You can choose compassion

I admit in advance that I am about to flirt with an Internet meme, the “Internet meme” (often mispronounced as though it were French and used a circumflex). But if dashing Swede Rohgayr Johansson can delineate levels of HTML knowledge and a somewhat-less-dashing Swede can delineate levels of CSS knowledge, perhaps it is time for… Levels of Accessibility Knowledge.

Accessibility Level 0

A user level, not a developer level. People at this level discovered the Internet early on (in 2001) and experience it to this day through the bedazzling prisms known as Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Hotmail, MSN Messenger, and Microsoft Internet Explorer. As do all their friends. Hence they have no cause to imagine any form of deviation beyond 98 vs. XP vs. ME (“which sucks”), let alone missing an eye or a hand.

Accessibility Level 1

Only now does the band come out on stage. (Admittedly, the venue is a high-school gymnasium, but still.) These developers have read enough help files in FrontPage to know an alt tag is there to give you a tooltip on an image. alt="25 % off all brass fasteners limited timeonly !" Has seen blind people on American TV shows, and knows the first thing they will ask you is “Can I feel your face?”

Accessibility Level 2

Is aware that spacer GIFs are tedious for screen-reader users to listen to and wouldn’t be caught dead subjecting a blind person to something as jejune as a filename. So alt="spacer!" it is. Aware of the controversy involving table usage; developer’s layout tables are fully qualified with summary="This table is used for layout purposes only". (Such declaration is duplicated in a table title attribute that helpfully follows the mouse cursor around the page.) Uses XHTML because it’s “better,” but hasn’t figured out how to save a Unicode file on their Windows system yet, turning a simple copyright symbol into a string of comic-book profanities. Is a cochair of the WCAG Working Group.

Accessibility Level 3

These l33t-style developers know that tables r teh sux0r and use CSS for everything. Unfortunately, they are so preoccupied with said CSS that they overlook the structure of their pages, which end up as a jumble of divs. Has bookmarked WCAG – once. Here the skip-navigation link makes its début, dressed as a 1×1-pixel GIF with a cunning alt tag. Sadly, the target for such a link is an ordinary <a name=""> element set adrift in the flotsam of divs, and the developer can never quite figure out why it manifests itself in the same colour and underline style as the rest of the page’s links. Owns GoLive 4.

Accessibility Level 4

Knows who I am, agrees I’m right most of the time, but thinks I’m a twat nonetheless. Has his (sic) own podcast on iTunes but can’t be arsed to transcribe it. Has a large RSS feed and follows the tag accessibility. Reads Zeldman. Is not a very good visual designer, but creates well-structured code, one page at a time, in Homesite. (Fears the day when Homesite ceases to function in a future Windows version.) Runs a small freelance business from his bedsit. Tries to “include accessibility” in his contracts. Can speak seemingly knowledgeably at meetups.

Accessibility Level 5

Pitches Zeldman for articles and finally gets one published. Has username on Accessify Forum. Pays own money – it’s deductible – to attend Web-standards conferences. Is too polite to publicly correct Level 4 developer at meetups, but writes thinly-disguised blog posts upon return home. Has a spouse with a day job. Knows what WAI is. Works for an ad agency or Web shop run by Level 2s and covertly adds skip links and correct alt texts to every job he touches. (And then covertly puts them back when removed, pursuing a cat-and-mouse game on the CVS.) Has watched sign-language interpreter at church.

Accessibility Level 6

Has small but profitable Web shop. Coauthored Friends of Ed book; business partners have coauthored O’Reilly books and/or have colour deficiency. Writes front-page posts on Accessify Forum. Has cooed at Zeldman’s baby. Smokes. Has attempted to contribute to WAI process or has resigned from actual job with WAI. Has well-tuned Windows system; said system is decked out with all the toys, including necessary utilities and software his Mac friends cannot use to verify their accessibility claims. Speaks at Web-standards conferences. Hosts visiting fellow developers in spare bedroom. Is a competent visual designer with high-level coding skills. Has touched a Braille display and wondered what the fuss was about. Writes own CMS – in Perl, as PHP is more suited to commoners – and idly considers migrating to Ruby on Rails. Actually cares what Ruby on Rails is.

Accessibility Level 7

Runs small but unprofitable freelance business from “emerging,” shabby-“chic” neighbourhood with heavy metals in the soil. Author of minor star in gauzy firmament of accessibility books. Interested in subtopics so obscure even the actual disabled subgroups affected don’t really care. Overarching competence acknowledged, if begrudgingly, yet often viewed as subordinate to grating personality “quirks.” Difficult to feed, let alone have fun with, when staying over in spare bedroom. Viewed as derailing WAI process. Typically the only X in the village irrespective of village or value of X.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.06.02 12:35. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
http://blog.fawny.org/2006/06/02/niveaux/

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