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Re: The third thing I don't like about the WAI-IG list

From: Steven McCaffrey <SMCCAFFR@MAIL.NYSED.GOV>
Date: Mon, 04 Jan 1999 12:47:25 -0500
Message-Id: <s690b87c.067@MAIL.NYSED.GOV>
To: coder@acnet.net, w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

Hi Charles,
I can't say I agree with much of what you say, but believe that you're overall point about, what I think is still called "nettiquette" is good.  If memory serves, there is a file called the "Logic FAQ" written especially for participants to usenet newsgroups to avoid such problems.  I have selected a few particular items to comment on, enclosing your comment in quotes and enclosing my response in square brackets.
This is the last one, but the biggest one for me.


There is a certain sentiment often expressed on this list
that irks me beyond anything else. I call it the "holier
than thou" syndrome.

None of us on this list was born knowing how to build web
sites or how to make them accessible. "All of us who do build
sites have come to this relatively late in life (i.e., not
in high-school, unless, of course, you still are), often
*after* learning how to build sites."

[I came to my blindness relatively late in life, age 27, *after* I had programmed in Cobol, Pascal etc for my B.S. degree in Computer Science and Applied Math.  During my undergrad work, I had partial sight.  After I graduated and began looking for a job, my sight slowly declined over 4 years to nothing. 
I learned to code in HTML *after* losing all sight.  My story is not unique.  You can increase the access to information that everyone has a right to just by learning - people with disabilities can't learn there way out of their disability, we adapt.  Most of us don't complain about inaccessible sites.]   

"And all of us are still
[And so are we, even learning that some people seem to be complaining about putting a little effort into something that can give us access to the things some take for granted.]

"But it all boils down to this:
We are each of us moving along a path toward understanding
accessibility issues and incorporating them into our lives
and work. Some of us are farther along the path. Some are
moving faster than others. But we are all on the same path."

[I agree in broad, abstract terms, but might phrase it differently: What it all boils down to is fairness, respect, equality, reasonable expectations, and a valid comparison of effort expended.]

And those who are not on this path are people who may
potentially be coaxed into following it, too.

"So I do not understand the frequent snide comments I read on
this list. So-and-so's page claims it's accessible but it's
not! That's not the right way to use this kind of tag! Etc.,
etc. It nauseates me. And putting little emoticon smiley
faces (not accessible, by the way) or adding a wink or a
sigh does not make it OK. In fact, it just makes me sicker.
I am not fooled.
[I agree with you that snide comments are not proper or helpful, but it is proper to say what works and what doesn't, right?  Personally, I send far more positive comments to the authors of sites I find accessible, thanking them for their great job and then doing my best to explain why I think I did find it accessible.  It just happens that the sites I find mostly accessible were created a feww years ago (1996), before advnaced graphics, scrolling text etc. was widely available.  For those sites I did not find accessible, it is usually the case that all of the site does not fall into the classification scheme accessible vs. inaccessible but, rather, some pages are accessible and some are not.  I try to be as specific as I can, saying which are which.  If some page is inaccessible, I try to say why I think this is the case in as much of a plain, matter-of-fact, way as I can.]    

Maybe I'm reading too much into things, and maybe it's just
human nature, but some of the members of this list seem
awfully proud of themselves for being on it. Some of the
self-serving signatures alone are enough to make me gag.

As I understand it, this list can be read, at least in
archival form, by anyone. Snide comments, in my opinion, are
best kept to private transmissions (or better yet, ask
yourself what you have to be so snide about). This forum
should be a source of inspiration to others to emulate these
efforts, not an avenue for trashing other people's efforts.

I know many designers, some only via email, others face to
face. I have NEVER met a single designer who didn't do the
best job he or she could to design good sites. I have never
met a designer who did not take pride in his or her sites.
So if a site needs work (and show me the site that can't be
improved), GENTLY steering designers to material that will
aid them to make better sites seems to me much preferable to
hurting their feelings with sarcasm or pronouncements about
the value (or rather lack thereof) of their sites, made from
on high. In fact, I can see no use for snide or disparaging
comments, whether they are seen by the designer in question
or not, other than to boost the ego of the person making the

Finally, let me add that this type of post usually results
in a lot of agreement that snide remarks are bad with the
worst offenders being the quickest and loudest in their
agreement. So, if you are willing to consider this complaint
seriously, then I suggest that you first look back through
your old posts and ask yourself, What were my intentions in
writing this post? Did I really, honestly, intend to help,
or was I just venting spleen? Were my comments positive,
supportive, and encouraging? How would the other party
interpret this? You may be surprised by what you find. Let
me say that in my opinion, some of the most frequent posters
are also the worst offenders.

Not that venting spleen is all that bad, but it should be
done in general terms, never picking out specific
individuals or sites. And I would hate for it to become the
focus of this forum. Let's keep it to a minimum, I say.

So, I begin 1999 by encouraging the members of this list to:

"1. Try to be honest about how much effort is involved in
learning about and applying the principles discussed here.
Let's not minimize the value of the work that's been done by
a lot of people both on and off this list."

[Good idea.  Do you know how we can quantify this?  And then, how can we compare this quantity with other efforts made for other business/ethical reasons?  Even if we could come up with a metric, is this really the point?  Do we want to say susch and such a percentage of time is "good effort" while less is not?]
2. Remember that this is not only about convenience, but
about ethics. There is a moral underpinning to this effort
that should not be minimized solely to avoid causing
discomfort to us or our clients.

3. Read and reread every post before sending it. Ask
yourself if you've phrased it in a way that takes into
account everyone's feelings. Insensitivity helps no-one,
including the sender. And ask if the post is providing a
solution, or simply nitpicking about a problem.

To end, let me give an example from my own experience,
"though others have suffered the same fate."
[Empirical evidence?]

A few months ago I posted the addresses of a couple of sites
I had worked long and hard on to this list asking for
comment. Now I wanted to know what could be improved, but I
also hoped for encouragement and some approval from the
list, since I had obviously tried very hard to make the
sites accessible. Not many people outside of this list
appreciate accessibility issues (not many that I know
anyway), so this was the one place that I thought others
might understand.

Well, eventually I did get some encouragement, but not much.
Instead, the first few responses nearly knocked me out of my
chair. The general tone was very critical, and the general
message was, This is all wrong, or That's not the way you do
that, or You don't know how to use this attribute, or Why
the hell would you do this? Not necessarily in so many
words, but the tone was quite clear. Maybe I'm overly
sensitive, but I did not find these replies encouraging at
all. And not a single reply (until much later) pointed out
even one positive thing about the sites.

Sure, I learned a couple of things, but what a painful way
to learn! I guarantee you that I will NEVER post another
address to this list. I'm no glutton for punishment. And
I've seen others who got similar treatment. Also, I've
noticed, not a lot of other people seem to be posting sites
for review.

"Now I spend more time lurking than participating", and every
time I see someone else get bitten, I wince. What kind of
way is that to teach and discuss accessibility issues?"
[What kind of way is it to give up after one has been bitten?  I know you are serious and probably didn't really mean this.  If you are right in your comments, we really need your participation to do a better job.] 

"I sincerely doubt that I am the only one who has had this
type of experience or who has felt this way. And while I
have had similar experiences with other lists (does the
anonymity of the Internet encourage this viciousness? Are we
willing to say things in email that we would be ashamed to
say face to face?), that does not excuse it."
[I am willing to bet that most people on this list are positive and encouraging.  Have you done a scientifically valid survey broken down by topics with criteria for "positive" vs. "negative"?   If you have had bad experiences, that's sad but we have to learn to focus on the positive before we can "see" it, right?]

So, for what's it's worth, that's my opinion at the start of
this new year.

"Thanks for listening."
[You're welcome.  Thanks for listening to my comments responding to your comments.]
Charles Munat
Puerto Vallarta

Steven McCaffrey
Information Technology Services
Received on Monday, 4 January 1999 12:49:31 UTC

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