Re: WAI: Threat or Menace? [LONG]


I found your response useful although I agree with only some of your points.

I am hesitant to pursue this discussion on the TAG list since, as I 
mentioned, in an earlier post I would prefer to discuss these issues after 
TAG decides whether it will address what I see as the fundamental issue of 
the various aspects of semantics. Nonetheless, I will respond below to most 
of your points.

In a message dated 20/08/2002 21:06:06 GMT Daylight Time, 

> At 3:17 PM -0400 8/20/02, wrote:
> >So we can agree, I think, that WAI is at a relatively early stage of 
> >development and there are significant technical issues to be 
> >addressed?
> I don't think it's a case of WAI being at an early stage of development,
> but of XML being at that early stage.  

It seems to me that both are.

Which is actually a good thing,
> because the accessibility concerns can be built in from the get-go
> (they aren't built into XML 1.0, so I guess I mean it's stilly early
> in the XML race).

Again, I think a better conceptual underpinning would be beneficial.

> >One substantive problem that I see with existing WAI documents is 
> >that they read as if each and every guideline/point was of 100% 
> >importance and that there is no prioritisation. That seems to me be 
> >an inherently unrealistic position to take, even if it is only taken 
> >implicitly.
> >When people are losing their jobs by the thousands you need, in my 
> >opinion, to prioritise if you want to be taken seriously.
> >To implicitly claim that *all* WAI is of absolute importance 
> >generates a feeling that the mindset isn't realistic.
> I'm afraid I don't understand.  Nearly all WAI documents, such as WCAG
> 1.0, are prioritized on a Priority 1, Priority 2, and Priority 3 scheme.

True but in a context where the words "must", "essential" and so on appear 
rather frequently. To my eye, and comments I have heard, WAI comes across as 
prescriptive and dictatorial. Some of your later comments tend to confirm 
that impression although, quite possibly, you see those as expressions of 
"importance of the topic" and "enthusiasm". :) ... I am not mocking, simply 
trying to express the idea that one set of documents viewed from two 
different perspectives can seem VERY different in nature.

> I am trying to be nice here, but I am taken a bit aback when you say you
> have done due dilligence on the topic and somehow have missed the extensive
> prioritization system in WAI documents.

You seem to have misread my earlier post I stated explicitly that my comments 
were based on a "part reading" indicating that the process was not complete 
and that I wouldn't have raised the issue at this stage in my thinking in 
ordinary circumstances.

> >I don't know why I get myself into the position of expressing what 
> >people don't want to hear but it seems I do .... The street cred of 
> >WAI is low because it comes across as absolutist and missionary.
> I disagree that the "street cred of WAI is low" -- in fact, I think you
> can find people far more receptive to accessibility concerns than you
> can to the use of XHTML or "generic XML" on the Web.

Well, in my view, at the present time all three have low street credibility. 

Sorry. It's how I believe things to be.

> >The comment by Tim that it is "immoral" not to take heed to WAI is 
> >an example of how WAI comes across.
> >Credibility on the street for comments like that is zero. They also 
> >generate a lot of hostility in people who thereafter simply will 
> >refuse to listen. So, in my view at least, there is significant 
> >existing damage to be repaired.
> Why do you feel that the moral argument is inappropriate here?

Not least because it is potentially counterproductive.
> actually feel that it's entirely appropriate to point out that many of
> the "purely technological" considerations of the Web are actually
> decisions which can have moral (and legal) consequences on the Web
> accessibility by people with disabilities.

I think you are confirming that the absolutist tone of the WAI is actually 

I am not saying that you shouldn't believe what you clearly believe. But I 
would repeat my suggestion that "evangelical zeal" and absolutism can be 
counter productive and produce hostility and resistance which could have been 

Are you implying that you (collectively) also make explicit or implied 
threats of legal action?

> I agree that hostility is inevitable;

If people are told they are "immoral" hostility isn't at all surprising.

 there are many people who still
> believe, in the 21st century, that it is okay to discriminate against
> those with disabilities.  Hostility remains a way of life for many
> disabled individuals, and attempts to use the Web are clearly met with
> hostility _regardless of what the WAI may or may not say_.

I wonder if we are seeing two different cultures here to some degree. In the 
UK the mindset is very much more that the disabled are to be supported 
(although I am sure that Dave Pawson will point out that there are many 
problems). In contrast the USA has a much more self-sufficient ethos - you 
have, for example, no National Health Service of the kind seen in most 
European Union countries. The spectrum of attitudes to the disabled may not 
be identical on this side of the Atlantic.

> The idea of creating a Web that everyone can use, not just any specific
> elites, is threatening to those among the elite.

Hm ... I don't feel in the least threatened (assuming I am in any sense 
"elite" <grin/>).

What makes you think anyone feels "threatened"? 

It simply wouldn't occur to me to feel that. And I don't recall any 
conversations about this topic which suggested that anybody else felt that. 
Irritated? Yes. Bullied? Yes But, isn't it possible that the absolutist 
"tone" of WAI contributes to such responses?

I also suggest you look at the possibility that WAI has failed adequately to 
communicate to Web developers that you understand their problems.

  I am not convinced
> that this is proof that the "street cred" is suffering, though.  In
> fact, I have seen a huge increase in the last four years of awareness
> of accessibility issues among Web developers, policymakers, authors
> of Web development books, and creators of authoring tools -- an
> increase in awareness which is DIRECTLY attributable to the efforts of
> the Web Accessibility Initiative at W3C.

So, can I ask in the light of this progress what was the basis for the 
accusation levelled at Elliotte yesterday? It seemed to me to most likely 
stem from deep frustration. And yet here you paint a rosy picture of 

> >Secondly, WAI comes across to some extent as fossilized in an HTML 
> >mindset. I appreciate that there is an August 2001 set of XML 
> >guidelines in draft. Nothing since publicly available.
> The WCAG 1.0 guidelines are heavily HTML-centric, yes, because of the
> historical time at which they were developed.  The WCAG 2.0 guidelines
> (drafts available) are explicitly designed to be less so, and markup
> language agnostic whenever possible.

One practical point - there is no mention at all of WCAG 2.0 on which seems odd if WAI wants people to have 
easy access to WCAG 2.0.

Oh ... and a second one - the WAI mailing list seems to be littered with vast 
amounts of spam. 

> >Still with me I hope. :)
> >I am saying these things directly to emphasise the importance of 
> >improving WAI, in part by giving it a much more explicit and 
> >well-thought-through conceptual underpinning.
> I don't believe that the Web Accessibility Initiative is actually
> missing what you claim it's missing.

There our opinions differ.

  I believe it _is_ well-thought-out
> and very explicit, 

I remain to be convinced that it is "well thought out".

I wonder if you are merging the notions of explicit and prescriptive.

and people within WAI are dealing with a huge number
> of issues and coming up with solutions.  WAI is far from holding back
> the development of the Web -- it is on the front lines of the growth
> and is making an invaluable contribution to the 21st century Web.

Again, I remain to be convinced.

Although our viewpoints clearly differ we can at least discuss those 
differences sensibly.


Andrew Watt

Received on Tuesday, 20 August 2002 17:05:59 UTC