Sticks and Stones

March 13, 2009

Sticks and stones can break my bones…

Sticks and Stones

This week, David Baron called me (as well as a colleague long respected – Matt Morgan-May) extremists.

My response to David, via Wendy Chisholm’s blog (David does not allow for comments on his blog) included the following:

Extremist… I am proud to wear that label. I make no apologies for drawing my line in the sand, but to be very clear to all – that is *MY* line, and not that of all those that work and live in the accessibility space that we share. For those within our community who become uncomfortable with my stance, I apologize to them for their discomfort only, but not for my stance. And for those who have written me in the past supporting my comments – thank you for your encouragement.

Overall, I was amused and, surprisingly, pleased by David’s accusation. I’ve long believed that when your adversaries cannot attack your position, they attack your character – so David’s comment here had little real impact on me except perhaps being the motivator for me to dust off this WordPress installation so that I don’t have to leach off of others blog platforms to say my bit.

David goes on to misquote me, taking a snippet of my posting and mis-representing it by suggesting that:

He said, in other words, that Bespin, which is an experiment in its early stages of development, should not have been allowed to be put on the Web until it was made accessible.

That of course is NOT what I said – go back and read for yourself what I did say (note to all – if you are going to quote me, get it right)

The saddest thing is however, David’s closing remark;

I think these extremist positions tend to orient much of the accessibility community towards casting blame on evildoers (such as the evil John Smith uploading his photos to flickr) rather than solving the real problems of disabled users.

I am so tired of hearing this drivel from the technologist, yet at the same time not actually being offered a solution to solve these problems. Crafting a specification that leaves accessibility to ‘suggestion’ as is the current case with the <canvas> element of HTML5 (which prompted my comment in the first place) all but guarantees that the suggestions will be mishandled, abused or out-right ignored.

But even more importantly, he is not hearing what many of us are saying, he is simply filtering what we say through his own misconceptions and biases. I am not lambasting the average Joe who simply uses the web, I am instead voicing my outrage that the allegedly smart people who are writing the HTML5 specification cannot understand a simple human concept – people rarely do what is suggested, but generally do what they are told they must do.

If HTML5 is to achieve the oft stated goal of “accessibility just happening”, then you must set the conditions for that to actually happen – and “suggestion” alone falls very short in this regard. This is not about setting impossible conditions for authors to meet, it is about establishing systems that actually do ensure that accessibility happens. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: accessibility *MUST* be foundational, it cannot simply be a bolt-on solution applied at the 11th hour. Until such time as HTML5 accepts that truism and reflects that reality, there will be issues and I for one will point the finger. I don’t want to retard development, I want to ensure we get it right the first time, because there will be no going backwards.

So to the David Barons of the world – rather than taking pot-shots at individuals who dare to question what’s going on – shut-up, listen and hear the real problem, and offer a solution that “just works”, no suggestions required.

And if that’s extreme – so be it.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Sticks and stones can break my bones… by John Foliot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Posted by John

I am a 16 year veteran of Web Accessibility, living and working in Austin, Texas. Currently Principal Accessibility Strategist at Deque Systems Inc., I have previously held accessibility related positions at JPMorgan Chase and Stanford University. I am also actively involved with the W3C - the international internet standards body - where I attempt to stir the pot, fight hard for accessibility on the web, and am currently co-chairing a subcommittee on the accessibility of media elements in HTML5.

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