random thoughts about accessibility

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Christian made an intelligent post in the company blog: The Accessible Web is a Bust - What Should We Do? He makes some points that could be discussed and expanded on quite usefully in a forum, though chances are they won't get that treatment. For some reason "forum" -which once was a place for the open discussion of great ideas -has changed in popular parlance to mean "Powerpoint with refreshments". Quite sad really, especially at a university; but you do what you can, I guess.

One statement about developers seeing accessibility as a drag on innovation struck me as true, and my conciliatory first thought was "I wonder if we'd ever have had radio if radio couldn't be used for commercial purposes until transcripts were transmitable, too." After a contemplative walk, I realized how I'd been swayed by a history written in light of the success of radio. Ticker tape was in use soon after the US Civil War. Essentially it was text over wires. Where would we be if society demanded the parallel development of text over wires and wireless telegraphy? Would faxing now be seen as an archaic form of transmission from the early part of the 20th century?

I also agree with Christian's perception that there are rules, templates, and governing bodies in place to maintain a consistent and professional appearance through Penn State's print media. As someone who occassionally works in that world, I have to add that not much is automated. Mistakes happen, transgressions occur. People receive warnings and correction. There just isn't any discussion of why, nor is there any whining about difficulty. On Penn State's web, the people that run the virtual presses have been put in charge, and none of the usual points of control are willing to risk showing their lack of knowledge or crack a book to gain more so that challenge can be made. Rules, templates and governing bodies exist for the Penn State web, but they're imperfect and powerless.

I believe Christian is right when he says there needs to be automation or the application of specialized knowledge. Web development never was a field for dilettantes, though many were hidden here. Adding rich metadata, coding for machine readability, and universal design are necessary skills at this point, at least till the geniuses figure out how to automate publication and access. I say pick two and learn, or get out.

Penn State
April 18, Symposium 2009; reimagine.
New content. Symposium 2008.Digital Commons at Penn State. Improve the workplace; hire for variety.

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