In a news item that I first saw at Accessify.com there is a quote taken from the original “BarCamp London 2: Accessibility Panel Thoughts” post at Mike Davies’ Isolani site. It’s a quote I don’t necessarily agree with. Before I provide it here I want to say I’m not trying to stir anything up or cause trouble, and I’m not commenting on the rest of the article (which, aside from the alleged damage caused by “universalists,” I mostly agree with), but I do want to say remarks like this bother me a bit. First I’ll provide the quotation, then I’ll explain what it is I don’t agree with and why.
GAWDS has failed. Accessifyforum has failed. Accessites is fundamentally flawed. — Mike Davies
Organizations such as the Guild of Accessible Web Designers (GAWDS) and Accessify Forum enlighten and help spread the notion of web accessibility to the masses and provide support, even if not everyone agrees with the accuracy of the message or the definition of web accessibility. These organizations are gateways to the world of web accessibility. Without these organizations many people wouldn’t even be aware such considerations exist.
In my opinion this does not harm web accessibility for the physically or mentally disabled. Rather, I feel it makes the whole concept more palatable and approachable to more developers, and more necessary. Narrowing the meaning will undoubtedly narrow adoption, and that’s something none of us wants to happen. If anything we want more and more people to adopt best practices, web standards, markup/style/behavior separation, and web accessibility to the benefit of the mentally, physically (or otherwise) disabled. Even if we don’t do it perfectly.
Some will read this and think of it as an attack on the heart and soul of web accessibility. But it’s not an attack. It’s not meant to diminish the importance of web accessibility for anyone. One could read between the lines and think I mean that narrowing the meaning the way the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) does is the harmful way of thinking, but I don’t — I’m not here to criticize others when I know they are making an honest effort to do the right thing. I say we’re all on the same team. In fact I get tired of hearing and reading about this or that being “harmful” or somehow damaging. Not providing to users with physical or mental handicaps is harmful, but those who agree with me by wanting to take it further than that aren’t doing anything wrong. That was the goal of the seemingly infamous “The Great Accessibility Camp-Out” article: to emphasize we’re all striving towards the same thing and that we shouldn’t be mired in our agendas. I fail to see the harm in promoting the practices of making sites accessible to all. If anything, in fact, I feel it’s makes it something more people will want to partake in.
If the rules are too rigid or too confining, and if the accessibility for all “zealots” are damned if they do, some people who might otherwise embrace such practices, may very well flee the scene looking for the welcoming tones of a friendlier group. Nobody likes to feel as if they’re walking on eggshells.