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Listening, Debate and Discussion (was RE: ALT issue redux)

From: John Foliot <foliot@wats.ca>
Date: Tue, 5 Feb 2008 10:32:14 -0800
To: "'Laura Carlson'" <laura.lee.carlson@gmail.com>, "'Al Gilman'" <Alfred.S.Gilman@ieee.org>
Cc: <wai-xtech@w3.org>
Message-ID: <007f01c86825$7585c9c0$242e42ab@stanford.edu>

Laura Carlson wrote:
> The HTML 5 editor responded:
> 
>> I think it is too optimistic to think that Web authors will
>> understand the  needs of braille users enough to cater for them. I
>> also think longdesc=""  and summary="" have taught us that placing
>> attributes for specific  disabilities into the language itself will
>> result in overwhelming abuse to the point where the target audience
>> of those features actually have to turn them off.
> 
> Source:
> http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-html-comments/2008Feb/0004.html
>
> I've wondered recently whatever happened to listening. 

<snip>

> 
> I've also wondered recently whatever happened to the form of
> discussion known as debate.


To be clear, Mr. Hickson does have experience and a pretty deep
understanding of how the web works for most, but I believe that too often
his failure to, as Laura stated, *truly* listen to other points of view is a
critical breaking point.  *He* thinks that it is too optimistic..., *he*
thinks that the longdesc and summary attributes have resulted in
"overwhelming abuse"... (even when his own research determined that longdesc
in the wild was hardly being used - which is it, abused or under-used?).  I
would also like to know how the "feature" of longdesc support is toggled on
or off... Is there a specific user-agent that allows this function?  I am
aware of how current mainstream screen readers handle longdesc, as well as
Gez Lemon's Firefox plug-in, but I'm not sure how to "turn off" any of these
as they are user-invoked actions in the first place.  Sadly, comments such
as these from the editors group only serve to illustrate the lack of real
understanding of many of the issues we wish to advance.

I hope that through the PFWG, the HTML editors will begin to understand the
difference between Universal Design features and features specifically in
place to provide accommodation - as the difference between the 2 is often
night and day.  Many of the current debates center around this difference:
@scope, and better guidance on how to use this attribute improves universal
access design for the majority - whereas the need for continued support for
the edge case need of @headers/@id ensures accommodation.  Will the majority
of shade-tree HTML authors use these attributes?  Probably not.  However,
that, in-and-of-itself should not be reason to eliminate these types of
accommodation. Ditto for @longdesc, @summary and the back stepping of
mandatory @alt for images (to name but 3 other sticking points).

It is not my intent to re-enter this discussion hurling insults or other
forms of vitriol - I, like Laura, wish to see real discussion and seek to
find ways to improve the next-generation authoring language.  Hopefully
suggestions such as reserved values for @alt as an alternative to the
current proposed "optional" @alt  can be discussed and evaluated as possible
improvements to HTML5, rather than being dismissed as ideas "not from our
shop".

It is my fervent hope that via WAI and the PFWG we will have the opportunity
to provide real input and advice, and not be once again dismissed,
marginalized and rudely ignored. But until such time as the editor(s) leave
their opinions at the door and really start listening to the subject matter
experts, I fear that it will simply be another round of "us vs. them".  I
don't seek to be right, but rather that the language of HTML5 "get it
right".  I further hope that some of the great expertise that was driven
away last fall by the tone of the HTML WG mailing list return and add their
voices to the discussion.  And I personally promise to mind my manners.

Sincerely,

JF
Received on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 18:32:50 UTC

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