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The Good Side Of Regulation - Internet World

From: Kathleen Anderson <kathleen.anderson@po.state.ct.us>
Date: Thu, 16 Mar 2000 07:20:52 -0500
Message-ID: <007f01bf8f42$129f3360$e924f79f@STATE.CT.US>
To: <w3c-wai-eo@w3.org>

March 15, 2000

The Good Side Of Regulation
The Americans With Disabilities Act Will Force Us To Use HTML The Way It Was
By - Nate Zelnick

More often than not, any turning point in technology--like any significant
historical event--is clear only in retrospect. And determining whether
events are net positive or negative can only be determined when all of the
ramifications have been explored. When Marc Andreessen and the team at the
National Center for Supercomputing Applications snuck a simple element to
add images into Mosaic--the graphical browser that became the basis for
Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer--it must have seemed like a minor
thing. But the unilateral creation of the IMG tag--against the wishes of the
IETF's HTML Working Group, which had hoped to find a more generic and
easier-to-implement binary object element--has cascaded into a true

You could argue that adding graphics to the Web boosted it out of academe
and into commerce, but there are two problems with this minor change that
have been a constant brake on forward momentum. The Mosaic team's decision
to go with a kludged element syntax made the process of building HTML
parsing engines harder. But more significantly, the decision opened a
Pandora's Box of arbitrary HTML extensions that sparked the
Microsoft/Netscape arms race of proprietary tags that made everybody's job
more difficult, and more costly, today.

Groups like the Web Standards Project were formed ages ago to yell at
browser makers and explain why standards are vital. But I bring it up again
because we're quickly approaching an event that will make all the
ramifications of the Mosaic error much clearer. By the time you read this,
the federal government will have issued requirements for making all
government Web sites compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The
Justice Department has already decided that Web sites aren't exempt from the
ADA and must provide a way to present data to visually impaired users.

If you've ever browsed the Web using a text-to-speech converter, you know
that most Web pages parse as an endless repetition of the words "Table" and
"IMG," reflecting the desperate lengths designers go to in a futile attempt
to control page rendering. Bringing pages into ADA compliance is going to
rock a lot of boats, but it will also close the standards gap that Mosaic

Since the easiest way to make pages accessible will be to separate the
content of a page from how it is presented (which is how HTML was designed
to work), ADA compliance will also mean that delivering content to cell
phones, TVs, and other devices will simply mean putting a page into the
right format for the device when it's requested.

You'll hear a lot of whining from big Web sites. They'll say the cost of
compliance is too high and that it will kill e-commerce. That's short-term
rhetoric: When we look back at this change a few years hence, we'll wonder
why we didn't do this in the first place.

Kathleen Anderson, Webmaster
State of Connecticut
Office of the State Comptroller
55 Elm Street, Room 101
Hartford, Connecticut  06106
voice: (860) 702-3355  fax: (860) 702-3634
email: kathleen.anderson@po.state.ct.us
URL: http://www.osc.state.ct.us
CMAC Access: http://www.cmac.state.ct.us/access
Received on Thursday, 16 March 2000 07:20:59 UTC

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