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Why are tool and AT vendors not participating in HTML5 development?

Jared Smith from WebAIM asks on Twitter "Want to help fix HTML5 accessibility? Convince AT vendors to be actively and adamantly involved in the process." Why are authoring tool and assistive technology vendors not actively participating in HTML5 development? Will simply asking tool/AT vendors convince them to get engaged in the process?

Not interested in politics

Small tool vendors and AT vendors are not interested in politics. They just want to create useful applications for their users. On the other hand, browser vendors seem to be far more interested in playing politics with Web technology. Charles McCathieNevile from Opera wrote: "The creation of WHATWG was an overtly political act."

Not interested in a free for all

In the current process of developing HTML, everyone is an expert on everything. People who admit that they know nothing about a given field of study argue against real experts in the field.

For example, I don't think there is a single accessibility expert who thinks that the content in the title attribute can be a substitute for alternate text, yet this will shortly be part of the spec. Another example: the entire accessibility community and the W3C Task Force are in support of the longdesc attribute, but longdesc was removed from the spec.

As a tool vendor, I have stated on this blog that a certain HTML feature cannot be implemented in a WYSIWYG editor. Yet Bruce Lawson, an evangelist at Opera, on a simple gut feeling, writes "I'm not an authoring tool developer, and never claimed to be. But I'm sure it can be done."

Tool and AT vendors simply don't need the aggravation that comes from arguing with people who know nothing about the business of making such tools. They don't have the time to waste and so won't get involved in the process.

Not interested in begging for features

Browser vendors dominate the process of developing HTML. They often make changes to the spec with no data to back up their decisions. Yet if those changes affect tool/AT vendors, and tool vendors need them to be modified, tool vendors have to literally beg for changes to the feature. When this happens, browser vendors demand empirical data to back up the changes requested by tool vendors, and push the issue through a lengthy review process.

From a tool/AT vendor's perspective, it is simply easier to deal with a broken feature than to work to change it through the current process. The trade-off is that since the broken feature affects their competitors too, so they won't lose market share because of it.

Not interested in being insulted

For some reason, the people involved in HTML5 development can't play nicely with those who have a different point of view. As engineers, we should be able to evaluate features on their merits and be able to discuss shortcomings. Yet HTML5 is treated as if it were a holy crusade that mustn't be questioned. If anyone has a different opinion, that person will be personally attacked. Tool/AT vendors don't need this and so won't get involved.

Conclusion

Simply asking tool/AT vendors to participate in HTML5 development won't get their participation. The process of developing HTML5 needs to become less political, real experts need to have the final say, personal insults must stop, and tool/AT vendors need to be equal partners in the process.

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Check out the a11y bugs project that aims to help browser / tool vendors fix accessibility bugs.