Failed? Fundamentally Flawed?

Posted February 26th, 2007 by Mike Cherim

In a news item that I first saw at 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.

Accessites isn’t flawed. Accessites exists to remind and prove to developers that accessible web sites don’t have to lack in function and style (and to offer articles on how to make this so without sacrificing accessibility to the disabled — and others). Accessible web sites can offer Flash and JavaScript functionality. I know the issue is Accessites and these other organization are so-called “universalists” and that it is somehow wrong to intermingle anything with web accessibility. But I say it’s not wrong. Never was there a movement or conspiracy to detract from web accessibility — as in offering equal footing for users with mental or physical disabilities — or dilute it. Rather these organizations simply chose to not stop there. Web accessibility is for the disabled user, that is true, but these organizations don’t want to draw the line there and simply choose to broaden the meaning by acknowledging that a disability isn’t confined to mean blindness, a cognitive disorder, or any other malady that may affect a user in a mental or physical capacity.

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.

28 Responses to: “Failed? Fundamentally Flawed?”

  1. Tommy Olsson responds:
    Posted: February 26th, 2007 at 2:46 am

    I’d say there is a fundamental flaw in the reasoning of someone who claims to support web accessibility, yet attacks others who want to promote web sites that don’t discriminate against people with disabilities. Especially if the reason is that these sites don’t want to discriminate against anyone else, either.

  2. John Faulds responds:
    Posted: February 26th, 2007 at 2:47 am

    There’s a lot of divisive, finger-pointing talk in that post and like you, Mike, I’m not sure it’s helpful. For someone like me who has a developing interest in accessibility, but who’s never been a fan of ‘internal politics’, it’s the sort of thing that would dissuade me from getting into a subject more deeply.

  3. Georg responds:
    Posted: February 26th, 2007 at 4:28 am

    The state of accessibility is “incomplete”, but that does not, and should not, be interpreted as meaning that all existing attempts to forward accessibility are flawed and/or have failed.
    Everything else in this world is “incomplete”, but no one in their right mind would say that “everything is flawed and/or has failed” (although some do say exactly that :-) ).

    Plenty of weak and missing pieces when it comes to accessibility, and I think all attempts to improve on the situations should be regarded as positive, even if none of them are able to deliver the “perfect” solution - yet (if ever).

  4. Karl responds:
    Posted: February 26th, 2007 at 10:39 am

    I’ll remember to put Mike in a headlock and rub my knuckles over his head when I see him Wednesday haha (j/k Mike D!)

    I love this sort of controversy because it gets everyone talking and potentially re-evaluating “positions” again but I think Accessites does have a valid “position” - that a website can be accessible, available and good-looking. Naturally I’d say that being on the team but there you go.

    What I’d like to see from all this is action, not words. We have WaSP, Accessifyforum, Accessites, WCAG Samurai - not to mention charities like RNIB. Room for more at the Inn? Sure! Get rolling and I’ll stop by and create a username ;-)

  5. JackP responds:
    Posted: February 26th, 2007 at 11:25 am

    I’m sorry to have to say this, but since I - and other people - have been over this time and again, and the vast majority of people - even if they don’t agree with the “for all” camp, seem happy to accept it as a perfectly valid camp, just as we accept the “for disabilities only” camp as a perfectly acceptable viewpoint.

    Mike Davies either can’t, or won’t. His lack of willingness to find a common ground, a compromise on which everyone can agree, smacks of bitterness that he is unable to persuade people to his point of view and therefore chooses emotive language and attacks sites and resources that try and help others simply because they disagree with his point of view. I could be wrong, but that’s the way it appears to me. It’s a personal opinion, okay?

    And for that reason, I find I’m just ignoring what he has to say now. If he’s more willing to spend his time attacking the accessibility community then he is trying to help others, then I think the community would be better off without him. But like I say, that’s just my opinion.

    Sorry Mike :-)

  6. Joe Dolson responds:
    Posted: February 26th, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Accessibility arguments aside, I fail to understand how anybody could say that Accessifyforum has “failed.” The sole purpose behind the forum is to provide a place to discuss accessibility. The perspectives on accessibility will vary and not always agree - but the site has only failed if people don’t discuss accessibility. And, although I don’t spend a lot of time at Accessifyforum, they certainly do discuss accessibility.

    I can’t read his article right now, unfortunately, because his site appears to be experiencing technical difficulties…

  7. Joe Dolson Accessible Web Design | Are accessibility sites fatally flawed? responds:
    Posted: February 26th, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    […] Mike Cherim: Failed? Fundamentally Flawed? […]

  8. Robert Wellock responds:
    Posted: February 27th, 2007 at 6:57 am

    The two quoted sites haven’t failed it quite clear what their aims were… However, I would like to know what “universality” actually means because quite honestly it makes little sense why the word was used several times. As Accessibility is strongly related to ‘universal design’ and accessibility is about giving ‘equal access to everyone’.

    It read as if a ‘universalist’ was some form of person that only understands ‘plaintext’ and shuns every other form of technology, which personally I find hard to believe is the ‘real case’.

  9. Tommy Olsson responds:
    Posted: February 27th, 2007 at 9:26 am

    ‘Universality’ is the term ‘Camp 2′ followers use for the prinicples advocated by us in ‘Camp 1′.
    Camp 1: accessibility means ‘possible to access’.
    Camp 2: accessibility means ‘possible to access for people with disabilities’.

    Those in ‘Camp 2′, like Mr Davies, believe it is important to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities, but allow discrimination on other bases (like hardware equipment, bandwidth and software).

    We in ‘Camp 1′ believe it is important to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities, and also to avoid as many barriers as possible for visitors in general (disabled or not).

  10. David Zemens responds:
    Posted: February 27th, 2007 at 11:06 am

    Those in ‘Camp 2′, like Mr Davies, believe it is important to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities, but allow discrimination on other bases (like hardware equipment, bandwidth and software).Tommy Olsson

    I fail to undertstand why anyone would be in this camp. I just don’t get it. Certainly, there comes a point when a web developer must discount technology that is *old enough*. I suppose it’s just a matter of subjectivity, but to develop a website that appeals to the broadest *possible* audience just seems to make sense.

  11. Stephen Kelly responds:
    Posted: February 27th, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Accessifyforum, as a place to discuss code works - but as a place to discuss accessiblity? It’s pretty intimidating for somebody who doesn’t have an interest in code. If that’s what Mike’s getting at then I couldn’t agree more.

    Mike wrote an explanation of his problem with GAWDs a while ago. I don’t think his expectations of what GAWDs should be were wrong.

    If Mike were saying DMOZ had failed would people be disagreeing? Of course it’s a concept we all support, but DMOZ isn’t useful any more.

    Just my interpretation of what Mike is saying.

  12. Elliott Cross responds:
    Posted: February 27th, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    I feel, as a newer person to design and coding, that you have to create a site with all possible options available. Keeping in mind that you are working for a client that might not want a certain method or design feature, but that is between you and your client. I feel that I can only create accessible, CSS and XHTML design sites. Not because it is required, but I find it easier than using tables. I learned using the basics of CSS and XHTML design, so I wonder if there was this much hub-bub when CSS was first introduced as the ‘better’ method over using tables for layout?

  13. Isofarro responds:
    Posted: March 1st, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    Olsson: “‘Universality’ is the term ‘Camp 2′ followers use for the prinicples advocated by us in ‘Camp 1′.”

    Camp 1, Camp 2 - what is this site, kindergarten? Congratulations, you’ve managed to degrade accessibility into a boy scout tent exercise. I’m appalled at the complete lack of common sense of whoever dreamt up this nonsensical garbage. (Did he earn a merit badge for it?)

    Universality is the vision of web of information that is truely free of technical constraints. Its the vision behind the W3C, and what you are trying to achieve. Its far more meaningful and pragmatic a label than “Camp n”.

    Do the world a favour and drop this camp nonsense, you’re already making a laughing stock of yourselves, why drag the accessibility community along in this joke of yours?

  14. Isofarro responds:
    Posted: March 1st, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    Cherim: “Why you’d be hostile about it towards me or those who commented here is beyond me.”

    Perhaps for the reason I outlined above - “you’re already making a laughing stock of yourselves, why drag the accessibility community along in this joke of yours?”. This Camp 1 and Camp 2 is a joke. A bad one, but a joke nevertheless.

  15. Tommy Olsson responds:
    Posted: March 2nd, 2007 at 7:50 am

    Mr Davies, you have an impressive (but not very useful) knack for focusing on anything but the important issue. Mike, myself and those who have posted here want to make the Web a better place for people with disabilities. Yet you deride our choices of words and belittle our endeavours because we don’t accept your arbitrary limitations, instead of focusing on what we have in common. Your lack of civility and netiquette is disconcerting, and your style of trying to make others look bad in order to cover your own lack of public attention is, frankly, pitiful.

  16. Tom Hughes-Croucher responds:
    Posted: March 2nd, 2007 at 11:07 am

    I’m not going to address the previous comments. I’m simply going to respond to the post.

    I believe in accessibility as a need to eliminate inequality. That is the most important thing, that is the essential thing.

    Universality is nice, it’s a nice to have, it’s pretty cool. Sometimes it doesn’t conflict with accessibility, sometimes it does. When it does accessibility is always more important. The problem comes when some advocates of universality put it first, especially when they call that ‘accessibility’. It isn’t and it’s wrong. That’s when the two camps collide.

    I’d like people to not use the term ‘accessibility’ to refer to things enhancing the ability of people to access sites from any device. If an accessibility enhancement also improves the ‘universality’ then say that, “This enhancement improves the accessibility and universality of this site”. That way both camps can work together.

  17. Marco responds:
    Posted: March 2nd, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    Personally, I find it sad reading the last few comments. I look up to all of you for advise, guidance and assistance in everything I do that standards-related and it’s discouraging to see this type of “turf war” unfolding.

    I won’t bother to comment as it’s futile and it’ll probably result in further argument. Instead, I’ll focus on my task at hand which is to help reach the most people.

    No matter what is said to me or what I read, I know in my heart that what I’m doing makes me feel like I’m making the world a bit of a better place. And no one will take that away from me.

  18. Elliott Cross responds:
    Posted: March 2nd, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    Having read some of the comments, I can sense that some people have different opinions about what ‘accessible’ means. I’m fairly new to this area, and it strikes a particular spot in my heart as my seven year old daughter has a traumatic brain injury, much like cerebral palsy.

    I feel that since the days of table design and bad markup, things need to be created and made to work the best way possible for the audience, client, and then designer/coder. In that order. If your audience can’t use it, then the client doesn’t benefit. The designer/coder won’t benefit after awhile because lack of quality translates into lack of business.

    I feel that sites should be designed with minimal markup, clean and semantic, in order for the MOST users to be able to access the site, use it, and benefit from it. If it’s not, then they won’t return. Most users should include designing/coding for Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Safari, Opera, etc. as well as for screen readers, browsers without Javascript or CSS functionality, and for the ever evolving devices that are bombarding us.

    I’m not saying that you have to create a site for each particular instance, and with everything in mind. Lord knows how that would work, not to mention the amount of time it would take to do, but for the MOST users.

    Not sure if that makes sense, but just my two cents worth.

    Mike, and all: Thank you for your interest in accessible web design. There are many more that support you and what you do, than just the few that want to start a fight, or bash you. God bless!

  19. » Motivations for Web accessibility responds:
    Posted: March 3rd, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    […] Actually, I think it is a matter of awareness. One individual may not have any need for anything that is accessible and can go through life blissfully unaware of the concept. I would hope that that individual is at least respectful of others who do need everything around them to have some degree of accessibility. Perhaps some people are simply not aware of the need for accessibility on the Web (or anywhere else). I like this quote from Mike Cherim: Organizations such as the Guild of Accessible Web Designers 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. […]

  20. Tommy Olsson responds:
    Posted: March 5th, 2007 at 3:46 am

    It looks like Sir Tim Berners-Lee advocates universality:

    That means ensuring anyone can use the Web regardless of what software or hardware they’re running, which Internet service provider supplies their connection, which language they speak, and what disabilities they have


    He should know, shouldn’t he? It’s his invention, after all.

  21. Gill responds:
    Posted: March 24th, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    I arrived at this page via a roundabout route, having started out on Accessify, gone to WaSP from a link on there and finally via another link on WaSP to here. As was so succinctly put earlier, they all act as gateways to each other and all raise awareness. I really don’t see how anyone can say they’ve failed and be so rude about it into the bargain.

    I’m willing to bet that if you ask the general developer community, those who take accessibility into consideration when doing sites, if they’ve heard of Accessify, Accessites and Gawds, the vast majority would say yes. Ask those same people if they’ve heard of WaSP and you’ll get a lot of blank looks. If raising awareness is a part of the criteria for success or failure then Mr Davies and WaSP need to look to themselves first.

    I find it very sad that someone who supposedly has the interests of the wider web community at heart is willing to belittle those who are trying to do something about it.

  22. What is Web Universality? | Joe Dolson Accessible Web Design responds:
    Posted: March 27th, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    […] Mike Cherim: Failed? Fundamentally Flawed? […]

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