WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

E-mail List Archives

Re: Re[2]: WAI Icons. Was: Include default text?


From: Jukka K. Korpela
Date: Oct 25, 2004 3:55PM

On Mon, 25 Oct 2004, chnnb wrote:

> > There is no web accessibility standard, and even as a loose
> > recommendation, WCAG 1.0 is partly outdated -
> Well, okay so it's not a "standard" in the sense of the ISO standards or
> DTD's, but isn't it the closest thing to a standard that we've got?

Who knows? It depends on how you measure distance. The point is that
standards are exact specifications, so that you can objectively decide
whether something complies with a standard or not. (And from the formal
standpoint, the W3C doesn't even claim to be a standards body; it is an
industry consortium.)

_Some_ entries in WCAG 1.0 would be suitable for inclusion into a
standard, at least if properly clarified. Many entries would not. This is
one of the key problems with WCAG 1.0, especially since there have been
many attempts to present it as standard and to use it as one. Don't get me
wrong: the items that are _not_ of the kind we have in standards may well
be more important than those that are. But if, for example, some authority
wishes to _enforce_ accessibility rules, it needs to do quite some
selection instead of just requiring conformance to WCAG 1.0. (And the
"levels" or "priorities" in WCAG 1.0 are of no help here; in fact they
mostly confuse people.)

> I'm in favour of picking ONE logo (or one connected system
> of logos) related to accessibility and promoting it. Regardless of whether
> it's a conformance icon, or a validity stamp, or a test-passing stamp.

But what makes you think such icons would be useful? And you cannot really
ignore the fact that the existing icons _have_ been used conformance
icons and validity stamps - that is, the existing recognized meanings, if
they exist, are plain _wrong_.

> I guess the _clearest and simplest_ method to deal with accessibility
> statements or claims would be to use an Accessibility Statement, but is
> there no role for a graphic symbol?

Not unless you can give it a well-defined meaning and make people see it
that way. Rather unrealistic, I'm afraid.

_Specific_ accessibility symbols might be useful in some situations, but
only if they provide a useful way of distinguishing between, say, pages
that are suitable for use without a mouse and pages about which might or
might not be useable that way. Since the vast majority of the billions of
pages around make no claim (or refutation) about being keyboard-only
accessible, what would be the point of making such a claim about a dozen
or so pages? If the claim were part of formalized metadata, or otherwise
presented in a machine-recognizable way, we might at least _hope_ that
search engines will some day allow users to search for such pages
specifically, or give them bigger weight in results.

> In the article you argue, quite correctly I think, that the icon for the
> WCAG is not very good - it is not culturally neutral and the letters WCAG
> mean nothing on their own so the icon fails as a symbol in that sense. But
> I guess I see it as the most widely accepted logo, regardless of its
> weaknesses.

It's still unknown to most people, and, maybe worse, misunderstood by the

> My thinking up till now has been that it would be worthwhile trying to teach
> people what W3C and the WCAG stand for.

I don't think so. It's useful to tell _authors_ about them. But on most
pages, most of the readers are not authors. Besides, WCAG is just a
technical recommendation. The first thing that authors should understand
is the concept and meaning of accessibility, not a set of rules
constructed to help in achieving accessibility.

> - - I don't
> expect that all sites that use the icon will use it perfectly.

I know that none of them use it justly.

It's not about perfection. Either you comply with some rules or you don't.
If the rules themselves require perfection (such as clearest language
possible), then there's little justification in claiming conformance if
you don't think you have achieved perfection.

To raise awareness, and maybe to inform people, you could use icons that
are essentially graphic (unlike the WCAG icon, which is just stylicized
letters) and intuitively understandable - like a wheelchair symbol, or
hands signifying sign language, or a white stick and a dog. And you could
then explain what you mean by them in detail, without having to consider
any compliance to a fixed set of rules. You could just express your
serious _intent_ to be accessible, and explain some measures taken to achieve that.

But icons are often hard to decide. What symbol would we use for
accessibility to mentally retarted people, or people with motoric
disabilities, or people with dyslexia? I think it's mainly up to the
communities of and for people with a specific disability to construct, if
possible, universally understandable symbol for the disability or, rather,
for measures to deal with it.

Jukka "Yucca" Korpela, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/