The European Commission has proposed legislating to ensure that all EU nations adopt accessibility rules designed to ease disabled people's access to the web. Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding has for the first time talked of a 'European Disability Act' that could compel EU nations to adopt web …
Is it just me?
It seems to me that the article I'm commenting on has a whole bunch of disjointed issues which are all important, but as a whole it comes off as a buzzword mish-mash.
Or maybe it's just me.
Will they be written as a set of general principles (good) or a set of specific rules (bad)?
The problem with specific rules is that by the time they are proposed, discussed, modified, re-discussed, tweaked, buried in the bottom of a civil servants' drawer for 3 years and then published they are technically obsolete.
One of the classic 'rules' for accessibility is not to use fixed font sizes because they don't re-size - well, they didn't in ancient versions of IE, but all modern browsers basically just zoom everything, and stuff the font size in the css! Unfortunately it's this sort of rule that civil servants understand - even if it's gibberish.
Is there any easily accessible research that shows how 'disabled' people actually use the web in real life these days? What tools/software/hardware do they use? What problems do they actually encounter? I suspect that we don't have millions of people out there still using Lynx...
The important thing is to have a fall-back option of 'provide an alternative basic page' or even a freephone telephone number!
Given that my local council's on line planning portal still only full works in IE, over 2 years after they said they were going to get it working with other browsers (it doesn't even use ActiveX or anything, its just a crappily written third party app) how the hell does the EU think it could ever implement anything like this? Still it would allow the governments to shovel even more money into the pockets of the big IT companies who fuck up all the government projects they keep being given.
...would be a good start towards improving accessibility. Flash sites are invariably the worst for this, often presenting a near-blank page if Flash isn't installed/enabled.
Without any understanding of the issues they will legislate that we need to use friendly electrons...
The general response to WCAG 2 seems to have been, 'nice - but what does it all mean?'. Followed by, 'so, how do we implement?'. The upcoming British Standard might be a better template - it's more akin to the general principes mentioned by Nigel Callaghan above. Progressive enhancement is the current watchword.
How many neighbourhoods will be bulldozed to build wheelchair ramps for the information superhighway
"15% of our population is disabled"
That screams out for a definition, doesn't it ? A better figure would be the percentage of the population whose disability presents them with accessibility challenges that can _only_ be overcome with the cooperation of content providers.
For example, the UK's DDA defines disability as "physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities." This includes learning difficulties, HIV and cancer (e.g. being thick, and being ill)
Even taking that into account 15% is a low figure already, and it would be much, much lower if the above criteria were applied.
Take for example the case of those who are blind or partially sighted, who make up a vanishingly small percentage of the population, but experience arguably the largest number of accessibility challenges due to the largely visual nature of much web content.
There are ~153,000 people registered blind in the UK , out of a total pop of ~60.8 million  which makes up a staggeringly small ~0.2516% of the population.
I have no idea how many more people there are who are blind or partially sighted but aren't registered because they don't want the stigma and are in any case gainfully employed  (like me), I'd guess quite a lot, but probably not enough to pull that figure up to anything significant.
And frankly, if you have a disability, there are things that you aren't going to be able to do like everyone else. However unPC it is, most disabled folks know this. If you've got no legs, you have no career as a ballroom dancer ahead of you. Blind ? No train driving for you! It's a bummer, sure, but that's life, and you just have to suck it up.
So while it's very sweet of Viv to think of us, frankly, I'd rather she spend the money (tax revenue will be lost as businesses accrue compliance costs) on medical research. Bionics would be a great place to start. Wheelchair guys get to be the six million dollar man, me I want a field of vision like a terminator or Geordie LeForge. I'm sure most of us crips and mongs would gladly line up to join a super secret cyborg army, why not fund that instead ?
 http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=uk+population (no idea where they sourced that from)
 People register to get benefits and parking permits and avoid working, there are no other advantages.
One size fits none
"accessibilty" isn't as simple as putting a ramp beside a staircase. Diffeerent societies and cultures look at things in different ways. For example, I have yet to see any French website that I can navigate easily (despite being fluent in French) yet I don't have the same problem with UK or US ones. Similar differences (does that make sense? :) ) exist across various national daily newspapers. Given the similarity between French sites, I assume (possibly wrongly) that they've been done according to some user style that suits that particular culture.
If the proposed disability rules are drawn up rigidly and as requirements, the end result is likely to be of little use, a generic "one size" that works for no-one. Far better to simply impose a duty of care on each state, and let each one decide how to respond.
Oh wait, that's what we already have, but of course the status quo won't let Ms Reding continue to increase the size of her empire. How silly of me.
Pot, kettle, black
I've heard (reliable) leaks that some of the Commission's own intranet sites aren't exactly a shining example of "accessibility"!
"The Other Steve" - I want to have your babies
But don't get your hopes up too much, I'm a happliy married straight male! (not to mention old, fat and ugly)!
re: "How many neighbourhoods will be bulldozed to build wheelchair ramps for the information superhighway "
Absolutely hits the nail on the head. I was told by a dodgy web designer touting for business that I needed my website to be accessible to the blind because there are 15 million disabled people in UK . By not making it accessible I'm denying all those folk from buying from me (so I can look forward to a massive boost in sales so his costs will pale into insignificance...) and I risk a fine if my website isn't "accessible". Iif I recall correctly, few years ago RNIB were offering a DDA Webcheck service for £40 per page, they would produce a report telling you what needed fixing - and leave you to fix it and be in possession of the evidence they needed to take you to court if you didn't because you could no longer claim to have made reasonable efforts if you'd disregarded their advice.
I think that to reach a figure of 15 million it must include people who need artificial aids such as spectacles and hearing-aids. The proposed fixes to the website would all be directed at blind users (although I'm not sure how many blind people want to buy my paintings, on the other hand my profoundly deaf customer had no difficulty at all using my website).
Even your figure of ~153,000 people registered blind in the UK seems to exaggerate the situation. I know 3 people who are registered blind but are not profoundly blind. One is elderly and has no use for or interest in computers, her condition is age related, were there to be a need for her to access some on-line only information she would get help from a sighted friend. The second works in IT and compensates for very poor eyesight by having an enormous monitor, he can read inch high letters. The third has very limited tunnel vision and is actually helped by using a small monitor. Finally a proportion of the profoundly blind have a above average ocurrence of other disabilities making them still less likely candidates for computer usage.
The disability lobby will get very shrill about responses like this and accuse me/us of not caring about the disabled. Well rather the opposite really. Expensive technical fixes draw resources away from addressing the same issues by providing individual human personal care. Would a couple of thousand pounds spent on "upgrading" my website benefit anyone at all (apart from dodgy webdesigner) or would I be better to contribute to the wellbeing of my disabled friends and realtives by taking a morning off to take them to an appointment, to help with shopping, to help my friend with a large monitor computer when it comes to upgrading or adding new components with plugs and sockets he can't see? Sorry I can't afford that morning off, I need to generate the income to fund the DDA "upgrade" to my website.
The political reality is that Government doesn't like having to bear the cost of disability. It's a drain on resources and doesn't buy many votes. It is keen to shift any of that burden to business or to charities, friends and relatives. Backing the shift of responsibility with the force of law enables them to buy the votes too by being _seen_ to be acting.