These are articles that you need to read:

  • Mike Davies: BarCamp London Accessibility Panel Thoughts

    Mike Davies is a great writer with some very refined thoughts about web accessibility. He also has some very strong opinions against universality. In this article, he describes what he perceives as a need for the accessibility community to create a strong voice which will discuss accessibility while completely excluding universality.

  • Mike Cherim: Failed? Fundamentally Flawed?

    Mike Cherim responds to Davies comments. Although agreeing with much of the article, Mike, the founder of one of the sites criticized, takes issue with the accusation that the sites mentioned as failed or flawed are what Davies describes. The main issue is this question of universality – Davies considers universality to be a dogmatic, pervasive poison in the accessibility world. Mike takes issue with this.

  • Web Standards Project (Ian Lloyd): Failed and Flawed Accessibility Organisations

    Ian raises the question again about whether this organizations are really flawed, and asks his readers for their opinions on what a “fixed” accessibility organization would be.

Mike Davies’ opinion, apparently, is that any organization which espouses universality and accessibility simultaneously is fatally flawed. Obviously, any forum is flawed by definition, since the open forum format can not justifiably exclude people with a different opinion. More closed organizations are flawed if they publish their opinions which promote universality at what he perceives to be the expense of accessibility.

I absolutely can’t agree that Accessifyforum is flawed – members of the forum may have opinions which differ; but that’s the entire point of a forum. The forum still provides better information for new practitioners of accessibility than they might find in many contexts. As to other accessibility sites? Yes, they’re flawed by Mike’s definition. But I’m not sure that I can agree with Mike’s opinion.

The problem, for me, is that I don’t really agree with Mike’s opinion about what a “universalist” is. Mike says:

You can spot a universalist wearing an accessibility disguise by listening to their rationale as to why a website is not accessible – this includes whoppers like “Flash isn’t accessible because it doesn’t work in Lynx”, and “its inaccessible because it doesn’t validate”.

In my opinion, the person saying these terms is not a universalist: instead, they’re missing the point. They’re missing the basic understanding of accessibility – to provide access to content. More appropriately, “Flash isn’t accessible to Lynx users.” This is a valid statement. However, so might be “Lynx isn’t accessible to users with cognitive impairments.” Harder to verify, since it’s not impossible for a cognitively impaired user to use Lynx – but a site created with Flash, using larger, colorful buttons, images, and sound could be more usable.

Accessibility is not purely a function of technology: it’s a function of audience. Universalists attempt to make a site open to the widest possible choice of audiences. This will still potentially eliminate some audiences. The same is true of any accessible site: the important thing, however, is to make the site available for your audience. Knowing your audience is not a simple fact; but it’s the thing you need to pay perfect attention to in order to create an accessible site.

The problem with Flash is that the majority of designers don’t know how to use it to build an accessible web site. The most valuable thing I can imagine would be a training course on Flash design with accessibility in mind. I’d certainly sign up.