Why I am a standards fanatic

Professor Dragovich wrote to me:

“I don’t think web sites have to be ADA compliant. Do publishers have to publish books that are ADA compliant? Digital versus analog information. Why one and not the other.”

Actually all major book publishers now have to comply with several laws, both national and international, concerning accessibility, including the ADA–namely large print editions, Braille transcription and audio cassettes of books must be available. This is often handled by third party companies and organizations.

But that’s beside the point.

Just because a law is vague on one or two points doesn’t mean that legal precedence doesn’t apply. If we were strictly literal about the Constitution, all our current government would be illegal and invalid. If we interpret the Bill of Rights narrowly, we don’t have any right to privacy or a whole range of other rights that we now take for granted. Is that literalism what we really want? Maybe some would say yes, but I am glad I don’t live in country founded on those principles.

Private or personal websites, like private housing, don’t have to comply with the ADA or Section 508 or similar rules in FCC code. I haven’t really argued that private sites should, or if I have, I have only argued that it’s the right thing to do and that it’s easy to do, not that it should a be a legal requirement.

Commercial sites, on the other hand, are essentially places of business, just like brick and mortar places of business. Governmental sites are just like government offices; people go there to conduct their taxes, licensing, notarization and so on. The ADA applies to places of business and government offices in hardspace (On these points the law is generally clear even though there still some sticks in the mud that argue about it.) so, by the same reasoning, they should apply to places of business on the Internet.

It is true that the ADA was written before the rise of the Web but it does mention and apply to telecommunications technology. There are several sections in the law where the exact technology is intentionally vague. I think they did this for a reason: They tried to anticipate new technologies that might arise and tried to make the law as broad as possible.

This is basically the argument made by lawyers who currently claim that the ADA and other similar laws do apply to the Web and most software in general.

So now we are faced with a choice:

  1. Do we rely on legal precedence and just slowly extend and evolve current law by court ruling?
  2. Or do we go through the expensive process of forcing city, state, federal and international legislatures and bodies to create brand new laws that essentially say, “Oh yeah, we meant the Internet too,” when that much should be obvious already?

Seems to me that the first option is cheaper and more flexible but, in truth, legislatures, courts and deliberative bodies are now doing both.

The Internet and the Web have the potential to be the great enablers for people with disabilities. True, the retrofitting of existing sites and web applications is expensive. Retraining webmasters to do things right in the first place is expensive. But to design web applications from scratch to be accessible is easy, cheap and has many other benefits totally unrelated to accessibility so why not make them accessible now instead of being forced to?

Professor Dragovich continued in his letter about the metric system:

“In your rant about metric, you say engineers are the worst violators. BS, man, the problem lies in the manufacturing sector, where the cost of re-tooling and re-labeling is prohibitive. Engineers routinely work in both systems.”

Well, yes, that’s probably true. Most belabored engineers, such as yourself, are just trying to make things work in a perverse system. They realize that converting back and forth is a necessary horror for the time being. Actually I wrote that rant, which is partially tongue in cheek, as a response to an dispute you and I had one day many years ago about metric. As I recall, you said the same thing then too.

Of course it’s expensive. But at what point does the expense of total conversion ever become smaller than the expense of the status quo, never?

The main thing I object to is fact that we have to have two systems. This just increases the chance of error. It was precisely this that destroyed that Mars probe I cited back in the Nineties. Being forced to convert back and forth is a needless complication. As an engineer, you well know that it’s best, if possible, to sweep away any needless complications.

Either we should never convert to metric at all and ban all metric from this country for the sake of expediency. Or we should just stop dragging our heels, stop wasting money of the status quo and drop the traditional system entirely. Having two just wastes money and time.

But I agree that the US is never really going to go whole hog into conversion until its leadership in GDP is knocked aside by the EU, China and India.

Realistically, I know that converting web sites and applications to be accessible and that converting fully to metric and dropping all use the traditional system is only going to happen very slowly and it’s going to be expensive.

But I can dream, can’t I?

Heck, maybe I should take up the use of Dvorak keyboards just to really be perverse!

This entry was posted in Webmastering. Bookmark the permalink.