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Failed and Flawed Accessibility Organisations

By Ian Lloyd | February 26th, 2007 | Filed in Accessibility, Accessibility TF

Mike Davies suggests that a number of accessibility related web sites and groups have failed to come up with the goods but still has high hopes for the WaSP ATF and WCAG Samurai.

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So the WaSP Accessibility Task Force (also known as ATF) is a glimmer of hope, as is Joe Clark’s WCAG Samurai, according to Mike Davies. But he also thinks that there are a few failures racking up:

GAWDS has failed. Accessifyforum has failed. Accessites is fundamentally flawed. WCAG 2.0 is in trouble.

I think we can all agree that WCAG 2.0 is in trouble, and has been for a long time. The problem is its sheer scale and the wish that it should be all things to all people (and then becomes unusable by most). But I just wanted to pick up on one site mentioned above, as it’s something that I have some relationship with. First, though, I’d like to clarify what that relationship is. is not owned or maintained by me, even though its name is based on the domain name. It was set up some years ago, with my full approval and with partner links between the two sites for one simple reason – didn’t have a forum and at that time I had never investigated the logistics of setting up a forum (actually, I still haven’t ever done that), so how could I complain if someone else wanted to set up a forum for this topic?

Accessifyforum started with a small bunch of people and has over time grown to a respectable sized online community (approx 4500 registered users as I write this). I will admit that I rarely post to the site these days – I treat it like I do a number of other forums, as place I can go to when I want to ask a question or get a sanity check on something. I think that qualifies as a stage below ‘lurker’, a stage where I am essentially a complete and utter user, but let’s put that aside for one moment, eh? The point is that while I know that my involvement in the site has reduced over time, that doesn’t mean I value it any less – I still feel it is as useful as it ever was and often find specific discussions on the forum popping up in Google search results when I’m looking for an answer to an accessibility-related query that I have.

Mike’s real bugbear, it seems, is the practitioners who dwell in such online communities on a regular basis:

Its increasingly obvious that people really interested in accessibility – making content accessible to people with disabilities – need an environment where their ideas are valued, their experience shared. And free of the imposing posturing of universalists. There’s a need for a clean start. The current web-developer focused organisations are tainted, constrained by universality, with sour to nonexistent relationships with assistive technology providers and browser vendors. And, more damning, a pervasive poison against any content that isn’t HTML.

So has accessifyforum failed really failed? And can a site really be classed a failure if it doesn’t have a mission statement (there’s not even a marketing tag-line under the header)?

But the reason for posting this here is to widen the question a bit more and ask a very open question. If you believe that the various accessibility sites named in Mike’s post are failures or flawed, what would work for you?

Your Replies

#1 On February 26th, 2007 7:21 am AlastairC replied:

I understand what Mike is saying, and I can see the need for something new that could push forward with a relatively clean slate. Creating a forum (in the loose sense) with user-agent and CMS developers at the table as well would be great step forward.

However, I wouldn’t class the accessifyforum as a failure. Even with universalitist (if that’s a word) overtones, it helps a lot of people. It’s aim (I assume) is to to help web developers (i.e. the content side of things), not necessarily to push all aspects of accessibility forward, which requires several groups of people who are currently absent.

#2 On February 26th, 2007 12:06 pm Mike Cherim replied:

I add my two cents in a post.

#3 On February 26th, 2007 1:56 pm Joe Dolson Accessible Web Design | Are accessibility sites fatally flawed? replied:

[...] Web Standards Project (Ian Lloyd): Failed and Flawed Accessibility Organisations [...]

#4 On February 26th, 2007 3:40 pm Phil Teare replied:

Obviously there’s now a descussion going on in the AF.

I and litteraly thousands of others find the Accessify Forum very useful. I couldn’t agree more with this article. While there are those who believe valid HTML and CSS are all there is to know, they’re often put straight by the more practical, well experienced, others on the AF.

While I’d love to see the utopian forua described (Open, grass roots, all encompassing, focussed, progressive …) I doubt we can very quickly magic one up. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but…

The one thing I can thank Mike D for is I will now be looking at other forums (starting with this one). But I can’t look at Joe Clake’s ‘Glimmer of Hope’ as its closed…

#5 On February 27th, 2007 11:46 am Marco replied:

Well, if it weren’t for the good folks at the Accessify Forums, I wouldn’t even be here as an advocate for accessibility of information, to be honest. As well, I firmly believe in Mike Cherim’s vision of what Accessites is all about. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have joined the group to begin with. Have I failed then? I don’t feel that I have.

How can an open forum fail if it is able to stir up a discussion and change one’s thought process? I will agree that the nature of an open forum is not without it’s issues, but it’s better than having a small, closed group that only certain people with certain ideas push through, honestly. It smacks of elitism.

How about having a small group to initiate matters, then also take into account the public perception of the state of affairs and build that into the methodologies and best practices? I would rather belong to this type of group than the former. So, I feel that I’m moving in the right direction.

The fact that this very discussion is creating ripples across the standards-based community, which I think is a great thing. Let’s stir things up and figure out the best way to move forward.

Mike Davies’ initial comments on universality and accessibility confused me, until I read Joe Dolson’s comments that clarified universality _as_ accessibility. I’m glad this was clarified as I read the article in a completely different way until this point was brought up. (Thanks Joe)

My $0.02 CAD…

#6 On February 28th, 2007 7:36 am Grant Broome replied:

I don’t really understand how GAWDS or AccessifyForum have failed. Only something that does not meet its purpose can fail.

GAWDS succeeds as being an index of accessible web developers.
AccessifyForum succeeds as a place of discussion about web accessiblity.

I think there may be an expectation for these organisations to be more than that, and to that end may not meet the needs of everybody.

#7 On March 1st, 2007 10:24 am Gary Hides replied:

Accessibility is massively in the mainstream now. Much of this is to do with the above organisations and others.

Yes, there’s always improvements to be made. But that is life. When do we ever get to the stage where we say ‘Well I can’t improve that any further – It’s finished’? We don’t, because we’re always striving to improve. Especially when it comes to fast moving technologies like the web.

#8 On March 1st, 2007 1:09 pm Stephen Kelly replied:

Mike perhaps wants to see something that’s engages people who aren’t enthusiastic about accessibility – in a positive way. I would like to see that too. That’s less than easy to achieve, as anybody who sits in a role between enthusiastic developers and unenthusiastic business people will tell you.

I’m sure Mike is not attacking any of the sites he mentions – but thinking out loud about how to take things to another level. How do we positively engage people who are presently turned off by accessibility (and the accessibility community).

#9 On March 1st, 2007 8:30 pm WaSP Member plauke replied:

i’ll just quote myself, if i may:

as a forum to discuss (mainly) html/css, accessifyforum has certainly been valuable . however, it has not grown into a place where accessibility is discussed, regardless of technology…a place where dialog is fostered among the many different stakeholders (content developers, user agent developers, users with disabilities) and where solutions are explored that go beyond html/css/flash/etc, beyond WCAG 1.0 or even WCAG 2.0. this makes me think of the ideas behind the tangram model
we need to move beyond WCAG and beyond the ideal of “universal accessibility” – laudable in principle, but a pipe dream (until we get some hardcore solutions like servers with content stored in all sorts of formats and CC/PP negotiation between browser and server). i’m not talking ghetto-isation, or the old “text only version for blind users” misconceptions…but an aknowledgment that, in certain situations, it’s just not possible to provide one solution that works equally well for all audiences, even with adaptation.


#10 On March 3rd, 2007 11:49 am » Motivations for Web accessibility replied:

[...] Accessibility is not an issue where everyone agrees completely, however. Recent discussions here, here, and here prove that. That type of disagreement can be pretty daunting to newcomers. At the other extreme: what do you do when someone asks you, “why bother with this Firefox thing when you have Internet Explorer?” (In fact, that person first thought Firefox was a search engine, and couldn’t see how it was better than Google.) Not everyone is Web-savvy. There is a lot (and I mean a lot) of educating and explaining to do, and it is best done in a positive, constructive atmosphere. In such cases, listening is probably one of the most important things to do. [...]

#11 On March 12th, 2007 1:27 pm Leo Redpath replied:

Just a plain mans view this.
1. The industry leaders cannot agree on Browser Standards or more appropriately recommendations (RFC’s) and impliment them.

2. The idea that accessibility for all can be put in one box is an illusion. A lot of lively debate including this one of what disabled people need, seems to attempt to drive down the lowest common denominator route. Where in fact Disability is wide ranging. Physical, Sensory, Cognitive issues that can vary from Simple to Profound and Complex Disability.

3 The process is constant development and design, where one can, with what resources one may have available but I wonder sometimes if Accessibility guru’s I have heard and read are doing it for themselves and getting a good living out of it.

If you wonder by the way, I have nearly 60 years experiance of living with disability and also work with disability organisations in the UK.

It tires me out some of the controversy and prefer the rational debate to sniping and put downs.

#12 On March 27th, 2007 11:46 am What is Web Universality? | Joe Dolson Accessible Web Design replied:

[...] Ian Lloyd: Failed and Flawed Accessibility Organizations [...]

#13 On May 7th, 2007 5:06 pm börsenspiel replied:

How can an open forum fail if it is able to stir up a discussion and change one’s thought process? I will agree that the nature of an open forum is not without it’s issues, but it’s better than having a small, closed group that only certain people with certain ideas push through, honestly. It smacks of elitism.

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