The Dictatorship of Reason and the Decline of Values

Typical accessibility scenarios
Have been trying to read a book by John Ralston Saul for some time now called “Voltaire’s Bastards: the dictatorship of reason in the West.” Have only gotten 100 pages in – I’ve managed to lose the book twice, and had to track it down again – but already it’s outlining what it says on the tin: that we’re (Western Civilisation, that is) so obsessed with logic, statistics, the bottom line and so on, that the original cause behind any course of action is usually completely forgotten. Many ladders against many wrong walls, in other words.

This was brought home to me this week at a meeting on web accessibility. Every person in the room – even the meeting organiser – had chosen to delegate their attendance responsibility, presumably concluding that the “Disability Action Plan” was yet another mass of bureacracy and paperwork to be passed down the line. Not an unreasonable assumption.

The meeting itself started with introductions all around – one attendee exiting immediately upon further understanding the topic – before launching into the why of web accessibility. In typical fear parlance, this mainly revolved around the fear of being sued a la McGuire vs SOCOG, and from there an assessment of the risk and potential consequence. Don’t worry, said one person; as long as you are polite when HREOC comes knocking on your door, they’ll give you the time you need to make things right.

Another pitched in with sly comments about pretentious web people wearing black skivvies, whilst I tried to emphasise the carrot of faster web development, easier updates and better coding practice. And round and round it went.

There was an elephant sitting in the room however, who sat quietly for the hour and was completely ignored all the while:

Making sites accessible is the profoundly right thing to do. (identified by Steve Krug in Don’t Make me think)

It’s not even like it’s just the right thing to do for someone else: soon enough, everyone in that room this week will be losing their eyesight a touch or having the RSI of 20 years in the office gnarl their fingers. Hell, they might even need to wear black skivvies to ward off the cold.

We could have come out in agreement, deciding to evangelise and get excited about the difference we could make, even if were only to 5% of the population. But instead, we came out with a list of actions, which will lead to another meeting maybe, and then maybe some more actions. Not the best advertisement

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