The Inclusion Principle

by Margit Link-Rodrigue

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  1. thanx for your interessting article and excuse my little school english, i am german and no native writer…so, what i am missing beside alt tags, h1/h2: for me most importent concerning accessibility in praxis is the possibility to increase the font size. I would estimate that minimum 40% of visitors on a company website are people 40+. At this age, your are probably very happy if you are able to zoom the website with one klick!

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  2. But what about the art department of a university whose website shows photos of that same artwork? Is there any reason that the university couldn’t provide a description of a photo or add captions to a video project?

    There is absolutely no reason why that shouldn’t happen, I agree with you completely.

    However we need to acknowledge that, no matter what our users’ abilities, we cannot automatically treat every single piece of content on the web (video, image, page, application, etc) as a document, which is not open for interpretation, and with which the experience of viewing/engaging/interacting can be fully reproduced by a text-only equivalent.

    Yes, an alt tag serves its purpose extremely well in many (most) cases when used correctly. However what would I write as the alt text for the Mona Lisa? How would I caption Fantasia? We must acknowledge that there is some content out there that inherently requires a certain sense or ability to interpret and experience.

    I’m playing the devil’s advocate a little here, but I believe attempts at universal, across-the-board inclusion actually hamper our efforts to promote accessible web design where it does matter.

    Who decided that every single piece of content on the web needs to be accessible to every single user? Are we really at the point where I need to fear litigation if I choose to use the web as a medium for sharing an uncaptioned video?

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  3. @tbathgate:

    I found the paragraph about target group extremely interesting. I guess some people always like to try and make sure that everything works for everybody but why take the time if you know a particular group wouldn’t never use the website.

    How do you know that no-one with a disability would want to use a particular website? “Disability” covers a huge range of conditions, including hearing or vision reduction/loss, poor motor control (eg can’t use a mouse), colour-blindness, epilepsy, dyslexia and many, many more. It doesn’t just mean someone who uses a wheelchair! If you can find a website where the target audience is guaranteed not to include anyone with any kind of disability, I will be absolutely staggered.

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  4. @David Rodriguez:

    I was once told that a good accessibility test was to try and use the tab key to go through a website. Is that a sufficient test?

    A good test is to disable images, styling and scripting, and put your mouse out of reach. If you can still successfully use the website (imagining you have no prior knowledge of the site), there’s a very good chance it is highly accessible.

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  5. “Yes, an alt tag serves its purpose extremely well in many (most) cases when used correctly. However what would I write as the alt text for the Mona Lisa? How would I caption Fantasia? We must acknowledge that there is some content out there that inherently requires a certain sense or ability to interpret and experience.”

    These are good honest questions and good points that are voiced by many people, and the answers are widely available. To find the answers, though, we really must care enough to seek them out. I like Margit’s article a lot, because she’s explaining why we might want to do so.

    In short, the alt tag is not so much a description as a quick indication of an element’s context in the information stream we are delivering. What is this thing that’s otherwise invisible to my screen reader/phone/handheld device? The Mona Lisa alt tag could be “Mona Lisa, by Leonardo daVinci” … and that’s enough. Chances are, the reason for its inclusion is explained in the surrounding text. Many people with vision loss have heard of the painting, understand it in context, and may have seen it if they once had vision.

    If you were diligent about accessibility, you might add a “longdesc” tag pointing to Wikipedia or some other explanation about the Mona Lisa’s artistic significance (expanding the context from the specific to the general, providing users this option for better understanding).

    That’s all. It’s as complicated or as simple as we want to make it. And if you’re making any sincere effort at all to address accessibility, nobody is going to sue you successfully.

    Disney’s “Fantasia” … I don’t recall, are there any words at all? If the meaning is conveyed by pictures and music alone, no captioning is needed. Good luck securing the rights to post any part of that particular film online, though!

    There’s no substitute for common sense in the practice of inclusive web design. You can overdo it and overthink it until it makes you sick. But if we just do it, using solid structure and progressive enhancement, it really isn’t a big deal and in some ways it helps everyone. I’ve found it forces me to order my thinking in a way that helps me when changes need to be made later. And anything that brings order to my thinking is welcome!

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  6. @Jeff Seager – Thanks for the thorough response Jeff!

    Disney’s “Fantasia” “¦ I don’t recall, are there any words at all? If the meaning is conveyed by pictures and music alone, no captioning is needed. Good luck securing the rights to post any part of that particular film online, though!

    The point I was trying to make here, which you actually clarified for me, is that there may be web content where the meaning is conveyed by pictures and/or audio alone, or by an animation that occurs by physically waving a mouse pointer over an element.

    Either of these instances would obviously raise accessibility issues for many users, and would be an awful way of conveying the meaning of the majority of the content most of us put online.

    However I think we have a tendency to confuse the Web (the medium) with the Web (the content).

    The web is a medium just like TV or radio or print. Techniques exist which allow us to make the content conveyed over the web more accessible to all users, just as techniques exist for TV (eg captions) or print (eg braille), and in most cases we want to do this!

    BUT there will also be times when we want to use the features of the medium itself to create meaning. On TV, we can use the medium’s audio and video capabilities to display music videos. There is no underlying content to be transmitted any other way, there is just something that works as a music video and loses it’s meaning if you remove either the audio or video.

    On the web, this means we can display videos, or sounds, or images, or make something animate crazily when we wave our mouse over it. Not because we have a reducible-to-text message to convey, but purely for the sake of doing so!

    What makes me nervous are the legal precedents being set in an environment where the prevailing idea seems to be that, if we tried hard enough, we could make every bit of content on the web completely accessible and meaningful to every user.

    *We can’t*.

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  7. What makes me nervous are the legal precedents being set in an environment where the prevailing idea seems to be that, if we tried hard enough, we could make every bit of content on the web completely accessible and meaningful to every user. We can’t.

    That’s right. In fact, all your points are right on the mark, except I’m concerned that some people might interpret this as a reason to throw up our hands and dismiss accessibility.

    Also, many things are legislated before they are well understood. Legislators are like that!

    I think the most important thing to understand about accessibility is that all things, physical or virtual, are accessible in varying degrees. Not either/or, accessible/inaccessible, but HOW accessible is it, and to whom? That’s why there’s no definitive validator—though there are a few that can point out the most obvious stumbling blocks.

    You’re also right about all kinds of technologies aimed at “enriching” the internet experience (some of which are just noisemakers, signifying nothing, in my opinion). If I have never experienced an apple, no amount of reading about apples will convey that experience. If I don’t want to install the Flash plugin, or enable javascript, I’m taking a calculated risk that I might miss something, and that should be my choice. If you want me as a customer, you may want to keep that possibility in mind and deliver those data points at a lower level in the structural hierarchy.

    Philosophically and psychologically, separation of structure and style also represents the separation of thought, reason and facts from feelings. Rich media are in the realm of feeling. If they also convey facts, and those are important facts, they should be delivered at a lower level first.

    As we “progress” into ever “richer” online media, I’m concerned that many of us are becoming geeks who design only for other geeks. Progressive enhancement and accessible design criteria will allow us to deliver essential information to those who are more conservative by choice or by necessity. I’m idealistic enough to think that’s important.

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  8. except I’m concerned that some people might interpret this as a reason to throw up our hands and dismiss accessibility.

    It’s a bit of a tightrope walk. You’re absolutely right, if we lean too far one way we do risk undoing all that hard work by providing excuses to dismiss the obligation to address accessibility issues and include all users on the web.

    But if we lean too far the other way, we risk creating an environment where content will simply not make it to the web due to the legal risk involved.

    This reminds me a lot of what the fear of litigation and the need for public liability insurance has done to public spaces, community events, etc worldwide. Community festivals and events from 10 years ago simply don’t happen any more because they can’t afford the liability insurance. We have ridiculous warning signs in every public space (eg “beaches”:http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=archive&ct=res&cd=0-2&url=http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200205/s554587.htm&ei=OqNzSvPlF5_sqwPgzMHADA&usg=AFQjCNH3U5XVkvRWE04Up2×60Y0ns5G-FA ) for the sole reason of protecting local government from being sued.

    I am definitely for using all the tools we have (including but not limited to progressive enhancement) to make the web a more accessible place for all users, and practicing the Inclusion Principle where possible. But I also love checking out content that is sometimes, by it’s very nature, inaccessible to someone with a vision or hearing impairment on “Vimeo”:http://www.vimeo.com and “Ffffound”:http://www.ffffound.com , and would hate to see our ability to publish content like this disappear for fear of litigation.

    So in short @Jeff Seager, I am equally idealistic enough to believe we can

    deliver essential information to those who are more conservative by choice or by necessity

    …I just don’t have faith that the legal system is able to consistently draw the line between essential and non-essential, seeing as I have no idea myself where I would draw it!

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  9. I work for a government agency, and there are laws that specifically require us to be duly diligent with accessibility. I also have very little faith in the legal system of this overly litigious society, *bsmithett*, but I think my “due diligence” is a pretty darned good defense if anyone drags me into court.

    If we want to develop for a major commercial market, or a state or federal government agency, I think we can expect to be held to a higher standard if we REALLY screw up (as Target did, disregarding numerous known accessibility techniques that would have been simple to implement). But for the vast majority of web developers and designers working small niche markets, legal standards for accessibility will never be an issue.

    I didn’t approve of the “lawsuit against Target”:http://webaim.org/blog/target-lawsuit-settled/ or the terms of that 2008 settlement, as it set up the National Foundation for the Blind (the plaintiffs, for cryin’ out loud) as the sole judges of Target’s accessibility compliance. There again, I haven’t much faith in the fairness of legal mandates. But a lawsuit was bound to call our attention to the need for accessibility, because so many people disregard it altogether.

    Somebody definitely needs to push back the boundaries of what’s possible in content delivery, and somebody always will. Yes, some things are inaccessible by nature and somewhat by design. If we understand what is accessible and what’s not, at least, we may make better decisions about when and how to use the accessibility tools we have. Having a vast vocabulary shouldn’t require us to prove it in every social encounter, and it’s the same with the language of multimedia.

    Didn’t mean to threadjack, but it’s obvious that Margit’s article has struck a chord in us. I think that’s a good thing, *bsmithett*, and I appreciate your thoughts on this.

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  10. I’ve been pro accessibility ever since I started working in the web industry. All of the companies that I have worked with to establish accessibility policies (in my opinion some have done a better job than others) have had to draw a line somewhere. As Jeff has discussed, there are varying degrees of accessibility, it’s not black and white.

    I think as long as we strive for communities and companies working towards accessibility that can only be a good thing. There isn’t a definitive guide out there but many great resources out there including the “W3C checklist”:url:http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/full-checklist.html , “Vision Australia’s resource guide”:url:http://www.visionaustralia.org.au/info.aspx?page=740 and tools such as the “JW open souce accessible video player”:url:http://www.longtailvideo.com/support/tutorials/Making-Video-Accessible .

    In my experience if accessibility is discussed and planned for up front it can be fairly easy to implement in any web development project (including Flash development).

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  11. It’s important to say that accessibility is not only for disabled people. It’s for everyone. Try websites not using your mouse. Imagine it’s broken or out of battery. A lot of sites break completely just because you don’t use the mouse. another example is flash. Not everybody has it. Some places, like companies disable flash. That can break a site completely. These are just two examples. And now tell me that those people don’t matter, they are not in the target group or whatever excuse.

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  12. Thanks to Margit for featuring the site I created for English in Chester in this article.  It’s very interesting to hear other people’s opinions on the site, and I just wanted to make a few comments about the visual design.

    The site was developed about 3 or 4 years ago, and at the time the design was considered much more “cutting edge” than it is now.  I admit that in 2009 it does look quite outdated, and I will soon be redesigning the site to be consistent with English in Chester’s new brand image.  I’m aiming to achieve similar levels of accessibility on the new site.

    Thanks,
    Nick

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