Monday 17 June 2002

Accessibility matters

As one might have expected, Mark Pilgrim’s accessibility case studies provoked a variety of responses.

Todd Fahrner

Mark Pilgrim’s been telling stories about Web accessibility at his shiny xhtml 1.1 blog all this week, and plans to keep it up. You’d think that sites like would be half as conscientious as Mark about such matters, but no.

Simon Willison

While I applaud his aims and greatly look forward to the series, I can’t help but feel that limiting the series to just bloggers is an unnecessary move. I expect most of the tips to be applicable to a wide array of sites and the web is crying out for a good resource for improving general site accessibility.

Ralph Brandi

Dave Winer says that Mark Pilgrim has noted that he’s got people ripping him apart for the series on his blog entitled “30 days to a more accessible weblog”. (I’ve seen some of the parodies, and they’re vicious. Funny, but vicious. And clueless.) That’s a real shame, because the kind of personas he’s creating are an excellent way to gain a better understanding of the kind of visitors your web site is going to get.


Christ Mark, could you get any more preachy? … Here’s my suggestion for day three:
“Gregory, who goes by Greg, is 21 years old. He is a junior at a large state university, and is a member of a fraternity.
“Greg cannot get laid. This is not a popular culture cliche or a philosophical statement; he really cannot find a girl who will have sex with him. He has “No Game…”


I’m not sure if you know this, but I’m colorblind. It’s really not a big deal, and doesn’t play a major part in my day-to-day life. I recently read this story on “Dive into Mark”. I’m not sure if this ‘Michael’ person actually exists, but if I were him I’d be pissed off about this article.

[next day] After yesterday’s post, I got a nice email from Mark. He changed his article on the fictional color-blind ‘Michael’. Now Michael just leaves images off because he doesn’t want to waste his bandwidth. Sort of makes the whole “colorblind” aspect of his character useless now though.

Peter van Dijck

This is too good not to link to… Describing case studies has too long been the stepschild of user research, numbers and graphs were long seen as the ultimate conveyors of truth (see Market research). Time to change that back. There is a lot of detail lost in the numbers and graphs, and a long time ago, the medical profession (for example) recognised that. They used to do detailed case studies; what happened to that practice?

Dave Winer

The hard work is unlocking the power for masses of people, people who couldn’t care less about ontologies, or semantic webs, or even accessibility. If you want all that stuff, you have to learn how to make products that work for people, and accomplish your goals, if you can figure out how…

PS: The bit about accessibility is deliberately provocative. Think about it. People with disabilities don’t want accessibility, they want to use the Web. Different perspective.

The recurring themes?

I think Mark’s approach has been exemplary. First, he ensured that his own site is accessible. Then, without any preliminary explanation, he dropped us into a series of well-written and engaging character sketches that, by personalizing the issue, provide the best reason for caring about accessibility. Most importantly, he has promised to follow up with a series of tips that we can immediately apply to our own weblog templates.

That the series is aimed at webloggers rather than a more general web audience seems OK. Better to start with a defined target audience and trust that the story will ripple out from there.

I’m aware that many bloggers believe they have an obligation to be truthful in their posts, but it’s irrelevant to me whether the personas are based on real people or not. I reject the illusion of “journalistic truth,” believing instead that a well-written fictional character is usually more engaging and believable than a “real person.”

Nor do I have any problem with the parodies. I’m committed to making my own site more accessible by implementing Mark’s tips as he publishes them. Yet I also believe that no issue, idea, or argument should be exempt from (even harsh) critical analysis—as long as the criticism is directed at the position, not the person holding the position. If we’re going to start granting exemptions for special issues or special people, we may as well admit that John Dvorak was correct when he implied that blogging is little more than a cross-linking mutual admiration society.

As for Dave Winer’s statement that “people with disabilities don’t want accessibility, they want to use the Web,” that’s not really a different perspective, that’s just Dave being provocative, as he admits. People with disabilities do want to use the Web and we can significantly enhance their Web experience by designing accessible sites. They may not want accessibility but they certainly need it.

Hats off to Dave Winer, though, for supporting a righteous cause. The traffic he directed to Mark Pilgrim’s site this week probably outweighed the flow from all the other links combined. As we embark on the adventure of making our weblogs accessible, Dave deserves the final word:

I support what [Mark’s] doing, his narratives of real-world case studies for accessibility are just what I wanted, to help me understand what the issues are, and what solutions exist.



I think Mark's idea of using character studies _is_ a good one. However, I also hope that people who have the same accessibility challenges as those based on Mark's fictional, composite characters speak out, such as kcalder.

Posted by: Burningbird on 17 June 2002 at 12:42 AM

I thought "personae" were the Big Thing in application design these days. Alan Cooper and all that. Instead of abstracting "this is a good thing" to utter uselessness, personae give you something reasonably concrete to think about and design to, without the ego issues and polite irrelevancies that using Real People can bog you down in.

I read Mark's stuff last week in that light, and it rather wog-boggles me that anyone is objecting.

Er. I think Cooper calls them "personas," actually. I have studied much too much Latin, I fear.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo on 17 June 2002 at 11:37 PM

I hadn't considered that Real People bring egos to the table. Another strong argument in favor of personas/personae. I fear, Dorothea, that your Latin references might influence me to call my mother and ask if she kept my high school copy of Caesar's Gallic Wars (along with my Boy Scout uniform and other memorabilia).

Posted by: Jonathon Delacour on 17 June 2002 at 11:44 PM

Yes, well, I first ran into Latin at the age of eleven or so, thought the idea of adding endings to *nouns* a thoroughgoing abomination, and gave it up.

The God of Irony then decreed that three years or so later I should end up learning a bit of Russian.

I came back to Latin in college at the earnest insistence of my cherished mentor, who (endearingly but wrongly) saw a brilliant future as a medievalist for me. And, of course, focusing on historical Iberian linguistics as I did in grad school, one can't very well escape Latin.

I am not much of a Latinist, actually. I tend to get lost in non-word-order-based syntax. Medieval Latin that isn't trying to be Boethius is pretty readable stuff by and large (much of it adopts Romance word orders anyway), but I doubt I could make much of Caesar.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo on 18 June 2002 at 01:36 AM

Personally, I believe that Winnie Ille Pu is the greatest work ever translated into Latin.

Posted by: Mark Pilgrim on 18 June 2002 at 11:15 AM

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2002-2003 Jonathon Delacour