Tuesday's recommended reading

Written by Adrian Holovaty on October 22, 2002

Jay Small has begun pinging weblogs.com after blog updates; thus, I've added Small Initiatives to this site's blogroll. Look there for smart, well-written commentary on new media matters.

A new RSS validator has been introduced. Other validators have been around for a while, but this one is particularly user-friendly and comprehensive, covering all versions of the syndication format. As more news sites catch on to the fact that RSS is, basically, free advertising, they'll find it's not only important to provide a feed, but keep it free of code errors. This validator helps locate those errors.

A few weeks ago I wrote about accessibility court cases and their possible effects on news sites. Now, CNet reports on the outcome of one of those cases: "A federal judge ruled Friday that Southwest Airlines does not have to revamp its Web site to make it more accessible to the blind." In other words, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to the Web. Mark Pilgrim's reaction and Douglas Bowman's reaction are worth reading.

On the other hand, here in Atlanta, a federal judge ruled that the Web site of the city's transit system has violated the ADA.

Anitra Pavka predicts this issue will head to the U.S. Supreme Court. I hope so.


Posted by Bob on October 22, 2002, at 7:20 p.m.:

The thing is, when making your site accessible costs much less than the potential court fees, fines, and associated bad press your company would receive (such as Southwest Airlines and MARTA), why would you NOT take the time to make your site accessible?

Posted by Adrian on October 22, 2002, at 7:24 p.m.:

Excellent point, Bob. I think it's a matter of advocating that to the bigwigs in language they can understand.

Posted by Steve Yelvington on October 23, 2002, at 12:37 a.m.:

OK, I'll bite. Here's a contrarian view.

I'll assume that the court knows its business (the law), but I do not assume that the court knows the business of providing information services.

In fact, there is every indication to the contrary, as anyone who's ever had to interact with the courts can attest. There's a glass house if ever I've seen one.

The richest irony is that the SEBTAC (Southeastern Disability and Business Technical Center) Web site notes tha "The court's order can be found in Adobe PDF at http://www.gand.uscourts.gov/documents/1001cv3255TWTinj.pdf."

Holy buckets, can a blind person read that cruft?

The problem with the MARTA site is that all of the dadblamed bus schedules are in PDF format! Pot, kettle, black!

Why is there even a conversation about "the site?"

The right way to provide services to any targeted market is to consider carefully the requirements of communicating with that market, and hit that target. The right way to provide information services to blind people is to create high-quality services specifically tailored to their needs. It seems to me that removing features from a Web site because somebody's text-to-speech translator can't make sense of it does a disservice to everyone else without doing anything whatsoever to help blind passengers figure out MARTA's transit schedules.

Is the next step to remove all printed maps from bus terminals because blind people can't read them?

Posted by Adrian on October 23, 2002, at 1:25 a.m.:

Adobe Acrobat Reader does have some accessibility features.

I looked at the aforementioned PDF court order in Acrobat Reader and was able to export the document to a plain text file (File | Export Document To Text...), which is most probably accessible to blind users.

The MARTA site, though, is another story. There's just not much you can do with those PDF maps. Blah!

Posted by Ben on October 23, 2002, at 11:41 a.m.:

Yes I've just downloaded the PDF cout order to have a look. For starters yes it is true that PDF's have some accessibility features now, This site talks about PDF accessibility.

However from my point of view why have it in PDF in the first place? Look at it for goodness sake, there isn't anything in that document that couldn't be done in HTML is their? Sure have the PDF as the authorative version (For page and paragraph references which are useful in a legal document) but don't skimp on a HTML version when it would be so simple to provide.

Posted by Adrian on October 23, 2002, at 2:43 p.m.:

Yes, I certainly agree it'd be better to have HTML pages than PDF versions, for all parties involved. Using PDF files for glorified text files is a joke.

Posted by Carl on October 23, 2002, at 5:13 p.m.:

I'm not sure I agree with court-enforced accessability rules. The law does not force companies to provide all marketing materials in braille, for example. (Or in every language, or written for slow readers, etc.) Nor company communications, company brochures, etc.

It is left up to the company to decide what they deem appropriate, in most (not all) cases.

Why would the web be any different? We don't force every company to do it OFF the web, so why on?

I would however suggest that a limited-scope accessibility ruling would make sense - that the same materials that must be accessible off-line be accessible on-line. But not a over-arching "one size fits all" ruling.

I bought a paper today. No one forced that newspaper to print a braille version and place it at the back of the English, spanish and pig-latin version!

In the business sector and for private sites, I believe we should let capitalism do it's work. Let needs dictate actions. Use pressure to modify behavior, not legal action.

We should let the freedom to build a website continue to be free, and guard our rights. If I want to build the junkiest site in the world, all in pig latin, using non-accessable code, and a shopping cart with 27 steps in it, that's my right. It's stupid, and the market will make that known soon enough. But it's still my right.

The last think I want is a government checklist, a government enforcement agency, etc. etc. What a mess.

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