Principles of Web Accessibility

Just some scattered thoughts on what the "principles" are.

The level of granularity and resolution can vary a -lot- even
if we want to keep this entirely technology-agnostic.

On the simplest level, I define the guiding principle of web
accessibility as:

      "Don't assume that everyone uses the web the same way."

I can't think of a single (technology-agnostic or otherwise)
principle, guideline, or checkpoint that doesn't flow from
that.  On the other hand, it's not very useful.

Are we trying to define a philosophy, a religion, a mindset as
a W3C specification?  Will the Advisory Committee (who approve
the guidelines) and TimBL (who also does) sign off on such a
document?  Has anyone asked either of them what they would like
to see us deliver?  It's possible that they'd _prefer_ to
approve a technology-specific set of guidelines over a generic
set of philosophies.

At one time I wrote something called "six principles of web
accessibility."  It's on the HWG web site at:

(Also accessible from

I defined six core ideas:

I. Create pages that conform to accepted standards.

II. Know the difference between structural and presentational
elements; use stylesheets when appropriate.

III. Use HTML 4.0 features to provide information about the
purpose and function of elements.

IV. Make sure your pages can be navigated by keyboard.

V. Provide alternative methods to access non-textual content,
including images, scripts, multimedia, tables, forms and
frames, for user agents that do not display them.

VI. Be wary of common pitfalls that can reduce the accessibility
of your site.

"I" is properly T-A (technology-agnostic) and basically says
use the standards, don't use non-standard stuff.  That's a good

"II" is good although the reference to stylesheets sounds more
like a strategy than pure principle.  A better way to write this
is "separate content from presentation."

"III" is quite clearly technology-biased (T-B) because it refers
to HTML 4.0 by name.  And it's much more of a HTDTRT guideline
than a guiding principle.  It doesn't really belong, does it?

"IV" is nice and vague in a way, but it's also a special case --
keyboard access refers to a specific input device.  Better to
say "make sure your site can be navigated by any input device."
That's real easy to say, though, isn't it?

"V" sounds like it's straight from the WCAG.  It probably is.
A better principle is "always have the ability to fall back
upon structured plain text to express content".

"VI" is a nasty hack.  In the original document it was a catch-all
to contain things that didn't fit.  I would rather say "be aware
of deficiencies in common browsers and access methods, and
compensate appropriately whenever possible."

It may not be possible to be properly T-A and still provide any
sort of useful information.

Kynn Bartlett  <>             
Director of Accessibility, Edapta        
Chief Technologist, Idyll Mountain Internet
AWARE Center Director               
Vote for Liz for N. Am. ICANN Nominee!   

Received on Tuesday, 15 August 2000 17:43:04 UTC