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Accessibility philosophy (from the WCAG2/JAWS thread)

From: Chaals McCathieNevile <w3b@chaals.com>
Date: Sat, 28 Jul 2012 23:48:15 +0200
To: "w3c-wai-ig.w3.org" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <op.wh6eupql22x22q@widsith-3.local>
We've gone well off the topic, so I think a new thread is a good idea. It  
helps people who skim email subject lines for efficiency to notice that  
we're now on a different topic.


On Sat, 28 Jul 2012 20:17:59 +0200, Karen Lewellen  
<klewellen@shellworld.net> wrote:

> David is in my view straight on here.

Hmm. Sometimes - but my experience is far more mixed both ways.

> When decisions are made the question is first asked, what will we gain?
> That may mean how much profit, how much pr etc.
> The marketing people are not getting the numbers that reflect how  
> beneficial on  many levels access is.
> Given the vast academic outfits involved, I am frankly surprised someone  
> has not done this by now.
> The sort of market research that demonstrates how much  individuals  
> experiencing disabilities actually put into the economy sort of research.

People *have* done that kind of research. All kinds of people. The short  
answer is "for some people accessibility is so valuable that not doing it  
is stupid, for some people it is so expensive for so little return that  
you would only do it because someone forces you".

> The engineers may want to do it, because making things accessible can be  
> fun if presented like that.

Indeed, engineers who are positive about accessibility are often a great  
asset, and will fight do make things accessible to the best of their  
ability. Such people usually need good sound technical information on what  
really works and doesn't, and why. After all, none of us are born knowing  

> the marketing department may veto it though because they think it plays  
> to a niche with no benefit resulting.

That's possible. I've also met many marketing people in the places I have  
worked who have struggled to convince engineers (partly against the "what  
would you know" culture that technical people often have toward marketing)  
that it is feasible to improve accessibility at negligible cost, and that  
it would be worth while investing real effort for important aspects.  
Usually the marketing people I have seen fighting that fight understand a  
reasonable amount of what they are asking for, and have a good idea about  
how much it will cost them, where they expect to gain directly and where  
they just expect to gain in reputation and users trusting that they will  
be able to work with a company. On the other hand...

On Sat, 28 Jul 2012 20:27:09 +0200, Bob <accessys@smart.net> wrote:

> ... I've actually heard PR folks veto accessibility because "it is not  
> the image we wish to project"

So have I. Such people are either in urgent need of a better understanding  
of the world, or they are a waste of oxygen. If you can't get them to be a  
little more human you should shun them as you would shun a rabid dog, or a  
dribbling abusive drunk at a social event.

I've also heard engineers reject accessibility on the basis that it will  
bring demands for further improvement, which will have a far higher cost  
than the return it can bring.

(Returning to Karen's mail, and the people who just think accessibility is  
too expensive)

> Again its these sorts of people who should learn more about the positive  
> aspects of access.

To a certain extent.

Trying to convince them of a business case is often actually a waste of  
time, since their assumptions override any case that doesn't match them.  
(In any case, as someone who believes that accessibility is just something  
you should do to the best of your ability, my assumptions often get in the  
way of making a sound business case - I catch myself proposing things that  
are backed by feelings as if they were empirical facts, and have to  
examine what I do with an especially critical eye).

And sometimes the truth is that there is no business case - the investment  
will not be repaid. Pretending it will is not helpful.

In many societies the people who run them (and usually this occurs in  
relatively democratic countries) have decided that accessibility is a  
right, not a privilege - something we have to do, like paying taxes, even  
if we don't see that we get any benefit from it. Living in society is  
something people still do (even on the Web), so sometimes the easy  
approach is to find someone else who can make something accessible, rather  
than wasting too much time arguing with the person who doesn't want to do  

I think it is important that people believe accessibility is an important  
aspect of a communication technology like the Web. I have recently had the  
experience of working with TV people who are looking to broadcast on the  
Web. Accessibility is far harder to achieve in TV than it is on the Web,  
yet ironcially it is far more often accepted as a basic requirement before  
you can say "the system works".

But I think it is also important to develop the technology and practices  
that make things accessible. Telling people to give up games, or music, or  
many other pursuits, because they can't be made accessible, is effectively  
choosing failure. It won't happen, even if *we* give up those things. But  
figuring out new, better ways to do things is important work. Figuring out  
how to make them work for as many people as possible is important too -  
while it is not possible to offer modern convenience to someone who only  
uses the technology my grandfather had in his office, it is also true that  
people are not all going to get the newest and latest toy that comes on  
the market. And in any case, those toys are often better, not inherently  
better - and there are notable examples where the new version of something  
is seriously worse.

So it is important to involve *knowledgeable* engineers at the policy and  
academic level. It is equally important that those engineers learn to  
understand what drives policy, and academic research, so their  
contribution can be useful rather than nice but not relevant. And it is  
important to recognise that people who understand marketing, or policy, or  
budgeting and project management, are part of the solution, not some enemy  
to be overcome. (A company that goes broke isn't going to make *anything*  

As Patrick says, this is something that relies on *us* as individuals to  
work for, if we expect it to happen. It isn't done perfectly, and even if  
we work at it and nothign else, there will still be room for improvement.  
But to the extent that we each wait for someone else to do stuff, we are  
each to blame for the fact that it takes so long to get anywhere...



> Karen
> On Sat, 28 Jul 2012, David Woolley wrote:
>> Bryan Garaventa wrote:
>>>  The only way to implement true web accessibility in the future is to
>>>  involve engineers at the corporate, organizational, and academic
>>>  levels.
>>>  Otherwise, more and more policies will be created, and relatively
>>>  few will have the knowledge or desire to understand them.
>> In my view, the failure is much more likely to arise from marketing  
>> people than engineers.  Whilst most engineers may not realise, even  
>> those who do, and may even raise an issue report, are likely to get  
>> overruled by marketing. Some may self censor, because they know they  
>> will be rejected, and most may just have learned to think like  
>> marketing people as the best way of being appreciated in the  
>> organisation.

Chaals - standards declaimer

Chaals - standards declaimer
Received on Saturday, 28 July 2012 21:49:22 UTC

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