@media2007: Joe Clark: When Web Accessibility is not your problem

Joe Clark is the author of Building Accessible Websites and is a former member of The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). He was dismissed from the working group for The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0).

He has since criticised WCAG 2.0 in the article To Hell with WCAG 2.0, and has formed WCAG Samurai, a group committed to making updates and corrections to WCAG 1.0.

There is obviously a lot of political baggage relating to WCAG 2.0 that I’m not in a position to comment on. I do however remember the presentation given by Gez Lemon and Patrick Lauke at @Media 2006 regarding baselines for WCAG 2.0. I was left very confused to why the document did not have specific examples of how guidelines should be implemented using HTML, they were instead “Technology Neutral”, so the guidelines could be applied across all formats including Flash, PDF etc.

I have tried to read WCAG 2.0 and found it impossible, although most W3C guidelines are pretty unreadable if you have my attention span.

So Joe Clark’s presentation was highly anticipated and its title When Web Accessibility is not your problem looked like a formula for further controversy.

The bulk of the presentation related to font-sizing and how although developers are responsible for the readability of their websites, they should not be expected to provide text resizing as part of the sites functionality.

Font resizing on a page is something the browser should do and does do, there are exceptions, for example Internet Explorer 6 does not resize text properly if the font-size or line-height is defined as a pixel measurement. Most responsible designers size their text in ems to combat this, and I’m sure will continue to do so for as long as IE6 remains the dominant user agent.

The second half related to the shortcomings of screen readers in understanding html abbreviation and acronym tags. Joe used examples of unusual acronyms to great comic affect, but I feel that this part of the presentation related to his interest in linguistics, their relevance to accessibility was a little tenuous. We will continue to mark up abbreviations and acronyms properly even if Jaws thinks that E. coli is an acronym.

It seems that most issues relating to accessibility are still very much our problem.

The presentation overran and this meant there was no left time for questions, I heard quite a bit of complaining and I heard a few unflattering references to the size of Clark’s ego. I found the presentation informative and funny, I didn’t learn many new tips to help make the Edge Hill University site more accessible, but I did learn a little about the quirks of Assistive Technology software and the politics of W3C.