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Multimode expression

From: Joe Clark <joeclark@joeclark.org>
Date: Sat, 11 Aug 2001 22:56:56 -0400
Message-Id: <a05100314b79b9792fc73@[]>
To: w3c-wai-gl@W3.org
While it may surprise certain members of this esteemed list, I am 
actually in favour of using as many modes of expression as possible-- 
yes, Anne, *modes of expression*; get over it-- for the purposes of 
accessibility. I am *in favour of it*, with provisos.

Like most of us here, I accept all the evidence and personal 
testimony that learning-disabled people benefit from the use of 
illustration, sound and speech, video, and any other medium you can 
name apart from writing, *from which they also benefit*.

The utility of this multimedia (in the truest sense) was not 
something I knew all along. Learning-disabled people are hard to 
accommodate and their specific needs are not widely discussed. 
They're not nearly as famous as the blind or the deaf, you might say.

Here in the real world, it is increasingly true that Web designers 
and developers understand that you must accommodate blind people, 
usually by adding layers of redundancy through alt texts, titles, and 
long descriptions, plus a few other methods. But these real-world 
people didn't know this all along. There's always a first moment you 
learn something.

When explained reasonably, a great many designers and developers 
accept the *fact* that text alternatives and the like are needed. Why 
they don't provide them every single time becomes another issue, but 
the point is everyone went through these stages:

* I didn't know.
* I know now.

We will undergo exactly the same experience in accommodating L.D. 
people. Everyone's gonna go through these stages:

* I don't know.
* I know now.

If we want designers and developers to provide at least the same 
level of accessibility to L.D. people as they do to the blind, the 
last thing we need to do is to scare them away by ramping them up 
from zero to 100% immediately.

In typical development projects, people who are committed to best 
practices will code new pages correctly (valid XHTML; full access 
features, at least to Priority 1; stylesheet use) and get around to 
fixing up all the old pages over time. That's certainly how I worked.

It is thus possible to find pages on a site (possibly more than a 
few) without alt texts and so on even though the homepage and other 
frequently-updated sections are fully accessible and modern.

This ongoing upgrade process, which is quite onerous for many people 
and organizations, is nonetheless reasonable and to be expected. It 
expresses itself in consciousness-raising first and implementation 
later. Gradual implementation is better than no implementation.

Anne's persistent, unyielding, lone-wolf, extremist demands that the 
WCAG 2.0 *require* illustration or some other non-text equivalent for 
*all* text *everywhere* on the Web illicitly compresses the education 
and compliance process out here in the real world.

If, on the other hand, WCAG 2.0 says something like "Whenever 
possible, use a range of modes of expression," with a nice 
explanation of what we mean by that ("You may not know that 
learning-disabled people need the following"), we can expect people 
to start using such techniques for new documents and retrofit older 
documents as it becomes possible.

We are educating them first of all, then giving them a strong push 
with a realistic loophole: Do this as often as you can, but if you 
really cannot, that is fine.

On the other hand, demanding the complete overthrow of the textual 
Web ain't gonna work. As several of us have already explained, people 
will turn off completely if given that kind of ultimatum. I can 
imagine the following happening:

* Leading authorities and commentators openly deride the requirement 
and recommend that people comply with every other recommendation save 
for that one. (This derision will spread like wildfire. You ain't 
seen nothing yet.)


* Authorities and commentators recommend ignoring Priority 3 
requirements altogether, since partial compliance is too risky for 
legal or policy reasons and the whole exercise is tainted.


* Developers and designers begin to mutter that they always hated 
this accessibility crap anyway and *give up completely*, boycotting 
the entire project and going so far as to forswear using so much as 
an alt text ever again.

By letting Anne get away with her single-minded demand for 
everything, learning-disabled people stand a good chance of getting 

I would also reiterate the many reasons why a requirement for 
non-text equivalents isn't in any way parallel to or the converse of 
a requirement for text equivalents. Even if you tried to enact a 
requirement for universal use of these methods, it wouldn't work.

It's also a miserably misguided and outrageous idea generally. On the 
other hand, advice to do it *whenever possible* can be summed up by 
one word; Progress.

So there you have it.

I'm sure you all consider me something of a bete noire, and I'm also 
sure my longstanding friends (like those at WGBH: 
<http://www.fawny.org/otitis-m.html>) are tut-tutting at more of the 
same from that krazy Joe, but I am a bit tired of the gentility and 
groupthink and clubbiness of the WCAG. (And the bad writing.)

Frankly, you need someone to stir the pot. (In the vulgate, someone 
to fuck shit up.) You may not like the way I say things (a quick 
check of the archives, among everything else I've written, shows I 
actually have a range of styles), but I at least say what I really 
think, whether or not it agrees with your unspoken consensus and 
coincides with your peer pressure.

And anyway, think strategically: After I get everybody's attention, 
the nice kids in their cardigan sweaters can go around saying the 
same things I do, but in blond hair and with really great teeth. A 
diversity of approaches gets the job done faster. Ask oldschool 
activist groups like ACT UP and ADAPT.
         Joe Clark | joeclark@joeclark.org
         Weblogs, resources, & articles by the hundreds:
         <http://joeclark.org> | <http://fawny.org>
Received on Saturday, 11 August 2001 22:57:56 UTC

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