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Some follow-up thoughts on the US ADA/Web Hearing

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From: Paul Bohman
Date: Feb 11, 2000 9:55AM


As many of you know, there was a hearing on Web
accessibility issues on Washington this past
Wednesday. The official statements presented at
that meeting are found at
http://www.house.gov/judiciary/con0209.htm. The
statements are a bit lengthy, but are generally
well-written and they present the issues and
controversy quite well. Essentially, the question
is whether the American with Disabilities Act
should apply to the Internet. Many businesses are
worried about the "undue burden" while the
disability community is worried about being cut
off from the Internet due to lack of accomodation
by designers.
Below are some thoughts on the hearing by Judy
Brewer, of the Web Accessibility Initiative of the
World Wide Web Consortium. She was one of the
technical experts who presented information at the
hearing. The inclusion of her words make this a
long message, but her thoughts are informative.
----- Original Message -----
From: Judy Brewer < <EMAIL REMOVED> >
To: < <EMAIL REMOVED> >
Sent: Thursday, February 10, 2000 7:53 PM
Subject: Some follow-up thoughts on the US ADA/Web
Hearing

WAI Interest Group:
Here are some follow-up thoughts about the
February 9th US ADA/Web hearing.
They in no way represent an official summary of
the hearing.
Thank you to all the people who helped to get
information out about the
February 9th hearing
<http://www.house.gov/judiciary/na020800.htm>;.
Regardless of what one thinks about the question
debated yesterday, it is
good to be able to follow and/or to participate.
From my discussion with Subcommittee members after
the hearing, it is
unclear whether there will be a final report
issued as a result of the
hearing. My understanding is that this is not
unusual -- sometimes the
outcome of a hearing is that there is no action
taken.
We have been told that the record will remain open
for three or possibly up
to five days after the hearing.
I've heard that there were problems with the audio
feed throughout the
afternoon, and have made inquiries to see if an au
dio file or transcript
can be available post-hearing, as others on this
list may have also.
The hearing room was standing-room only for most
of the afternoon. There
were two panels
<http://www.house.gov/judiciary/con0209.htm>;, one
technical, one legal.
The main purpose of the hearing appeared to be to
question the US
Department of Justice's statement in a September
1996 Opinion
<http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/foia/tal712.txt>; that
the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to the Internet and
the Web with regard to
effective communication requirements for "places
of public accommodation."
A considerable part of the discussion concerned
legal points under US law
that I will not attempt to summarize except to
mention that they included
questioning whether or not the ADA met the
definition of "place" and was
therefore a covered entity, and whether or not the
need to use alternative
equivalents constitutes a violation of the first
amendment (the right to
free speech under U.S. law).
On the technical panel, several witnesses
commented about the importance of
Web accessibility; made references to good work
being done by W3C/WAI; and
stated that education and training should be
sufficient and that no
regulation was necessary or could be unduly
burdensome to industry.
In my comments on the technical panel
<http://www.w3.org/WAI/References/200002-Statement
.html> I sought to
clarify what the issues of Web accessibility are;
what approaches are being
taken for solutions; that those solutions are
consistent with the direction
of Web evolution and the need for
device-independence of information; that
the solutions for Web sites are proportional to
the size & complexity of
sites; and that we are seeing extensive interest
in and appreciation of
WAI's work, but not yet as extensive
implementation as is needed. I showed
a very brief demo of an inaccessible site and then
a site that appeared
just the same but was accessible, and I
distributed Quick Tips cards to
members of the subcommittee. My statement included
a quote from Tim
Berners-Lee
<http://www.w3.org/WAI/References/200002-Statement
.html#tbl>.
The legal panel, which followed, was asked a
number of questions which
included assumptions about technical points, and
it was there that
misunderstandings about approaches on Web
accessibility were particularly
apparent. For instance, it was repeated several
times that the Web Content
Accessibility Guidelines "prohibit the use of
graphics or color" (on the
contrary, they encourage the use of graphics, and
do not discourage the use
of color). While these points were clarified in
discussions with
subcommittee members and witnesses following the
hearing, it was not
possible due to the structure of the panel
presentations to respond during
the hearing.
A few thoughts:
- Getting clear and accurate information out about
all three of the W3C/WAI
guidelines, and specifically about what is in the
Web Content Accessibility
Guidelines, only helps us. Allowing myths to
persist and circulate does not
help people understand what Web accessibility is,
and people often draw
inaccurate conclusions based on misunderstandings.
- The efforts of people on this list to track and
respond to coverage of
Web accessibility are very helpful (refraining
from cross-postings please),
and often result in follow-up calls to (and from)
the W3C/WAI office for
clarifications. The topic is new to many of the
reporters covering this --
who often have a very short time to get a complex
story down -- and they
almost always make an effort to clarify any
inaccuracies once they have
been contacted.
- The turn-out at the hearing -- of people from
the disability community,
from companies that are interested in Web
accessibility, people in the
access research community, and people in
government -- was impressive, and
shows the high interest for work in this area.
Thank you for all the support on this -- and my
apologies for the long
posting.
Judy
--
Judy Brewer <EMAIL REMOVED> +1.617.258.9741
http://www.w3.org/WAI
Director,Web Accessibility Initiative(WAI), World
Wide Web Consortium(W3C)
WAI Interest Group home page:
http://www.w3.org/WAI/IG
Previous WAI IG Updates:
http://www.w3.org/WAI/IG/Overview.html#Updates
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