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RE: editorial

From: Brumage_D <Brumage_D@BLS.GOV>
Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 17:50:54 -0500
Message-Id: <200E2FA22B2AD2119AC000104B6A0A865013B6@PSBMAIL1>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Though I generally "lurk" as a subscriber to this group and use the
comments of others as useful reference, the Washington Post column on
web accessibility struck more than one nerve and I felt compelled to
submit my letter to the editor here as well. I welcome any comments on
this letter although it has already been submitted. Keep in mind, I too,
found it necessary to "calm down" before drafting a version I felt made
my views known without the anger that was readily apparent in the first
several drafts. My letter follows:

William Raspberry's Monday, November 16, 1998 commentary, "Claims
Against Common Sense" (Page A25) is obviously one based on a lack of
understanding of the scope of the internet as a medium for information
dissemination and the point of ADA regulation as a whole.

I for one, take offense at the patronizing effort to soften the blow of
the comments to the disadvantaged community. I am a web developer and
have personal experiences with the obstacles disadvantaged Americans
face on a daily basis.

Devices do exist to lessen the burden of being visually or hearing
challenged. However, if the persons responsible for designing
information systems are ignorant of these devices or take the attitude
that the effort is superfluous, these tools cannot do what they were
designed for. If more developers made the effort to educate themselves
in proper design techniques and cared more about the information they
were delivering than the way it's presented instead of the other way
around, most cases like Mr. Tamez's wouldn't come up.

Should we assume from your statement "…someone already has … something
that works quite well for most of us…" that making a reasonable effort
to broaden the reach of the web to include persons with visual
impediments is, and I quote, "a clear violation of common sense"? Should
we also then assume that if we were once again faced with addressing the
issue of public building accessibility that because steps work quite
well for most of us that it would not make sense to spend the time and
money on constructing handicap ramps? Perhaps also the addition of
handicap ramps to historic buildings was not advisable since this was
perceived to detract from the style and grace of the original 18th and
19th century architecture.

We applaud the ADA efforts in these areas now that we have already
overcome the vast majority of obstacles in implementing them. But let's
remember how we got to where we are today in achieving broader access to
public facilities. I'm sure most of us over the age of 25 can recall the
"whining" that took place in the 80's about public facility
accessibility; and in the early 90's the "whining" by those responsible
for making the changes that would constitute compliance with the ADA.
But now we all accept ADA compliance as the right thing to do when
discussing the ramps at City Hall or the Public Library.

There will be situations where the term "reasonable access" will mean
alternative methods of accessing information are appropriate. However,
in dealing with text information on the web, as in a train or bus
schedule, it is possible to present the information in an accessible
fashion without compromising the "attraction for the rest of us", or
requiring multiple versions of the document. This requires little more
effort or expense on the part of the agencies or individuals responsible
for putting the info out than what they would be faced with in upgrading
or changing their office word processor package. I don't find an effort
to reach the broadest possible audience unreasonable or "a violation of
common sense" when your information is intended for the general public.
If you don't think the information is worth that effort then why put it
out in the first place? 

Let's not forget that our schools, government, and private institutions
in providing services to the public, have a reasonable responsibility to
make their services, whether online or not, accessible in similarly
convenient fashion to all their customers. Having to pick up the phone
and call the organization, perhaps dealing with busy signals and/or long
hold times and other nuisances promote the use of the internet as a
preferred method of accessing information by all persons. Being told I
must wait to receive the info by mail, or have someone begrudgingly read
it to me because of a visual impairment, instead of being able to use
the Internet, does not constitute similarly convenient.

For those interested in ensuring that their organization is making their
information accessible to the broadest possible audience I recommend
looking at the efforts of the World Wide Web Consortium at
Received on Tuesday, 17 November 1998 17:48:26 UTC

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