Accessibility In My Own (Foreign) Words

Monday, May 7, 2007 15:36 | Filed in Accessibility, Articles, Language

I noted earlier today that Mike Davies from Isolani has picked up on a piece I wrote in October last year called Be Accessible, Don’t Meet Guidelines, in which I tried to argue that WCAG was not infallible, and that it was more important to recognise the real-world accessibility needs of website users than it was to comply with every WCAG guideline.

Sound advice, I thought. Unfortunately, not everyone concurs. Because I fit into Mike Davies definition of “universalist”, this means that I’m a sound target for criticism. Let’s be clear about this however: I’m perfectly happy for him to criticise my argument. I see this as a sound debating position, and I’m happy to defend my argument.

One of us might convince the other (or we may not) and/or we might convince others. That’s why I’m linking to Mike’s argument and have emailed him, asking him to do the same for my rebuttal. And hopefully the person with the strongest and most coherent argument will be the most convincing — whether or not that’s me.

Anyway, what does Mike object to?

He says:

In short, he says WCAG Checkpoint 4.1 (clearly identifying the change of natural language in a document) isn’t necessary to remove an impossible barrier to accessibilityMike Davies

Bollocks do I. I don’t say that anywhere, and it appears to me he’s misunderstood my argument. What I said — using the “Hasta la vista, baby” reference he picked up on — was that use of a foreign language that isn’t marked up as foreign doesn’t necessarily mean that the information provided is impossible to access.

I do however, specifically state that:

What I’m actually trying to establish here is that accessibility guidelines do not always reflect a yes or no state in user experience accessibility. In some cases, failure to mark up a piece of text may make the information incomprehensible to a user with a screen reader. In other cases, it may not.ThePickards

Mike appears either to have accidentally missed, or to have deliberately ignored this, rather crucial, part of my argument.

In other words, I’ve specifically stated that there are some cases where failing to provide the language may cause problems, and some where it won’t. The fact that Mike Davies then goes on to provide examples where Foreign words prove to be a barrier is not irrelevant: it’s actually germane to my argument, and reinforces my point that in some cases it does provide a barrier.

As I never said that they couldn’t be a barrier, merely that they weren’t always a barrier, and that this was rather central to the crux of my argument that it is more important to be accessible than it is to meet guidelines, it appears to me that Mike — although he thinks he’s refuting my argument — is in fact reinforcing it.

He’s helping me demonstrate that it isn’t always black and white: there are shades of grey, there are edge cases, and this is why — although the guidelines are useful, they aren’t infallible, and it’s more important to understand the requirements of each particular case than it is to have a “ticky-box” mindset.

Note that this wasn’t the only guideline I highlighted — read my original piece if you want full details, but it was just one of a sample of points where I attempted to show that sometimes real-world considerations are more important than WCAG.

I did enjoy Mike’s joke very much though:

Perhaps if I give Jack Pickard some pain, he would concede that his pop-culture argument is floundering?Mike Davies

Obviously here he’s marked “pain” up with a french language to demonstrate that the meaning is different between English “pain” and french bread: indeed, and very clever it is too.

I would however contend that this would only mean my argument was floundering if I had said this was always the case. However, as I’ve said precisely the opposite — that accessibility is not always a binary state, and you have to understand what you’re doing, then instead of admitting my argument is floundering, I’d suggest that that he’s missed the point of my argument entirely.

Or in other words: One man’s meat is another man’s poisson.

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6 Comments to Accessibility In My Own (Foreign) Words

  1. Gill says:

    May 7th, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Unfortunately I don’t know the characters I need to type to produce a banging your head on the desk icon.

    When people refuse to even try to see the other person’s point of view then they will get the wrong end of the stick as they arrive with preconceptions.

    I read your post to mean exactly what you’ve explained above, but then I would I suppose given that I’m also a [spit]Universalist[/spit].

  2. Mike Cherim says:

    May 7th, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    I see both points of view, and Mike is a well-educated fellow that much seems obvious. I do wish he would express his opinions in such a way that it does not seem to be disrespecting. Such as:

    Example: Jack Pickard wrote a very interesting article. But he does make some points I don’t necessarily agree with all of it though. Here’s what I don’t agree with followed by my opinion.

    No need for labels like universalist or anything else for that matter. That sort of thing immediately puts up a bit of a barrier to acceptance of the opposing concept or opinion. If the facts are focused on it makes it so much friendlier. We’ll all striving for a more accessible, higher-quality web so we should be complementing each other instead of creating divisions.

    Missing points or taking things out of context, which seem to be the case this time, just makes it that much worse :(

  3. Mel Pedley says:

    May 7th, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    Having perused Mike’s article, I think he’s stopping short of the natural endpoint of this discussion. He is quite correct when he says that text alone cannot convey meaning but neither does identifying a change in language within markup automatically assure awarenes – let alone comprehension.

    For language identification to work properly, the user must be able to “see” that this word/phrase is different from the surrounding text. Whilst this may be the case with those screen reader users who have access to alternative synthesisers, what about those who don’t? And what about sighted users? Where is the visual cue that they need?

    Language and comprehension are often two quite distinct issues. Try looking up “pump” (2 meanings in English) or “punch” (3 meanings). Etymological dictionaries are full of these examples. Perhaps Mike should have pumped Google for a little more info first to give his article a bit more punch. :)

    Bottom line – until graphical browsers provide a method of visually highlighting these words by default, it’s highly arguable that language identification is not an accessibility issue.

  4. ThePickards » Blog Archive » Isolani: Credit Where It’s Due says:

    June 6th, 2007 at 7:09 am

    [...] also encompass cross-browser and cross-platform support where possible. Mike disagrees. I think failing to mark up changes in language doesn’t necessarily make your page impossible to access…; Mike [...]

  5. test says:

    September 20th, 2011 at 6:10 am

    Insurance – Test Everything…

    …It’s a known truth that right knowledge can be very important when having no experience with some kind of work and even more it if is important to us……

  6. Justynex says:

    November 4th, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Hi Gaurav,Gaurav wrote:Ie2€™m happy now that alt is required again, that was my real perblom with the previous spec.The alt is still optional for when images are in an email that the user knows the recipient of can see the images, which seems an odd exception to me. So there is no absolute statement of requirement as in HTML 4.Besides the alt as it is known is not required, the alt content in many cases is not required to be a text alternative, but a description of the kind of image.The image is a key part of the content, and there is no textual equivalent of the image available. The string consisting of all the characters between the first and the last character of the value of the alt attribute gives the kind of image (e.g. photo, diagram, user-uploaded image).Gaurav wrote:Ie2€™m wondering if there are any issues which are dealt with by the WCAG spec where the new HTML5 proposal is in conflict? Whether the changes to the spec are considered in confict with WCAG 2.0 will be for the W3C WAI to decide. What I can say as in the previous version of the spec several of the alt usage examples do not conform to WCAG 2.0 guidance, these have been previously brought to the attention of the editor who rejected these as issues.

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