what technical approach is best for accessibility) as an  
indication of lack of sensitivity.

> Some see nothing wrong with the comments in the IRC log - others  
> did, and
> have commented so publicly.  I chose to make it a bigger issue  
> because I
> personally have had enough.  When I first read those comments
> I was angered beyond belief at the insensitivity of their tone.   
> Some might
> think I over-reacted: so be it - the comments however did strike a  
> chord
> with others, so it simply wasn't me - I just made the most noise.

>> Let's try these kinds of approaches before we even bring up the idea
>> of a process for kicking people out. The responsibility for making
>> this group effective lies with all of us.
> And here we have agreement.  I have said my piece, made my apology,  
> and I
> have little more to add; the real business of getting back to  
> improving the
> accessibility of the web must continue.  Let's all move on.

What I'd suggest is to try communicating directly with some of the  
people you disagree with, and see if you can come to a better mutual  
understanding. Perhaps this email has shown that disputes like this  
are not always as clear-cut as they seem.


Received on Tuesday, 31 July 2007 03:18:18 UTC