Stuff and Nonsense

Malarkey is Andy Clarke, a UK based designer, author and speaker who has a passion for design, CSS and web accessibility.

Andy has been working on the web for almost ten years. He is a visual web designer and author and he founded Stuff and Nonsense in 1998. Andy regularly writes about creating beautiful, accessible web sites and he speaks at events worldwide. Andy is the author of Transcending CSS: The Fine Art of Web Design, published by New Riders in 2006.

Accessibility and a society of control

I'll try to explain my personal opinion as to why I believe that there should not be laws governing web accessibility and that such laws hinder the cause of wider web accessibility rather than help it.

Since I delivered my (slightly modified) Anatomy of a Mouse presentation at @media2005, I've had time to formalise my thinking about my answer to one of the questions from the audience. I don't expect this to be a popular view, but always enjoying sparking a little controversy, I'll try to explain my personal opinion as to why I believe that there should not be laws governing web accessibility and that such laws hinder the cause of wider web accessibility rather than help it.

Before I start I want to make it clear that these opinions are my own and do not represent opinions or policies of my company or our clients.

Where should I start?

I suppose that I should start by stating what I do believe to be important. I believe that web accessibility is not only desirable, but vital. I believe that all organisations, whether in the public or private sectors, have an obligation to provide web content in a manner which ensures the widest possible access for all people.

My argument is not that web accessibility is unimportant, but that achieving more widespead acccessibility is better served by not making this a subject for legality. My argument also delves a little into socio-political theory, so if you're bored already, my apologies.

Foucault and the society of control

French philosopher and social critic Michel Foucault studied in depth what he referred to as social 'enclosures', institutions within disciplinary societies, each with it's own laws such as the family, the school, the workplace and possibly the prison. Within a disciplinary society, an individual moves between institutions thoughout his or her life and behavior is governed by those institutions.

Within a society of control, as Foucault believed as the logical successor to disciplinary societies, control is extended to the corporation and to the state and that an individual cannot be free from such control. Heavy stuff I know, but there is a point in here I promise.

I believe that a direct result of the rise of the state is the diminishing of social responsibility. We now have many levels of state/government institutions and with each layer our sense of responsibilty diminishes. Ask yourself this, if you woke to find an old fridge dumped outside your house one morning, would your first instinct to be to telephone the council or to take responsibility on behalf of yourself or your neighbours? With each layer of government our sense of community and responsibility is removed further and our reliance on institutions increases.

State control is an ever pervasive factor of modern life. We are force fed the idea that such control is for our safety/liberty/freedom, but in fact such control serves to do little more than bring control more into our every waking thought.

Where does this leave accessibility?

As a passionate advocate of web accessibility, it might seem strange to hear that I believe sincerely that any laws relating to it have no place in establishing a more egalitarian and more acccessible web. In relation to a follow up question I should at this point draw a distinction between governmental and commercial web sites. I believe that all government institutions should be providers of information in a format which is accessible as possible through policies set by those institutions. This is little different from any organisation making policies which enhance the quality of output and service to their customers.

The same should be true of commercial entities and it is not the role of government, but the role of managers to determine the policies which best suit the needs of those organisations and their customers. It would certainly be commercial suicide for commercial companies to ignore the needs of people with disabilities by making their web content inaccessible.

One might ask the question, What about the rights of people with disabilities? and here I would argue that rights are inherant and not made valid by government legislation. In fact I believe that the rights of people with disabilities are better served without such laws and here's why.

Many web developers and designers still view accessibility as an issue and a matter of compliance rather than as part of their chosen professional craft and a platform for greater creative flexibility. It is because of legislation and the threat of the courts that this view is perpetuated. A wider acceptance of the needs of people with disabilities and the development of more acccessible sites is better served through a combination of education of clients, commercial pressure through people voting with their feet and web developers and designers incorporating accessibility into their work through professional pride in a job well done.

We live in a world where the needs of accessibility must be balanced by the needs of profit and within the corporate world by branding concerns, usability and the customer experiences of the able-bodied majority and the disabled minority alike. We must also remember that disability is not an absolute but a relative term and that web accessibility is also relative and as such cannot be governed or legislated for. If this were true, we could also expect laws protecting us from ugly web sites or perhaps those which use Comic Sans.

Shall I leave comments on? Oh what the hell! ;)

Replies

  1. #1 On June 16, 2005 12:56 AM Colly said:

    Whole-heartedly agree. As usual you manage to make a very good case on behalf of business. The current minefield of (mis)information, rules, regs and half-cocked legislation is frightening developers, and should not over-ride the common sense approach.

    With this new site I've been banging on about, we'll be seeking to suggest rather than dictate, offering opinion and guidance rather than rules. I believe this is what is needed at this stage, after all, our industry will be in a transitional state for the forseeable future. How can we enforce strict law upon something in a state of flux? Let's have some clarity.

    Has the time come for people to speak their minds on these issues? I do hope so.

  2. #2 On June 16, 2005 03:00 AM Maxine Sherrin said:

    First up, congratulations on introducing Foucault to web design/accessibility! There are very few aspects of my thinking to which I don't apply post structuralist thought (whenever I'm confronted with a tricky dilemna, I always ask myself "What would Michel have done?"), but I've never thought to bring it to this table. From now on I shall :-)

    I'm afraid though I'm going to have to be boring and beg to differ with your argument here. I guess the point on which we diverge is the following:

    "rights are inherant and not made valid by government legislation".

    Rights are not in fact inherent. You may think you have a right to free speech for example, but unless that right is codified, you do not. Likewise privacy, unreasonable search and seizure, a fair public trial etc etc etc.

    And, until it is codified you do not have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of gender, race, sexuality, age, disability and so forth.

    Yes, I agree with you that seeing accessibility as an issue and a matter of compliance can lead to prosaic and useless implementations. But this doesn't happen if you have well devised codifications that take into account current thinking from all stakeholders.

    The fact remains that no one gave two hoots about accessibility until people like Bruce Maguire started bringing legal actions.

    Oh, and, yes, very brave to leave the comments on :-)

  3. #3 On June 16, 2005 03:10 AM Chris Lienert said:

    How can I help but agree with an article quoting Foucault? Using a legal stick to bash good design into the minds of web developers is quite alien to an industry that's largely formed as a result of people power. As noted, the dynamic nature of the web makes it difficult if not impossible to set rules and even more so when those rules are set by the rigid legal system.

  4. #4 On June 16, 2005 03:53 AM Sean Fraser said:

    I agree.

    I believe that accessibility is the final aspect of usability. They become blurred.

    Developers strive for 508 compliance because 508 Guidelines are all that most developers have for an understanding of accessibility issues. I'm neither blind nor color-blind; my fingers function on keyboard or mouse.

    Still.... most things - I've read - regarding Accessibility seem to have been written by the visitor in H.G. Wells, “The Country of the Blind”. One site, however, Redish.net has this Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites: Observing Users Who Work With Screen Readers. After reading this, I have an understanding of why 508 Guidelines exist. This Guideline and the 508 Guideline are my aides-mémoire.


    Most contract sites � over the past year � I�ve made meet the intent of the 508 A Guidelines. My largest hurdle remains client education; I fixed that. Most of the clients who do not wish their site to be accessibility compliant, e.g., <a title> use, time spent writing <alt> attribute descriptions or setting tab-key order, are persuaded after explaining to them that by making a site accessible it would benefit their search engine rankings. Funny thing, greed.

    And, when I write intent, I mean intent. Two different sites can be 508 AAA Compliant. One site may have “Home = 1” and one site may have “Home = h”. Each site would be accessible but when one considers all accesskey designator variants found throughout the internet, user-friendliness is lacking. What web standard exists for the consistent use of significant. i.e., Home, Contact, Skip to Main Content and Accessibility, accesskeys?

    Did you know that should you place all navigation links at the end of the body section and use CSS to position:absolute that navigation at the top of the page, you could fail AAA Compliance.

    I agree that State-driven legislation would ***k-up things [It always does!] but I believe that peer-driven guidelines should exist. Kinda like what happened with CSS.

  5. #5 On June 16, 2005 06:24 AM Jeff Werner said:

    Was it Kurt Vonnegut who wrote that short story about the Handicap General?

    In the near future the government implements strict controls over equality. Those with superior eyesight are required to wear vision-blurring glasses, the strong must trudge about with weights from their arms, the intellectuals must wear headphones that ring at intervals with headache-inducing noise.

    I'm not equating web accessability guidelines with some totalitarian (though over-the-top funny) dystopian future. But this talk about Foucault really rings true for me.

    I'm actually unclear as to the exact guidelines in my own country. but is my impression correct that certain web accessiblity guidelines are now state-mandated in the UK?

  6. #6 On June 16, 2005 06:47 AM Craig C. said:

    "(...) better served through a combination of education of clients, commercial pressure through people voting with their feet and web developers and designers incorporating accessibility into their work (...)"

    This is the crux. Education and advocacy will be far more successful in the long-term than legislation. The web will become more accessible when users stop tolerating inaccessible sites. Speaking for myself, I use Mozilla. If a site doesn't work in Mozilla, I do not visit or use that site, simple as that. I vote with my feet (and my wallet).

    It's generally pretty difficult to force businesses to obey laws. Rather, they'll tend to grudgingly look for shortcuts to reduce their liability, only doing the bare minimum required to stay out of court. Others will go on flagrantly breaking the law as long as they continue to benfit from it.

    To flail for an example, look at the miserable attempts to curtail spam by law: 'responsible' companies pay lip service but continue to send unsolicited email through every loophole they can, and hardcore spammers break the law with glee. In the year and a half since the moronic and impotent US "CAN-SPAM" act became law, I've seen no drop in my (now illegal) spam. Why is that? Spam persists because stupid people keep responding to it. When it ceases to make money, the spam business model will die out. The same goes for inaccessible websites - when they stop succeeding, they'll have to adapt or die.

    All that being said, I do think some legislation can be a good thing. As Maxine said above, without a system to protect and guarantee our rights, the notion of inherent rights in a greed-driven world is little more than a noble philosophy. While we Americans are an overly letigious lot (since the current system is ripe for abuse and the current generation has a spoiled mentality of entitlement, but I digress..), it's a sad truth that the fundamental right for individuals to sue is one of the few recourses we have to demand justice. And alas, we cannot sue without a law.

    So in my opinion legislation is a short-term stop-gap at best, to try to improve the state of things in the here and now while our ongoing campaign of education and leading-by-example builds steam. In an ideal future, businesses and developers will build accessible sites simply because it's the right thing to do and the silly laws can be forgotten.

  7. #7 On June 16, 2005 06:50 AM Craig C. said:

    Jeff, yep, that was Vonnegut. The story was "Harrison Bergeron," a classic.

  8. #8 On June 16, 2005 08:27 AM Stuart Langridge said:

    Your flaw is, that while I agree with the sentiments you present, I think that I, and the government, feel that educating people to do it properly doesn't work. Look at disability regulations in the real world; yes, people should be educated that you need to provide disability access to buildings, but no-one bothered until it was made legally compulsory to do so. Legislation is there to make people do things that they should do but do not, I think; it's a very big hammer, and it would be nice to not need it, but unfortunately I think that you do because people will identify the "profit motive" as meaning that accessibility work just isn't worth the effort. There's a larger issue at work here, I think.

  9. #9 On June 16, 2005 08:47 AM Kev said:

    As both a web developer and the parent of a child considered disabled, I was prepared to be angry with this post but I'm not. I can totally appreciate a lot of your points.

    I don't think you're exactly right but neither do I think you're exactly wrong either. There are two main issues as I see them:

    First is the question of the state of the legislation. Is it good enough? The answer is no. Its a haphazard mess. I made a recent post regarding whos legal responsibility accessibility is under UK law which shows the state of confusion in just one country with legislation. This needs to improve if the law is to be applied purposefully.

    Second though is the rather more thorny issue of equality. In this aspect I think you're being slightly idealistic rather than realistic. I agree that in an ideal world all the required pressure would come from education and advocacy but it doesn't and it never will. The reality is that people with disabilities face a long and tortuous fight getting mainstream society to even acknowledge that there is an issue to address - never mind acting on that issue! Does that need to change? Of course! I totally agree with your 'society of control' example.

    We also face the contnuing assumption that accessibility equates mainly to people with a visual disability. A large percentage of the disabled population of the UK (including my daughter) have a cognitive/perceptual based disability. A lot of these people are not well equipped to interact on a level that advocacy would always require and thats one of the reasons why legislation is necessary - to protect the rights of the most vulnerable.

    The answer is not that we need no law, but that we need better, more specific, more measurable law.

    Just my 2p :o)

  10. #10 On June 16, 2005 09:34 AM Adrian Lee said:

    Hehe, ok Malarky, when I started reading, I had my counter argument all ready to go in my head. Then I carried on reading, and you destroyed it....

    I guess I kind of agree. Question is, what do we do about it? Do we need to change the world and it's current society, in order to get people to build accessible web sites?

    If we don't change society, but also have no laws to make people make accessible web sites, where would we end up?

    I see questions from people about accessibility who are only even considering it because of laws telling them to. If it weren't for that, they would have just ignored it, because it's too much trouble. For it to work with an absence of laws, society as a whole needs to change doesn't it?

    Bit of a vicious circle....... Society won't improve if you just keep making laws, but if you don't have the laws, society just ignores the issues....

    Or do we have to leave it lawless and leave it a few years until the dissenting voices sway popular opinion on this one subject?

  11. #11 On June 16, 2005 09:42 AM LintHuman said:

    While I agree that the control of the state in matters of personal freedom and choice for adults (children are another matter) should be limited, it is proper for legislation to defend and protect disadvantaged and vulnerable people.

    Relying on developers to educate clients, or on commercial pressure, or on managers concerned with profit, or on developers to incorporate accessibility as a matter of course will not best serve the needs of disabled people. As you said in your presentation, standards-based Web designers are a minority in the Web development world as a whole; there simply aren't enough of us to educate a critical mass of clients. It certainly has not been 'commercial suicide' for companies to ignore disabled customers, and that is not going to change any time soon.

    I do feel dismay when clients ask about accessibility (if they ask at all) in terms of the possibility of being sued. However strongly we feel the moral arguments for accessibility, or take professional pride in designing accessible sites, that's not their motivation. The legislation isn't ideal, but it's the best we can do for now.

  12. #12 On June 16, 2005 11:42 AM Faruk Ateş said:

    Andy,

    Thanks for answering my question from the conference. I'm glad you didn't find it to be quite the head-exploder question, after all. :-)

    Also, I agree with you and I can fully understand your point of view, now that you've had the chance to elaborately explain it. It's a good perspective indeed.

    It still leaves me wondering how long it'll be before there is enough pressure and so forth to make the majority of site developers (incl. designers) convert to producing accessible websites. But I guess we'll just have to wait and see, as well as try and aid and speed up the process, right? :)

  13. #13 On June 16, 2005 12:31 PM Sophie Denni said:

    I have to agree with Maxine and Kev. Human rights are (sadly) not "inherent". They need to be defined and then defended. If we lived in a Panglossian best-of-all-possible-worlds (just keeping up the literary references) perhaps they would be universally understood and appreciated. Then there would be no need for equal rights legislation of any kind. Unfortunately we don't.

    In the area of what is trendily termed "social inclusion" for those with disabilities there are still huge problems. I believe we do need broad-brush legislation which says "you should provide access for all regardless of disability" (such as the UK DDA). Relying on morals, ethics or financial imperatives ("commerical suicide"? for many no, not unless you might be sued for £££s) is sadly not enough.

    The good news is that &mdash unlike other areas of equal rights &mdash the problems disability legislation seeks to tackle are largely ones of ignorance rather than prejudice. On that front you're dead right that to improve access for people with disabilities &mdash whether in the virtual or physical world &mdash what's really needed is education rather than legislation. The UK DDA with its focus on the principle of equitable access, has succeeded in raising awareness where other approaches have failed. Even if someone's first thought is to avoid being sued there's at least an opening there to step in and educate.

    What we don't need is checkpoint legislation like the US 508 regulations, which precisely makes accessibility "an issue of compliance" (with tick-box guidelines) rather than a matter of social responsibility. But it remains a sad fact that government does need to legislate in order for people to pick up the tab on their social responsibilities. The rise of the state doesn't lead to a diminishing of social responsibility. Sure it can lead to buck-passing onto the state of abandoned fridges, but when it comes to protecting those whom society tends to exclude, whether they're disabled, poor or just 'different', the able-bodied, comfortably-off, conventional majority have consistently shown they don't give a damn unless the state makes 'em.

  14. #14 On June 16, 2005 12:38 PM Krishnan Patel said:

    I think you make interesting points, which are understandable, but there is at least one flaw, I feel, in your thinking:

    you describe two actors: government, and individuals (almost classic conservative thinking).

    What this misses out is not just the biggest actor today (corporations) -- and you do mention them -- but their power -- I know a number of large companies that just frankly don't care, and don't need to coz of their commanding position.

    Almost a century ago the issue was not so much disability rights, but basic human rights...

    If we left it to corporations to act in due faith, we would still be working 6 days a week, and 18 hours a day, and forced to buy from our employers!

    In theory (though probably not in reality) govt is the people.

    As someone else mentioned, if govt didn't codify various things, it would likely not happen.

    You are right in some ways that excessive regulation can be a burden, but markets are not good at human rights or accountability (I tend to think of all those dictators we supported in the third world in the name of capitalism, overthrowing many legitimate democracies, just coz their form of capitalism wasn't the ones that the west (US/UK) wanted. One striking case perhaps is Reagan and Thatcher's tacit support of South African Apartheid...)

    Iideally you are right, I feel. In reality, people need govt to represent them, especially against other actors such as business. If govt is not doing a good job, it is because of the system of governance perhaps, not that they have accessibility laws...

    I wonder how a disabled person would feel if a big company didn't want to spend money on providing access to their building, or the company thought that a back yard second class entrance was enough. It is easy for us to say they can go elsewhere, but when some of these big companies are the only ones in town, where choice is limited, is that fair/realistic...?

    Coming back down to web design: In the US some big companies are switching to standards, but they are hardly accessible, and doing it mainly for bandwidth savings etc... Understandable, totally, but accessible, no.... In UK, things aren't perfect, but likely to be better...

    Human rights (ultimately that is where disability rights falls in) has to be driven by people, not by business...

    Controversial statements no doubt, but have written too much here already!

  15. #15 On June 16, 2005 02:33 PM Mike Stenhouse said:

    Hmmmmmm. For me the key here is that people tend to see "accessibility as an issue and a matter of compliance".

    There is a general lack of education as to who accessibility really affects. The impression I get from the majority of people is that it covers the fringes: people with no sight at all, serious motor disabilities etc. What about the rest? How about short sight? It may not be classed as a disability but it definitey falls under the remit of accessibility... So as it stands, I think that the law misses the point. On the bright side though, the law (in the UK at least) has raised the profile of these issues.

    Sadly, I believe that laws of some kind are required, as Sophie and Krishnan have said above. Without some kind of stick, many would remain either ignorant or willfully unco-operative. Anyone who's ever tried to find anything on MSDN will know what I mean.

    Bit out of my depth with the whole social philosophy thing...!

  16. #16 On June 16, 2005 02:47 PM JohnO said:

    I love it. Someone used social theory in a post, brilliant. Great discussion. I agree with your position, and your take on social responsibility.

    However, if Stuart Langridge is correct about his assertions that physical disabilities were not met until a law was passed there could be a problem. As vast as the blogosphere is, we are absolutely the minority. I would imagine less than 5% of all websites are built on standards (and maybe 10% of those are 508 compliant). So adoption might very well be a problem. But will laws solve it?

    I don't think so. First the internet is not regulated by one government. So if you in the UK pass a law saying everyone has to be 508 AA compliant, myself, across the pond, doesn't make one bit of difference. And of course, if you Brits use American servers, does the law apply? If me, an American, use British servers, does the law apply? Headaches. Furthermore, we've all seen how arcane and backwards (atleast the US Congress, I'm happy to hear that patents in EU are being struck down) legislative bodies are with technology. Do we really wants the suits to regulate us, when they *really* think Al Gore invented the internet. I mean come on

  17. #17 On June 16, 2005 03:54 PM Robert Wellock said:

    Do you have a sticky 'c' key? There are a lot of triple "c's" used above in the word accessib-

    So essentially what you've said is Governments should be in charge of government accessibly and corporate heads in charge of corporate accessibility. Thus leaving the individual whom may have a disability served by neither.

    Well, it's certainly an intriguing idea.

  18. #18 On June 16, 2005 04:21 PM JohnO said:

    Robert, I think what he is advocating is a social responsibility of developers, and that the market will decide.

    Providing good accessibility not only helps those with screen readers and such but also helps us without them. Accessibility and Usability aren't that far removed from one another. Increasing your accessibility will have good repurcussions on your usability. And that is where the market will come in.

  19. #19 On June 16, 2005 07:56 PM Matt Robin said:

    Malarkey: "...Shall I leave comments on? Oh what the hell! ;)"

    Yeah - like you were going to type all that and then NOT have comments! # Laughs #

    What I find interesting is that articles like this one and others on the web recently (no, I'm not going to bother listing them here) - have brought this topic to the fore...and also generated a lot more awareness of what 'Accessibility' actually means - and not just that it helps some users with disabilities.
    Having the profile of 'Accessibility' raised in this manner puts greater emphasis on it...a standard to strive for in web design anyway almost irrespective of hardlined governing laws.

    Are those laws still needed then?
    Well, perhaps they could serve better as guidelines than absolute rules...but I think their definitions are too ambiguous. Worst of all is when sites have been made, and then proudly stating they are WAI-Accessible (or something else similar)...and yet on closer inspection, they've just declared that to make themselves look good and not accessible at all!

    I can see that many of the previous posts' here have already voiced very good responses to this matter. I'd only be repeating the obvious.

    Colly: "...How can we enforce strict law upon something in a state of flux? Let's have some clarity."

    Indeed - and I think this statement hits the 'nail on the head' (so to speak!).

  20. #20 On June 16, 2005 08:12 PM Chris said:

    I believe that a direct result of the rise of the state is the diminishing of social responsibility.

    Exactly. There's no reason to choose to be responsible (or, dare I say, increase profitability by choosing to broaden accessibility as a marketing effort to reach a broader audience) if the government defines and mandates responsibility. One could easily imagine the Council on Web Accessibility scurrying after folks in 1984 or Brave New World. In the end it means relying on the powers that be to make your decisions for you.

    I read Foucault in grad school; also read Kierkegaard. The only real freedom anyone has is the freedom to make choices. Not much freedom left if the only choice is a "Hobson's choice": take what we offer you, or nothing at all. That is no choice.

    That doesn't mean I don't think insuring broad accessibility is the best practice. I do. But every government mandate means a little less freedom for everyone, and that's much worse in my book than a website that is inaccessible for a few.

  21. #21 On June 16, 2005 09:17 PM Malarkey said:

    WOW guys, looks like leaving comments on was the right decision after-all. I can't believe so many have read Foucault and (in the main) agree in principle.

  22. #22 On June 16, 2005 09:27 PM Roger Johansson said:

    I would love to see widespread accessibility improvements without the need for legislation. I really would.

    But if time passes and nothing much happens, except when sites are built by people visiting sites like this, my own, and others that advocate accessibility, what else can be done?

    Very interesting discussion this.

  23. #23 On June 16, 2005 10:32 PM Robert Nyman said:

    Hear, hear.

    I think forcing is wrong, it should come as a initiative from web developers and business decision makers to create accessible web sites.

    In the end, we don't want everyone suing one another for it, it should be created for reasons based on consideration and respect (and making more money by reaching more people :-)) .

  24. #24 On June 16, 2005 11:49 PM Graham Bancroft said:

    I think Accessibility is at a similar stage to Web Standards a few years ago? Surely what has happened with the latter can happen with Accessibilty by way of the Web community.

  25. #25 On June 16, 2005 11:59 PM Adam Liptrot said:

    All law is in a state of flux and needs to be monitored and updated, I don't think this is a reason not to legislate. Unfortunately the great majority of web developers will need their clients to cite legal considerations before even looking at accessibility.
    This is the sad state of society - that people need a reason to do the best job possible. Is this a result of too much legialation? Possibly, but it is also maybe a result of a pressured society where demands on companies and the emphasis on the bottom line (and the livelihoods of their employees) are more heightened than previously. Legislation is required to bring what would, unfortunately, be a 'minor' issue to the attention of company bosses.
    As someone mentioned, many companies might not notice if they didn't get any footfall from disabled users and the cost involved in hiring a reputable web company who knew about accessibilty would maybe prohibit them doing it if it wasn't a legal requirement. Disabled users shouldn't be made to search endlessly for the good sites among the hordes of bad ones.
    I agree with you wholeheartedly, Andy and wish it would work, but I think it is wishful thinking. Basic accessibility isn't difficult to achieve, so the question is why isn't it being achieved? I don't think it is totally down to a lack of education, I think it may be because the carrot and the stick are too small.

  26. #26 On June 17, 2005 10:58 AM Kev said:

    Further thoughts and concerns.

  27. #27 On June 17, 2005 02:39 PM Tina Vance said:

    I've got to say that you make some very good points. As someone who acts as an advocate for accessibility guidelines (in the U.S., so we have Section 508), it's frustrating to see the state of accessibility just in my own country.

    Having legal guidelines that encourage accessibility shows good intent. Having those guidelines and lacking any real power of enforcement behind them shows a lack of foresight. See, at least in the U.S., Section 508 isn't consistantly enforced. The guidelines themselves are full of holes and are, at times, difficult to enforce because they don't even make sense in all cases.

    The problem with government control is that, while it's intended to help by making accessibility a required functionality, it tends to be a little "One-Size-Fits-All," and most of the time the fit is incredibly off. Every case is slightly different, and sometimes the best solutions are overlooked in the scramble to meet generic criteria. Making it a law nearly guarantees that accessibility will be treated as an afterthought: a checkbox that gets ticked when a few alt attributes get tossed in with a text-only version and the site goes live. I agree: it should be a craft and an art, not just another item on the to-do list.

    It's not that creating laws regarding accessibility are bad, it's more that technology is constantly changing and updating those laws to reflect those changes is cumbersome and usually doesn't get done. The good intentions are there, but just like one-size-fits-all clothing, accessibility laws hardly ever provide a good fit.

  28. #28 On June 17, 2005 08:48 PM Nigel Duckworth said:

    I agree, accessibility should not be mandated by govt but for non-Foucaultian reasons.

    In my view the only proper function of govt is to protect individual rights, which means protect individuals from the initiation of force by others. Thereby the govt protects our freedom to think, to act, to speak/write, produce and trade the fruits of our labors with others.

    A law mandating accessibility is a violation of individual rights because it criminalizes peaceful voluntary action and forces developers to conform to the state's notion of "proper developing and proper websites." That is the right and perogative only of the citizens, to judge products and endorse or condemn them by the only right with regard to the works of others that the citizen has: to purchase them or not. The state has no business overriding the judgement and voluntary action of others by interfering with coercive measures.

    Further, the idea that there are "rights" to accessible websites is ridiculous. These things don't grow on trees, they have to be provided by other individuals. To say people have a right to them is to say that they have a right to the labor of others. They don't.

    The "nanny" state is why I left the UK, it treats us like children and makes us subservient and dependent on it. There's nothing compassionate or benign about it.

  29. #29 On June 18, 2005 12:32 AM Mark said:

    Man, I agree 100%. I believe accessibility and such should be up to each company/organization. Now I would think that public service organizations may have a higher need to make information readily accessible than say a Multimedia design house. It is all relative to the target demographic and content.

  30. #30 On June 18, 2005 12:42 AM Malarkey said:

    Just to be clear,

    I believe that web accessibility is not only desirable, but vital. I believe that all organisations, whether in the public or private sectors, have an obligation to provide web content in a manner which ensures the widest possible access for all people. My argument is not that web accessibility is unimportant, but that achieving more widespead acccessibility is better served by not making this a subject for legality.

    By this I mean all organisations, public and private have an obligation to provide accessible content, from governments to multi-media designers. This is not only possible but desirable.

  31. #31 On June 18, 2005 01:04 AM Mearso said:

    The thought that occupies my mind about legislation is that it's nothing without enforcement. And the legislation has to undergo a lot of testing (perhaps in the courts) before it becomes clear exactly how the best of intentions that clearly underpin it will be served.

  32. #32 On June 18, 2005 03:21 AM Bob Easton said:

    Fascinating reading. I believe you are making a point similar to that made by an American, Greg Perry, makes in his recent book, "Disabling America."

    His thesis is that before legislation many businesses made reasonable accommodations as a part of good business. Those were good will efforts intended for satisfying customers. Not all businesses did so, but the forces of the market helped those who did. Since legislation, the methods and techniques required by law have become so burdensome that many business can't afford them. Resistant attitudes have hardened to such an extent that the good will accommodations made in the pre-ADA days are no longer being made. In short, legislation and draconian financial burdens have set accessibility back, producing exactly the opposite affect of what was hoped.
    (ADA = Americans with Disabilities Act).

    Learn more about Perry's views at: http://www.townhall.com/bookclub/perry.html

  33. #33 On June 18, 2005 08:37 AM Kev said:

    Nigel says:

    "Further, the idea that there are "rights" to accessible websites is ridiculous. These things don't grow on trees, they have to be provided by other individuals. To say people have a right to them is to say that they have a right to the labor of others. They don't."

    This sums up the misconception apparent in your entire comment - acessibility laws aren't to protect individuals rights to websites. Rather they protect invidials rights to goods and services. The service provider is obligated to ensure those goods and services are accessible - whether on a website or in a traditional shop.

  34. #34 On June 18, 2005 06:37 PM Nigel Duckworth said:

    Kev,

    There's no misconception in my argument, in fact I addressed the notion that there is such a thing as a right to the product of someone else's labor (a good or a service). No one has the right to force others to create what they want. The whole point is that proper rights bar the use of force from human interaction and allow only voluntary exchange. So called "entitlement rights" are a violation of proper rights.

  35. #35 On June 19, 2005 01:20 AM Andy Budd said:

    Hi Andy,

    As you know I couldn't disagree with you more.

    "It would certainly be commercial suicide for commercial companies to ignore the needs of people with disabilities by making their web content inaccessible."

    If that's the case how comes there are more inaccessible websites than there are accessible ones, yet none of these companies are folding? How comes a company such as the Odeon cinemas can have such an inaccessible site if it's such "commercial suicide"?

    " I would argue that rights are inherant and not made valid by government legislation."

    Nobody is suggesting legislation validates these rights. However they do provide a framework for protecting these rights and a means to force companies to comply if they choose not to.

    "In fact I believe that the rights of people with disabilities are better served without such laws and here's why."

    Yes, I'm sure disabled people have a much better lot in countries that allow discrimination, just as I'm sure women have a much better lot in countries where sex discrimination is legal.

    "The development of more acccessible sites is better served through a combination of education of clients, commercial pressure through people voting with their feet and web developers and designers incorporating accessibility into their work through professional pride in a job well done."

    And when that doesn't work, as is the case in the vast majority of cases, then what?

    "We live in a world where the needs of accessibility must be balanced by the needs of profit"

    Said like a true Thatcherite. You do surprise me.

    "We must also remember that disability is not an absolute but a relative term and that web accessibility is also relative and as such cannot be governed or legislated for."

    Accessibility may be a relative term. However in the UK at least, the law relates to discrimination, not accessibility. Do you also feel the same way about sex or race discrimination?


    "If this were true, we could also expect laws protecting us from ugly web sites or perhaps those which use Comic Sans."

    What an amazingly belittling comment. Equating discrimination with disliking a certain typeface. It saddens me seeing such a well respected member of the design community spouting such facile nonsense. I expected more from you Andy.

  36. #36 On June 19, 2005 01:54 AM Malarkey said:

    @ Mr. Budd.

    Nice rebuttle, just to clarify a couple of points.

    [It would certainly be commercial suicide for commercial companies to ignore the needs of people with disabilities by making their web content inaccessible.]

    If that's the case how comes there are more inaccessible websites than there are accessible ones, yet none of these companies are folding? How comes a company such as the Odeon cinemas can have such an inaccessible site if it's such "commercial suicide"?

    The web is still a young place and attitudes to it change very rapidly. Accessibility is also a relatively new issue for most businesses and is still widely misunderstood. I foresee that a combination of commercial and peer pressures will force businesses into taking accessibility seriously.

    [We live in a world where the needs of accessibility must be balanced by the needs of profit]

    Said like a true Thatcherite. You do surprise me.

    I expect so. Much as I wish it were otherwise, we both work in an area where commercial pressures dictate movement faster than social pressures. I'm both a utopian and a pragmatist.

    [If this were true, we could also expect laws protecting us from ugly web sites or perhaps those which use Comic Sans.]

    What an amazingly belittling comment. Equating discrimination with disliking a certain typeface. It saddens me seeing such a well respected member of the design community spouting such facile nonsense. I expected more from you Andy.

    (Now this one upsets me actually, you know me better than that by now.)

    To clarify the point; I'm not for a moment equating discrimination with disliking Comic Sans, simply that when an area such as accessibility (with no absolutes) becomes governed by absolutes, we are on a slippery slope. It boils down then to opinion rather than mature interpretation. And we have all seen instances where organisations 'get it wrong', be they governmental or advisory (reference Joe Clark's current battles over WCAG2).

    We are not going to agree on everything are we? :)

  37. #37 On June 19, 2005 12:45 PM Andy Budd said:

    Commercial and social pressures will force some businesses into taking accessibility more seriously. However it won't force all businesses to take it more seriously. The point of legislation isn't necessarily as a mechanism to force social change, although it can be used to that effect. The point of current disability discrimination legislation is to handle the edge cases and protect people from discrimination.

    I have to admit that, while I see a lot of idealism in your arguments, I see very little pragmatism. Surely the pragmatic approach is to realise that not everybody will care about discrimination, so to put legislation into effect to prevent it. I think it's pure idealism to assume that somehow society, and especially the commercial world, is somehow self regulating.

    I'm sorry that my last comment upset you. It wasn't intended to and I probably wasn't thinking as coherently as I could have been, posting my comments at 2 in the morning. I fully understand that this is not your viewpoint. However not all your readers know you as well as I'd like to think I do.

    My main objection was to you using a logical fallacy where you equate one important issue to a much less important, or frankly ridiculous issue, thus effectively sidelining it. By linking the two you're saying that if you agree with the latter, you must therefore agree with the former. However I personally find this a rather sloppy and deceptive argument technique, hence my previous comment.

    While I don't agree with your standpoint, I welcome your opinion and the opportunity to debate the matter. What concerns me are the less the rigourous techniques you've used to put your argument across. Techniques which on first glance seem to ring true, but on closer inspection are logically flawed.

  38. #38 On June 19, 2005 08:54 PM Joe Clark said:

    The problem is that decades of experience have shown that accessibility only happens in large quantity if you make people do it. Voluntary compliance, a delightfully business-friendly concept, usually leaves you with jacksquat, and when it doesn't leave you with that it leaves you with lowest-common-denominator work (viz. captioning) that may be worse than nothing at all.

    So, while philosophy is important, experience trumps it in this case.

  39. #39 On June 22, 2005 01:15 AM Mike D. said:

    Ok, first things first: As much as I hate Comic Sans, it is actually quite possibly the most accessible "web-safe" typeface around. Why? Studies have shown that due to its asymmetric letterforms and other spatial quirks, it's actually much more readable by people afflicted with dyslexia than most other typefaces. I'm totally serious.

    Secondly, I can only speak from a U.S. standpoint, but it's certainly not "fear of the law" that causes people to create accessible websites over here. There have only been a couple of well-known cases over here where web accessibility has been legally challenged and neither has led to a finding of any wrongdoing. In fact, the most recent case was dismissed by the courts on grounds that it would create new rights for the disabled without setting appropriate standards. I will say nothing of what I think of the court's ruling, but I'm simply pointing out that web developers, at least in the U.S., aren't exactly shaking in their boots over accessibility legal liability. Instead, it's the good teachings of people like Shea, Featherstone, and Clark which seem to affect the people I know. The message is that, as Wilford Brimley would say, "It's the right thing to do, and the tasty way to do it."

    And finally, the comment about inattention to accessibility being commerical suicide: I don't think that's the case currently at all. I don't mean this to sound harsh at all, but the fact is that if you eliminated wheelchair ramps from every building in the world, it would have no noticeable commercial effect on any company. Same is true for websites. This goes partly to Joe's point of the need to make this stuff mandatory... but it also goes partly to the question of can we instead continue to create a *moral* standard instead of a *legal* standard.

  40. #40 On June 22, 2005 04:52 PM Philip Chalmers said:

    The "old media" are not required to make their content accessible to all regardless of disabilities. Web usability legislation is political bullying of a young indstry.

    It's also bad management and an evasion of democratic accountability. If web accessibility were funded out of taxation like other social programmes, those who design and operate the policies would have to account for how they spent taxpayers' money. It's much more convenient for politicans, bureacrats and lobbyists to bury the costs in web sites' accounts.

    Don't think that regulation reduces the cost of accessibility - evey pound spent on accessibility is not available for creating new products or new jobs.
    See my editorial
    for a more detailed analysis.

This article was originally published by Andy Clarke on his personal web site And All That Malarkey and is reproduced here for archive purposes. This article is published under a Creative Commons By Attribution License 2.0.

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