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RE: [whatwg] A New Way Forward for HTML5

From: John Foliot <jfoliot@stanford.edu>
Date: Thu, 23 Jul 2009 19:22:37 -0700 (PDT)
To: "'Tab Atkins Jr.'" <jackalmage@gmail.com>, "'Manu Sporny'" <msporny@digitalbazaar.com>
Cc: "'HTMLWG WG'" <public-html@w3.org>, "'WHATWG'" <whatwg@lists.whatwg.org>, "'www-archive'" <www-archive@w3.org>, <wai-ig@w3c.org>
Message-ID: <017e01ca0c05$996281a0$cc2784e0$@edu>
Tab Atkins Jr.wrote:
> As for other accessibility experts, they *have* influenced the spec,
> but unfortunately there is a vocal minority who believe that markup
> languages and specs have the magical ability to make people care,
> and/or believe in the equivalent of XML draconian error-handling for
> unmet accessibility issues.

Since I believe that I am the only accessibility advocate that I know of who 
has actually publicly advocated draconian error handling, I can only suspect 
that you are directing this charge at me, and/or others like me who take a 
hard line for accessibility. Thus, I will respond to this statement.

You state that accessibility experts have influenced the specification, yet 
despite numerous requests to the editor and author group of the current 
specification to name *one* accessibility expert who was consulted when 
pronouncements have emerged that directly affect accessibility issues, not 
one single name has *EVER* been produced to back up that claim. I have on 
more than one occasion listed an A-List of professionals who earn their 
living in the realm of Web Accessibility - folks that work for large online 
companies such as AOL, Google, Yahoo!, Apple, etc., as well as experts at 
companies such as IBM, Adobe or Oracle, or experts within the US Federal 
Government, UK Government or Canadian governments, or organizations such as 
the RNIB, NFB, etc. - many of these people that I know professionally or 
with whom I've worked with in the past.  None of these people have ever, to 
my knowledge, been consulted, nor do they know of others that have been 
consulted - so who pray tell has been involved?

Even when the W3C group that has been chartered to speak to accessibility 
issues (WAI PFWG) has provided feedback, that feedback has been argued, 
twisted and privately ridiculed by members of the WHAT WG.  So while it 
might make you feel good to think that some less vocal critics who work in 
web accessibility have been consulted, they remain nameless and faceless... 
in fact to me, mythical. (And I once again issue the challenge to name some 

As for "...specs have the magical ability to make people care...", here you 
completely miss the point.  In the fast and slippery world of "the next big 
Web 2.0 thing", you might think that this is downright silly, but in the 
slower paced world of academia, governance, and related endeavors, having 
specifications that provide a means of spelling out how and what should be 
done to ensure social equality is important, and HTML 5 has a duty to ensure 
that this information is accurate, *COMPLETE* and fully documented. This 
might not make programmatic sense, but this reality exists too - and is 
something that web accessibility experts are fully aware of, even if the 
ramification are unclear to technical writers and the majority of 40 hour a 
week code-monkeys (and I use *that* term with a sense of affection- it is 
not intended to be dismissive)

> HTML5 goes out of its way to make
> accessibility as *automatic* as possible,

And this is good.  However, when it is not enough, and a reasonable means 
exists for experts to do more (with, albeit, more effort), why should these 
means be *removed* from the Draft specification?  Because, to date, they 
have been misused?  Poor rationale, especially when better solutions have 
not been proposed or developed. (Specifically to the current @summary 
debate: @summary is a spoon, caption is a fork, and no, a spork is not the 
best answer)

> so that no one has to spend
> effort on enabling others (or more properly, so the majority of
> authors who will *never* spend significant effort on accessibility
> still produce accessible content).

Blues legend Albert King once wrote: "Everybody wants to go to heaven, 
nobody wants to die" [1]

Here's a sad truth: creating truly accessible web content takes extra 
effort - the end.

Universal Design efforts within HTML5 to improve accessibility will take web 
content that much further, and is to be lauded, but to be truly successful 
in some instances content authors will need to take extra steps (known in 
some circles as Accommodation), and sometimes use specialized tools to 
achieve this goal.  Will every site succeed? Likely not, but larger sites 
will have a better chance of doing so, *if they have the tools to do the 
job* - specialist tools, and of course better education. Sites that have 
*mandated* requirements that demand full access to content exists and must 
continue to be catered to: yes, the 'web apps" part of HTML5 is cool, but 
not all current and future content is going to be cool. Contentious issues 
to date have always boiled down to "the current/proposed HTML5 solution 
works 80% of the time, and is a win with no extra effort" - but what of the 
remaining 20%?  That has never been properly addressed, and is the real 
sticking point in the larger debate.

Reasonable efforts by reasonable people to make the specification (and more 
recently the process [2]) more accountable to the specific needs of the 
disabled have been previously met with FUD, hostility, acrimonious flame 
wars, and private (almost scandalous) IRC backstabbing and derision - I know 
because I've been in the thick of it.  Manu's proposal to open the process 
up to multiple experts groups should be received with open arms, as it 
ensures that all experts can weigh in without fearing that they will be 
subjected to smear campaigns and hurtful attacks from numerous quarters, all 
because someone dares to challenge the status quo of the WHAT WG.


[1 http://tinyurl.com/nffdbo ]
[2 http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-html/2009Jul/0556.html ]
Received on Friday, 24 July 2009 02:23:25 UTC

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