Daniel Dardailler is the Technical Manager of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). He is also the site manager of the W3C European site in Sophia-Antipolis. Mr Dardailler holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science and has spent several years working in the US in the computing industry.
Censorship and Accessibility are often mentioned together when Ethics are on the agenda (alongside with Discrimination).
But how do they relate to each other, and in particular, how is Web site inaccessibility seen as a form or censorship ?
In order to conduct our analysis, we have to examine various definitions of censorship.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary online defines "censor" (verb) as " examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable". There is an implied meaning of intent here, as well as a notion of protecting the power in place (objectionable to whom?).
It's difficult to account for Web site inaccessibility as a form of censorship in this context. As in most cases, lack of Web accessibility is the result of ignorance and use of bad tools on behalf of content providers, not a specific willingness to cut out People with Disabilities from the audience.
But another definition of censorship has been put forward for use in the Internet era:
A is being censored if, somewhere in the line of communication between A and B, a third party C, against the will of either A, B, or both, changes the message in such a way as to impact the content of the message in significant way, by removal of content, distortion of content, addition of content, or simply denying access to A.
In this new context, inaccessibility, by way of poor practices on the side of Web page authoring tools (C in that case), would constitute a clear form of censorship.
When I author a Web page and the tool I use doesn't let me generate an accessible page (wrt WCAG compliance), it is in effect censoring my power of expression for the modalities (e.g. non-visual) it doesn't support. This new definition of censorship has essentially expanded the original scope, in that it is no longer concerned about the intent of the censor, only the effect.
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