The Difficulty of Talking About Accessibility for the *

Recently, as you may be aware, the HTML Writers Guild has been
very supportive of accessibility initiatives -- declaring one
month earlier this year as 'Accessibility Month', setting up
a project to provide feedback on the page author guidelines,
running a class on accessible web design.  We've also extended
a discount on membership dues to Guild members who are
physically disabled.

The problem, though, comes whenever we try to talk about what
we're doing and impress our members (more than 75,000 of them)
with the importance of designing pages that can be accessed by

If we leave it vague, and don't mentioned handicapped users, they
simply blend into "everyone", and most web authors are completely
unaware that we don't simply mean 'people who use Netscape AND
people who use MSIE' but rather 'people who can't even see
pictures on the screen'.

However, whenever we mention 'handicapped users', 'designing for
the blind', 'disabled member discounts', or 'physically challenged
individuals', we get flames.  Not from the people who can see,
mind you -- but from angry physically disabled folks who are upset
not at what we're doing, but with the terms we use.

They don't like 'blind', or they do like 'blind' but they don't
like 'handicapped'; this group over here doesn't like 'disabled',
while this one can't stand 'challenged'.  Each action we think
we're doing that's a step forward -- such as letting web designers
know that not everyone uses a visual-based browser -- seems to be
a step backwards in the eyes of some, and we hear about it in

It's discouraging for us, too.  The Guild administration really
doesn't like being flamed over semantics, especially since it should
be obvious from context that we're not going out of our way to be
either insensitive or insulting.  The headaches of trying to figure
out what the 'right terms' to use are daunting, and may even lead
some to figure "why bother??" -- especially when it seems there
are _no_ phrases we can use that will please _everyone_.

So, should we simply not mention blind web users when talking about
designing for universal accessibility?  Should our material on
voice browsers focus on phones and cars and not mention people
who can't see?  Is it better to leave out the idea of blind people
entirely when talking about aural style sheets?  Do you need to
know that handicapped folks exist in order to use the ALT attribute

Or should we simply accept word-choice flames as the "price" of
doing the right thing?

Kynn Bartlett  <>   
Chief Technologist & Co-Owner, Idyll Mountain Internet; Fullerton, California
Enroll now for my online stylesheets (CSS) class!
The voice of the future?

Received on Tuesday, 29 September 1998 16:49:08 UTC