Karl Groves

Tech Accessibility Consultant
  • Web
  • Mobile
  • Software
  • Hardware
  • Policy
Telephone
+1 443.875.7343
Email
karl@tenon.io
Twitter
@karlgroves

Why using `tabindex` values greater than “0” is bad

Recently Tenon received a support request from a customer complaining that their site had thousands of issues in Tenon about their use of tabindex. The customer believed that their use of tabindex was a good thing because the tab order made sense. Here’s a cleaned-up version of the response I sent to them:

It creates maintenance headaches

The longer the tabindex values exist on the site, the more likely that maintenance of the site will cause the tabindex values to become inaccurate. Websites are never really “done”. Once they go into production, maintenance, changes, and bug fixes happen. Along the way, things move around, new links are added, old links are removed and over time someone slips and the tabindex values become out of sync with the desired interaction order.

It strips away user control

The use of an explicit tab order undermines the user’s ability to control their interaction with the site. Web pages that dictate an explicit tab order tend to do so for one of two reasons: to overcome a bad tab order or due to a misunderstanding of how the tab order should work. Using tabindex to fix a bad tab order is the wrong approach. Modifying DOM order so that the tab order matches the visual order might be difficult, but the pay off is much greater than using tabindex.

There’s another piece of using explicit tabindex that people often misunderstand when they use it: Users don’t just load up the site and start tabbing through the page. While sighted keyboard-only users might do this, the reality is that very few of the so-called “sighted keyboard-only users” truly use only the keyboard. People with motor impairments might do other things, such as use specialized pointing devices or voice dictation software. Depending on the UI and the tasks they’re there to perform, they might swap back and forth between voice dictation and keyboard. Or they might use their specialized pointing devices and keyboard.

Blind screenreader users don’t just load the page and start tabbing through it, either. Again, depending on the UI and the tasks they’re there to perform, they might pull up a list of headings on the page in order to see what the page is about. Or, they might even just hit “H” to get taken to the first heading on the page. In fact, I’d argue that they’re just as likely to hit the “H” key as they are to hit the “Tab” key as their first keystroke on the page.

It may cause a mismatch between visual order and interaction order

An element with an explicit tabindex value greater than “0” will receive keyboard focus before focusable elements with no tabindex value (or tabindex="0"). In other words, tabindex="0" says “put this in the tab order where it would normally occur based on its source order” while an explicit tabindex value greater than “0” causes the item to be placed at that number within the tab order (barring any gaps in the order, which will be ignored).

After tabbing through all of the things that have a tabindex greater than “0” the user will navigate to all other focusable elements in the order in which they appear in the DOM. In doing so, they will skip over the things that have already received focus. In some cases, this may cause a mismatch between the visual order and the focus order. For a sighted/ partially sighted keyboard-only user, this mismatch between what get focus vs. what they expect to get focus will be confusing.

It may make user support difficult

Last, an explicit tab order can cause frustration when doing user support. Customers with disabilities who reach out to the company for support may be given directions for workarounds that don’t match reality. Well-meaning support staff might say “The X-link is the 5th link on the page” when in reality it isn’t the 5th but something else.

We feel that the above reasons make it clear that tabindex creates more problems than it solves and that the use of tabindex should be avoided.

Do you need to be indemnified?

The heavy amount of litigation around accessibility in the United States has claimed another victim: reality.

Recently, we had a potential customer ask us "Will you indemnify us if we get sued?". It was a shocking question, but not the first time we’ve been asked this. Over the years I’ve been asked this many times. My answer has always been the same: "No".

The reason should be obvious. As consultants, our job is to give our customers the best advice and guidance that we can. Unfortunately, we have no control over whether our customers will listen to our advice. If a customer ignores our advice and gets sued, then we’re asking for trouble if we indemnify them.

Imagine our surprise when we heard that competitors are, in fact, indemnifying their customers. When we first heard of this, we thought "What a foolish thing to do!". But then we did a little more research. It turns out, it isn’t so foolish after all. In fact, it is pure genius – but not for the customer.

You see, there’s a catch – and it isn’t an insignificant one.

So, to go back two paragraphs, the reason why I thought the entire indemnification idea was foolish was because the consultant has no guarantee their customer will follow your advice. So how does the consultant mitigate that risk? By mandating that in order to receive the indemnification, the customer follows the consultant’s advice.

In other words: In order for one of these companies to indemnify you against a lawsuit you have to do all-the-things they say you should do. You’ll have to improve your policies and procedures. You’ll have to train your designers, developers, PMs, and everyone-else-who-impacts-the-sites. You’ll have to audit your sites and fix all the issues. You’ll have to periodically monitor your sites.

Well, duh! In other words, you’ll have to make significant fundamental changes to how your company handles accessibility and put together an effective accessibility program.

This isn’t bad, it is just kinda shifty. In order to be indemnified you need to do all of the things that you should already be doing in order to mitigate your legal risk.

These steps toward mitigating risk are the things I’ve been writing about in this blog and delivering presentations on since 2011.

The shifty part of this indemnification business is that it forces you to commit yourself to a single vendor. Again: genius move for the consulting firms. I have a different idea: Understand up front that if you’re in a high risk segment, you will need to do all-the-things I’ve listed above. Establish a vendor relationship with a consultant that you think is most capable of addressing your needs, and work with them toward your mutual goal without falling for shady tricks like indemnification promises.

Automated Lies, with one line of code

In 1998, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act came out, as did the first version of WCAG. In the time period of 1998-2000, a number of new companies were created around Web Accessibility. Major players in the US like Deque, The Paciello Group, and Bartimeus Group (later acquired by/ merged with SSB Technologies, becoming SSB BART Group), TecAccess and more were all founded in that time period. Some of the founders of these companies had been in accessibility for years already while some of them were completely new to it and saw the new Section 508 requirements as a potential business opportunity. After all, the new 508 requirements meant that government agencies needed to make their stuff accessible and, as a consequence, the agencies would (should) be passing those requirements to their vendors. In some ways this was exactly the case and vendors did rise to the occasion. Similarly, we’re facing new opportunities in accessibility now. Since 2015, the rate of lawsuits and demand letters around web accessibility has clearly gotten the attention of more entrepreneurial types who see the uptick in litigation as an opportunity to make money.

Using this opportunity to make money isn’t a bad thing. The potential in this market is quite high, and the accessibility industry is sorely in need of a larger talent pool for the available work. The problem, unfortunately, is that I’ve recently begun noticing new players in the consulting space who are offering poor quality work at low prices. Another problem: companies marketing products that promise magical "fixes" to customer websites that simply do not work. One company, Agilitech says their product can give you “Section 508 Accessibility Compliance With a Single Line Of Code”. This is demonstrably false.

I’m not the only person to feel this way.

Only 1 respondent to the above survey answered “Yes”. Gee, I wonder who they worked for?

Why you cannot magically automate your way into compliance

It should be universally understood that automated testing tools cannot offer complete test coverage for all possible accessibility issues on the web. Therefore it stands to reason that if you cannot automatically find all your site’s accessibility issues, you certainly cannot automatically fix all of them, either. This is extraordinarily simple logic. In fact, automatically fixing issues is even less likely to be successful than finding them. This fact is demonstrated within Mallet. While Mallet is extremely good at finding & fixing some issues, it is still limited to around 2-dozen types of ‘fixes’ that work on their own without any configuration. The remainder of Mallet’s fixes require some level of configuration. To put this into perspective, Tenon.io has approximately 200 accessibility tests that look for around 2500 different failure conditions. In other words, we can easily find at least 10x as many issues as we can reliably fix, because fixing the issues requires far more knowledge about the user interface than an automated tool has.

Top 85% of automatically discoverable issues, by volume

To see why claiming to automatically fix issues, let’s take a look at the top automatically discoverable accessibility issues, by volume, with an eye to the potential of actually fixing things:

  1. Insufficient contrast. Quite simply, the tests for sufficient color contrast reviews the computed colors for an element’s foreground and background to verify color contrast is sufficient according to WCAG standards. By volume, insufficient color contrast is the most common accessibility issue on the Web. Accurately testing for color contrast is far harder than even most accessibility people understand. Testing for basic foreground and background colors is the easy part. There are so many other ways to get it wrong. Does the element use absolute positioning? Does the element have a background-image? Does the background include a CSS3 gradient? Does the element use an animated background? All of these and more can make it impossible to accurately test the contrast and, as I’ve already said, if you can’t accurately test for something you certainly can’t accurately fix it.
  2. <table> missing header cells or missing header-cell-to-data-cell relationships. When it comes to data tables, this is the most common issue. There is no reliable way to accurately fix this problem. Even if you have a perfectly symmetrical table with an even number of rows and columns throughout the table, you can’t know whether the developer meant the top row for headers or the first column. Or maybe both are meant to be headers? Add in some colspans and rowspans and you can forget automatically fixing this at all.
  3. Link has a title attribute that is the same as the text inside the link.. This is quite common, especially in websites that use Drupal and WordPress. This is really the only issue you can automatically fix with 100% certainty. All you need to do is remove the title attribute. Overall, the issue of redundant title attributes is only a minor annoyance to users of screenreaders and they have the ability to adjust their verbosity settings to annoy the titles.
  4. Link quality, (i.e. Links have the same text but different destinations; Links have identical `href` attribute values but different text; Adjacent links going to the same destination; Link has no text inside it; etc.). Link quality is generally abysmal on the web. Links should clearly and concisely communicate to users the content to be found or the actions that the user will perform at the destination. While we can often effectively test for things that are symptoms of bad links, we cannot automatically replace that link’s content with something better without knowing far more about both the current page and the destination.
  5. Image is missing a text alternative/ Image has low quality text alternative. The lack of useful text alternatives to non-text content is a huge problem on the web. While Tenon.io currently has about 50 individual tests around WCAG 1.1.1, we still cannot reliably tell whether the site fully complies with this Success Criterion. Automation – up to and including using the current state-of-the-art in Artificial Intelligence – is wholly unable to supply an effective text alternative for non-text content. Is the image decorative, or is it meaningful? Does the image function as an icon? Even if you can use AI to know what the image contains, there’s no way of knowing what it is meant to represent to users and therefore no way of automatically fixing this issue reliably.
  6. Control uses CSS-generated content without an effective label. Similar to the above, this is often caused by developers who use icon fonts on controls. What happens in these cases is that although the glyph is presented visually, the control does not have a usable label exposed to assistive technologies. Automatically testing for this is super easy, but automatically adding an accurate label to these controls is impossible without knowing what the glyph is meant to represent to the user.
  7. Poorly structured dynamic elements( <a> element with onclick, no href, no tabindex, no role; Event handlers bound to non-actionable element that lacks role and/or tabindex; Link uses an invalid hypertext reference; Element has orphaned aria attributes; Element uses multiple strategies to create labels) Poorly structured dynamic elements are quite pervasive and a symptom of developers who do not understand the importance of accurately conveying the Name, State, Role, and Value of dynamic controls. They may also have an incomplete or inaccurate understanding of WAI-ARIA. These issues are easy to find and impossible to fix completely. There’s truly no way to automatically know what the control should be conveying to assistive technologies.
  8. Form element has no label. By volume, this is the most common issue relating to forms. For assistive technology users, this issue is a huge problem. Without proper labels on form fields, assistive technology users will be unable to successfully complete the form or can only do so with serious difficulty. There’s no way to automatically fix this issue reliably. As evidence of this, consider that even assistive technologies will only try to guess when there’s unstructured text immediately next to the control.
  9. Nested tables. This test looks for tables inside of tables. This test avoids cases where one of the tables has role="presentation". Nested tables are often the result of using tables for layout and in many cases can cause considerable confusion for assistive technology users. There are two ways to fix this problem: 1) add role="presentation" to the table(s) that are used for presentation, or 2) Completely restructure the code so that there are no nested tables. There’s no way to automatically do either of these things with any accuracy because there’s no way know which table(s) are presentational. Maybe they all are. Maybe only one of them is. Maybe some of them are and some are not. At any rate, approach #2 might destroy the design and #1 might get it completely wrong.

As you can see from the list above, among the top 85% of accessibility issues (by volume), only one type of issue can be reliably fixed via automation – redundant title attributes – and that’s an annoyance-level issue that can be easily avoided by settings in the user’s assistive technology. By the way, that top 85% of accessibility issues amounts to approximately 10% of Tenon.io’s available accessibility tests, at most.

Some things are wholly impossible to test for and therefore impossible to automatically fix

As always, it is important to remind the reader that there are limits to what can be discovered with automatic testing. It stands to reason that if you cannot automatically test for something you definitely cannot fix it, either.

  • Captions/ transcripts for audio-only content or audio content in videos.
  • Audio description for video content
  • Content that relies on sensory characteristics to understand
  • Audio control
  • Keyboard trap
  • Pause, Stop, Hide
  • Error prevention and error handling
  • Effective focus management
  • Reading level

The above is only a subset of the many things in web accessibility that cannot be accurately tested via automated means. Many of them are hugely impactful for people with disabilities.

Companies that claim to automatically make you "compliant" are selling lies

Conformance to a standard means that you meet or satisfy the ‘requirements’ of the standard. In WCAG 2.0 the ‘requirements’ are the Success Criteria. To conform to WCAG 2.0, you need to satisfy the Success Criteria, that is, there is no content which violates the Success Criteria.

Understanding Conformance

To review what I’ve discussed so far:

  1. An automated web accessibility testing tool can definitively test for approximately 25-29% of best practices for WCAG 2.0
  2. Of the top 85% of automatically discoverable web accessibility issues, only one of those issues can reliably and accurately be fixed via automated means
  3. There are approximately a dozen additional fixes that can be automatically applied. By volume, most of these issues exist in that 15% minority, by volume. Some of them also require customization.
  4. An automated web accessibility testing tool cannot test for approximately 40% of best practices for WCAG 2.0 in any meaningful way and therefore cannot be fixed automatically, either.
  5. Many of those untestable items are huge roadblocks for users with disabilities.

Buying into the false promises of magical automatic compliance will only prolong your risk exposure. These products cannot bring you into compliance, cannot make your site more accessible to users with disabilities, and therefore cannot reduce your risk of lawsuit or administrative complaint.

An open challenge to all vendors of such products

Just like weight loss or financial stability, there is no quick magical fix for accessibility and I challenge any vendor of such a product to debate me on this topic at CSUN 2019. Together, we can co-author a talk submission where each of us gets equal time to present our case.

On diversity and the ethics of design

Yesterday was the last day of Beyond Tellerand 2018 in Düsseldorf Germany. I was honored to present alongside people like Jens Oliver Meiert, Tracy Osborn, and Miriam Suzanne. I’m still amazed at the thoughtfulness and attention-to-detail that Marc Thiele puts into his events. He truly curates an atmosphere. While I personally favor events that are more code-focused, I personally learned a ton at this event. I also walked away with connections to people who inspire me to think in new ways and hope to stay in touch with some of them.

Mike Montiero gave the closing talk, "How to build an atomic bomb". Ultimately it was a talk about ethics in design – a topic that Mike obviously feels strongly about. There were lots of specific little things I disagree with in Mike’s talk. For instance, he had a slide that said "If you’re white in a white supremacist society, then you’re a white supremacist" These sorts of blanket statements are unnecessarily distracting from the message. As a white American male, I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge that I’m a beneficiary of white supremacy, but I vehemently disagree with the notion that I promote it. Hell, I’ve literally fought white supremacists on the streets & bars of Baltimore.

The overall message I took away from it is that we must acknowledge what power one has and to use that power for Good. After the 2nd day of the conference was over, I sat with Mike to talk about design ethics and I think the best part of our discussion was that we need to have a conversation about what we’re doing. In my opinion, there are a handful of clearly defined absolutes: that happiness is better than misery and that “Good” and “Bad” can be measured on a scale that reflects the overall happiness vs. the overall misery. The ethics of design, therefore, is to be based on how we apply that and I think Mike would say that we should each place a stake at the point at which potential misery becomes unacceptable.

When it comes to issues of race, gender, etc., Mike’s frequent mention of "white dudes" is really an indictment of environments that lack diversity. Yes, that lack of diversity results in "white dudes" everywhere, but the issue isn’t actually about "white dudes". The issue is a lack of diversity. A lack of diversity leads to a lack of different ideas, experiences, and perspectives. I would argue that we should seek out diversity for diversity’s sake because the side effect of diversity is always balance. A lack of diversity creates an echo chamber where the similarity of perspectives becomes self-feeding. Mike’s example of the leadership at Twitter is a perfect example of this. The problem of "white dudes" everywhere is they’re not exposed to anyone’s perspective but their own.

There are people who argue that attempting to curate a diverse atmosphere in tech companies is itself "reverse discrimination". The objective viewpoint that we should hire whoever is the "best" employee misses an essential point. The long term benefit to the company and to society as a whole is too important to neglect. At the company level, ideas should be encouraged and diversity fosters different and ideas that may happen far easier and more often in a diverse and open atmosphere. At the societal level, offering opportunities to growth for disadvantaged-yet-qualified people offers an opportunity to make society itself better. As Montiero might say "Its just the right fucking thing to do". This must also include accessibility.

People with disabilities are often left out of these conversations too often. Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Diversity Statements and the like hardly ever include people with disabilities. In terms of disadvantaged status, the median income in for people with disabilities in the United States is roughly between the income levels of Hispanics and African Americans. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is significantly higher than non-disabled people and 30% higher than for African Americans. It is still legal to pay people with disabilities sub-minimum wage.

Those of us who are lucky to have high privilege have a moral responsibility to help others. Selfishly wielding our advantage for personal gain does nothing but expanding our own advantage more and continues to hold down the disadvantaged. We should instead seek to give a leg up to others who are less advantaged than ourselves.

Check out Mike’s list of Design Ethics on Github

Open Letter to Mid-Atlantic Developer Conference

Longtime readers of this blog know that I feel it is important to push accessibility in the mainstream. I feel like we’re making good headway on adding accessibility into mainstream conferences the last several years. People like Léonie Watson, Marcy Sutton, and plenty others are frequently seen sharing their knowledge on stage around the globe to spread the word about accessibility. Some conference organizers “get it” better than others.

Recently I got a rejection email from a conference submission. Rejection is never fun, but I submit talks very frequently and not getting picked comes with the territory. I’ve spoken at over 40 events across the globe, so it isn’t like I’m not getting enough love. That said, a recent rejection really got under my skin. Given the Mid-Atlantic Developer Conference’s proximity to Washington DC and the massive amount of ADA suits over the last few years, conferences that don’t include some accessibility talks are doing their attendees a disservice. I know that sounds harsh, but while the latest developer trends might make for interesting talks, nothing is likely to be a more present issue for attendees than accessibility.

I want to share my letter to Mid-Atlantic Developer conference – not to call them out, but rather to share my arguments for why this is so important for conference organizers to understand.

Here’s my letter to Mid-Atlantic Developer Conference

I’ve been doing talks at conferences for well over a decade now and never really get sour grapes when a proposal is rejected. As you noted, conferences often get piles of interesting submissions, and selecting the best can be hard.

This time is a little different. I just checked out the line-up and saw zero talks at all relating to accessibility. Again, that’s not unusual either. Mainstream conferences as a whole seem disinterested in the topic of accessibility, which is unfortunate but not unexpected.

What makes this different is that Mid-Atlantic Developer conference is being held in my hometown of Linthicum Heights. That fact, however is overshadowed by its proximity to Washington DC.

Just a few short miles from your venue are two facilities owned by Northrop Grumman. In that general area, say between Rt. 100 and 695, are also facilities owned by several more large government contractors such as Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.

As you mention on your website, the venue is extremely close to the BWI airport and an Amtrak/ MARC train station. That station is within literal walking distance of one of the Northrop Grumman locations I mentioned earlier.

Your venue is also incredibly close to the Baltimore Beltway, BW Parkway, and Interstate 95 and is hands-down the best location I know of for a “Mid-Atlantic Developer Conference”. Nestled there in that little location in Linthicum, your venue is easy to get to for people ranging from Richmond to NYC and everything between. It is one of the reasons I stay in this area. Given the additional proximity to BWI, I can go anywhere I need to for business very quickly and conveniently.

Given the above I must finally get to my point. Failing to include accessibility talks is doing your audience a severe disservice. Developers working on government contracts or developers at government agencies are doing work that requires compliance with Section 508. With the (relatively new) 508 Refresh, that means their work must adhere to WCAG 2.0 Level AA.

Private sector, state & local, and EDU developers are also facing these requirements. Law firms around the country are filing lawsuits on a daily basis. I have a list of lawsuits on my blog. I can hardly keep up with it anymore, as there’s literally anywhere from 2 to 2-dozen lawsuits filed every single day in friendly court districts like the Southern District of New York.

If you name a major retailer in your favorite mall, I guarantee they’ve been sued. If you name a major bank, I guarantee they’ve been sued. If you name a major airline, travel website, or hotel, they’ve been sued. This also goes for many colleges & universities and public school systems.

We can point to “ADA trolls” and criticize them as being out for a quick payday – which they are – but it does nothing to address the fundamental reason why these cases are so easy for them to win settlements from: inaccessible websites.

Developers don’t know accessibility. Why don’t they know? Because books, blogs, articles, and conferences don’t include it. As a mainstream conference organizer, you become part of the problem by not including accessibility talks in your conference. In your case this is made worse by the fact that your attendees, being in the Mid-Atlantic area, need such knowledge. They don’t know where to get it, and especially don’t know where to get up-to-date information on it.

I’d heartily encourage you to take inspiration from Marc Thiele from Beyond Tellerand. Marc’s events are amazing and feature well-known speakers from around the globe. Marc also makes it a point to include at least one accessibility-specific talk at each event he does.

Please consider including accessibility in future events.

Thanks.

—–

Common Sense Gun Control

I’ve posted on this topic before. Naturally, in the wake of yet another mass shooting in America, it is on my mind again.

As of right now there have been 290 school shootings in the United States since 2013. No other country has more than 18 mass shooters. This is horrible and it keeps happening.

The New York Times article linked above makes a clear case: More guns means more gun-related violence. It seems too obvious to even mention and the solution is also obvious: there needs to be less guns out there. We need to make it harder for bad actors to get guns and make it extremely difficult for them to commit crime with guns. Gun Rights activists are right: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But this statement is incorrect: guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people. A firearm’s primary purpose is to kill living things. This is why bad guys choose them.

We have to do something, but we have to be pragmatic

The idea of completely banning firearms sounds appealing to most liberals, but it is a complete non-starter in the United States. The Gun Rights activists need to also acknowledge that easy access to firearms is the largest contributor to gun violence. We make it too easy to get guns and some of the guns people can get are far too deadly. I feel we can balance the right to bare arms with the safety of our neighbors.

My proposals to limit gun violence

Generally, the goal must be to make it harder for bad guys to get guns & ammunition while retaining the ability for good people to have fair access to sporting and protection uses of firearms.

"Shall Issue" Concealed Carry Permits, with nationwide reciprocity

Gun Rights advocates argue that only bad guys kill people and that gun control efforts stop good people from carrying guns. They’re right. We should not stop good people from carrying guns.

Yes, that’s what I said. A person applying for a concealed carry permit shall receive it without unfair restrictions, provided they meet all of the following criteria:

  1. They have a legitimate need fitting one the following criteria:
    1. They have an active restraining order against another person
      1. In some states, there is an initial period when a restraining order is automatically granted before a hearing to determine if the need is valid. There shall be "Emergency Issuance" of permits during that period and the permit should be rescinded if/ when the restraining order ends.
    2. They have an occupational need to have one (that warrants carrying the weapon outside of work as well)
    3. They are a current, former, or retired Law Enforcement Officer
    4. They have another legitimately defined good and substantial reason to​ protect themselves
  2. They have not been convicted of a felony of any kind
  3. They have not been convicted of misdemeanor drug distribution, domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, harassment,
    or any crime involving the use of a firearm.
  4. They have attended and passed a rigorous firearm safety training course which includes range qualifications
  5. They have visual acuity of 20/20 or wear glasses or contacts that correct their vision to 20/20
  6. They are not currently diagnosed with and under treatment for a delusional disorder, major depressive disorder, psychotic disorder, or dissociative disorder, the definitions of which are found in the DSM

Note: Some states (such as my home state of Maryland) have abused the "good and substantial reason​" requirement as a way to prevent people from carrying. Stories abound about people with legitimate cause being rejected. This practice should stop.

In the event that any of the above criteria changes, the permit is revoked. It can be reissued only when the above criteria are met.

Limitations on types of firearms and accessories

There’s a reality that Gun Rights advocates need to acknowledge: There’s no legitimate sporting or protection need for rapid fire capabilities or high capacity magazines. Those features exist for one reason: killing people. If you have no plan to kill people, you don’t need that stuff. There is no known instance where a person used an assault weapon with a bumpstock and 30-round magazine to protect themselves.

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban which expired in 2004 was the right idea with the wrong approach, as it focused more on cosmetics than characteristics. There is also an important distinction between an "assault weapon" and an "assault rifle" – the latter of which have all of the characteristics that should be banned.

  1. Assault Rifles should be banned from sale
  2. Firearms should have no more than 10 round capacity
  3. Magazines with more than 10 round capacity should be banned from sale
  4. Accessories that increase the rate of fire, such as trigger modification devices or bump stocks should be banned from sale
  5. "Novelty" marketing of the above shall be banned
  6. All firearms must be sold with a trigger lock
  7. Persons who own more than 3 long guns or more than 5 firearms total must provide proof that they own a gun safe/ lockable gun cabinet

Limitations on Firearm Purchase

As before, our goal should not be to prevent good, law-abiding citizens from owning guns. Any person over the age of 18 (21 in the case of handgun) may purchase a firearm if:

  1. They have not been convicted of a felony
  2. They have not been convicted of misdemeanor drug distribution, domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, harassment,
    or any crime involving the use of a firearm.
  3. They have visual acuity of 20/20 or wear glasses or contacts that correct their vision to 20/20
  4. They are not currently diagnosed with and under treatment for a delusional disorder, major depressive disorder, psychotic disorder, or dissociative disorder, the definitions of which are found in the DSM

All firearm purchases must be handled through a licensed firearm dealer or overseen by local law enforcement and must be subject to a Universal Background Check to verify the above criteria.

Limitations on ammunition

Possession of a firearm is only part of the problem. Possession and easy access to ammunition is also a problem. Mass shooters often stockpile and bring large quantities of ammunition with them. Law-abiding citizens should be able to purchase ammunition that meets their legitimate needs.

  1. Ownership of armor piercing ammunition shall be banned.
  2. All ammunition purchases must adhere to the same limitations on firearm purchase, described above.
  3. Gun owners can reload their own ammunition for personal use but are barred from selling or transferring it to others.
  4. Gun owners shall not have any more than 100 rounds of ammunition in their possession for long guns and no more than 50 rounds of ammunition for handguns. These amounts are more than generous for legitimate sporting and self-defense needs.
  5. Gun owners shall not purchase ammunition on behalf of others. Purchasing ammunition shall require the purchaser to provide ID.

Requirements for storage and transport of firearms and ammunition

Gun Rights Advocates argue that bad guys aren’t legal gun owners buying from the local gun shop. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics: "According to the 1991 Survey of State Prison Inmates, among those inmates who possessed a handgun, 9% had acquired it through theft, and 28% had acquired it through an illegal market such as a drug dealer or fence. Of all inmates, 10% had stolen at least one gun, and 11% had sold or traded stolen guns." To me, this means we need to make it harder to steal guns and harder to use them once stolen.

  1. All firearms must be stored with their trigger locks engaged when not in use
  2. All ammunition must be stored in a locked container of some kind when not in use.
  3. All magazines must be empty when not in use
  4. Firearms and ammunition must be kept at least 6 ft apart during transport unless they are physically separated from all humans, such as within a vehicle’s trunk.
  5. Trigger locks must be engaged during transport

The only exception to the above criteria is for persons with concealed carry permits.

Punishment for non-compliance with the above

With the primary goal of making it extremely difficult for bad guys to get guns and ammunition, we need to strongly enforce the above restrictions and punish those who do not comply. This should include significant fines or even criminal charges, especially against those whose negligence results in their stolen firearm being used in a crime.

Gun control must not be the only thing we do

Gun Rights advocates often argue that other weapons could be used instead of guns or that you can’t stop a determined bad guy, or that mass shooters are "crazy". All of these things are true, but they don’t preclude sensible gun control. Doing nothing is the best way to guarantee that the problem we face will persist.

Gun control also isn’t enough. If we’re willing to accept that mass shootings are perpetrated by people who are "disturbed" then we need to not only limit their access to firearms but also provide services to help them. If we’re willing to accept that bad guys are going to commit crimes no matter what, then we need to improve crime prevention efforts. That includes, taking action to improve the socioeconomic contributors to crime.

Has IAAP gotten itself sorted?

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed a recent Tweetstorm about IAAP and their certification(s). I’ve been rather open on my opinions about certification, in general. Despite having a handful of certifications myself, my observations on IAAP and their certification were that any certifications around accessibility must be rigorous, fair, reliable, defensible, and valid. My impression of IAAP did not give me much faith in the organization or their certification.

I need to be clear: The Accessibility industry needs a professional organization like IAAP and professional certification. I want IAAP to be it, but my experiences with the organization’s early days left me feeling frustrated by impressions of impropriety by initial leadership.

I’m not alone in these feelings. During CSUN 2012 and shortly after, people such as John Foliot, Sharron Rush, Léonie Watson, and many others gave their thoughts. While many (most) people agreed on the need for an organization like IAAP, several people also voiced concern around a lack of transparency and a lack of involvement from the accessibility community itself.

To me, the IAAP felt as though it was foisted on the accessibility world, along with its preselected leadership – the product of Microsoft, Adobe, and SSB BART Group, the latter of which being the only accessibility company that apparently knew anything about the project. The first misstep, therefore, is that a professional organization dealing with accessibility didn’t actually invite the accessibility profession along for the ride.

I actually don’t have any problem with the “secretive” nature of IAAP’s formation. I personally don’t have the patience to deal with “consensus-based” work, the likes of which are necessary to put together something like IAAP. Despite my best intentions, my own involvement in various W3C activities have been very brief. Each time I tried, my lack of patience has gotten the best of me. So opening a broad call for involvement and comments on the formation of IAAP would only result in chaos. That said, the absence of other accessibility companies in the initial founding stages was certainly off-putting. The fact is that in 2012 there were very few “players” in accessibility. Internationally you could only name about 6-10 in 2012. Although I have immense respect for the volume of work in this field from some of those involved in the early days of IAAP, I think this initial list of companies should have included Deque and TPG, at the very least. NoMensa and Interactive Accessibility would also be good inclusions.

After IAAP was officially “a thing”, they aggressively sought founding members, and many of the aforementioned accessibility companies joined on as such. Though this was a step in the right direction, the leadership structure was already set. One of those early founding members became frustrated with the lack of transparency and other issues and decided to let their membership lapse when it came time to renew.

But things (may) have changed

Between that time and now, a lot has happened. Three things are most notable for me: Leadership changes at the top, the creation of a handful of certifications, and IAAP has become a division of G3ICT. On my end, I haven’t paid much attention to IAAP over the last couple of years. I had put them out of my mind and moved on. Sharon Spencer and I spoke very briefly during the 2017 ICT Accessibility Testing Symposium. The conversation was very short but we committed to following up further at another time, which we did at Accessing Higher Ground.

During the conversation, I conveyed my concerns to Sharon about the formation and early days of IAAP.

A summary of what we talked about

IAAP was formed without the involvement of the community

As I mentioned earlier, IAAP was basically announced at CSUN 2012. This left many people, myself included, feeling as though IAAP was foisted upon us. But, Sharon reminded me that this wasn’t actually the case. The initial founders of the organization had done plenty of research – market research, if you will – about the viability of such an organization. I recalled a survey making its way around social media about the viability of a professional accessibility organization. Because I had already had a few conversations with Rob Sinclair several months before, I knew what the survey was hinting at. So, I was wrong to convey IAAP as being foisted on the accessibility field. They had done a fair amount of background work before moving forward with the organization

IAAP was formed with the purpose of creating certifications for industry

I have the impression that IAAP’s primary purpose for existing is to create certifications. My conversation with Sharon did not really change this view. Depending on your perspective, this is a good thing, anyway. My objection is really just that I feel that professional development should be the primary goal of an organization like IAAP, with a certification being the by-product of the professional development. The converse seems to be the case with IAAP.

That said, they do offer a lot of opportunities for learning about accessibility, such as webinars and an accessibility body of knowledge (which I first proposed in 2011)

IAAP certifications lack rigor

Early efforts at creating a certification left me with the impression that it was about as organized as the Keystone Kops. The initial list of committee members contained an inordinately high number of people who, despite their enthusiasm, had not earned my professional respect and had no professional history that involved creating a professional certification. As the committee has evolved, however, my concerns have been somewhat allayed, especially thanks to the involvement by Dr. Reed Castle. I’m hoping that IAAP can eventually become ANSI 17024 certified.

IAAP is clearly moving in the right direction here. At the moment, I still do not have much respect for their certifications. The accessibility community is very small. As a consequence, I’ve gotten to know a number of people listed as having IAAP’s WAS Certification. Many of the names on that list do not have what I would consider to be sufficient web development skill. Furthermore, these are people who will openly admit that they have no development skills. While they may know a fair amount about accessibility, the WAS is supposed to be IAAP’s hard certification. Based on who I see listed as having the cert, I do not view the WAS as representing the level of skill that IAAP thinks it does. As the owner of a company that offers accessibility products and services, I would not list a WAS certification as a desired characteristic for job candidates.

Certain companies appear to have undue influence over IAAP – especially training and certification

Only two companies are listed as authorized certification providers: Deque and Level Access. Paul Bohman of Deque is the certification chair. Only one of those authorized providers offers online certification prep. It is an obvious Conflict of Interest that the certification process is driven by the only authorized training provider and one of only two authorized in-person providers.

Sharon assured me that steps were being taken to eliminate this conflict of interest. This is encouraging, for sure.

Outcome

Overall, I left the discussion feeling enthusiastic. It appears that a lot of my negative view of IAAP was driven mostly by witnessing the growing pains of a new organization with lofty goals. I’m still not convinced all of the wrinkles have been ironed out, especially on the certification front, but I am convinced that our industry needs an organization like IAAP. Accessibility is too important and we need a way to grow the field and grow the skills of those who’ve chosen this field.

Is it time to get involved?

Fighting uphill battles has never really been my thing, nor has taking part in groups I can’t believe in. I avoided IAAP entirely because of this. My initial, highly critical and negative view of IAAP has eased quite a bit. But has it shifted enough to become involved? I hope so.

I’d like to see IAAP continue making improvements, especially in working toward ANSI 17024. I’d like to see a higher degree of transparency across the organization. I’d like to see more authorized certification prep providers. I’d like to see even more professional development resources and more outreach. All indications seem to suggest that progress is being made here.

Ultimately, an organization like IAAP lives and dies based on their ability to meet the expectations of the professionals they attempt to serve. Each person involved in the accessibility profession should consider joining and supporting the organization, with the caveat that you should also assertively let your expectations and desires known to its leadership.

Management: Avoid making this costly accessibility mistake

In a few months, I begin my 15th year doing accessibility work and my first year 100% self-employed. As I reflect on the path that brought me here, I’m reminded of so many people who work at accessibility consulting firms that had similar experiences.

In 2003-2004 I worked as E-Commerce Manager for NASA Federal Credit Union and became introduced to accessibility in rapid fashion. Prior to that time, I had cursory exposure to it hearing people like Patrick Lauke, David Dorward, and Mike Davies talk about accessibility on Usenet newsgroups. While accessibility was definitely something that made sense to me, I didn’t have any real exposure to users with disabilities until starting at NASA Federal Credit Union.

The credit union had two blind engineers who were members of the credit union. They were very assertive about contacting the credit union to discuss problems on the website and, as E-Commerce Manager, those calls went to me. Talking to real people impacted by accessibility problems solidified the importance of ensuring our online services were accessible. My existing interest in usability and accessibility intensified and I began evangelizing accessibility internally. For the most part I received mostly lip service.

My place in the org chart actually placed me within marketing (an interesting topic for another blog post) and my immediate superiors didn’t give a shit about accessibility. The people in IT didn’t really give a shit. The CEO didn’t give a shit. When I tried making accessibility a factor in purchasing 3rd party software, I was blown off. All of the accessibility “wins” were gained subversively. For instance, when someone complained that the HTML tables for loan rates were ugly, I took the opportunity to redesign them to not only be better looking but accessible. The same goes for forms, global template & navigation, etc. A microsite I designed for them won the CUES Diamond Award for E-Marketing. Still, online banking, statements, and many more things were still off limits.

One day, the CEO discovered an article about Usability in Credit Union Magazine by CUNA and asked the VP of Marketing “Why aren’t we doing this?”. And with that, the VP of marketing suddenly decided he gave a shit. After a short research project, I started seeking proposals from usability consultants to work with us to improve the site and our online services.

Along the way, I got to know Bill Killam of User-Centered Design. I was really drawn to his No BS sales approach and actual desire to help. Somehow, during our conversations, he communicated that he needed some web development help – part time, something I could do on the side. Very quickly, however, he had enough work come in for web development that he needed full-time help. Here was a guy who cared about users, had cool work to do, and wouldn’t argue about accessibility. My situation was the exact opposite at the credit union. I jumped at the chance and my life was changed forever.

Though the details will differ, the story is largely the same for a ton of people at accessibility consulting firms. People like Glenda Sims, Elle Waters, Marcy Sutton, Dennis Deacon, Billy Gregory, John Foliot, and many more who are at the big accessibility consulting firms were first working in accessibility elsewhere. While I can’t speak for the above list, I can say that there’s a definite theme to why they chose to work for an accessibility consulting firm.

Avoid losing valuable expertise

Turnover in professional environments is costly – ” the cost of employee turnover to for-profit organizations has been estimated to be between 30% (the figure used by the American Management Association) to upwards of 150% of the employees’ remuneration package”. For this reason alone you should seek to retain your accessibility resources. But there’s so much more.

Accessibility is a niche field. Expertise in accessibility is hard to find. Nobody teaches it in school and virtually all professional development efforts in this area are relatively recent. Mentorship programs don’t exist, and almost everyone involved in accessibility are self-taught. The challenges that these factors pose are a discussion for another time, but what this means is that if you have someone on staff who cares about and is already knowledgeable about accessibility, you need to keep them.

You need this person. There was once a time where there was a predictable way to determine your risk of a lawsuit oriented around your industry and your organization’s size. Since 2015 however, the discussion is no longer about “if” you get sued, but “when”. Whether or not you agree with it, advocates for the disabled are tired of waiting for organizations to make their websites accessible and are now sending out legal demand letters en masse and filing tons of lawsuits to all sorts of organizations, large and small. Your internal accessibility advocate can help you avoid getting sued (if you listen to them) and will definitely be important if you do. A number of the reasons people get sued, and several requirements called for in settlements are directly related to the type of work performed by your internal accessibility SME. If your existing accessibility SME leaves, you’ll need to hire one.

There’s really only one logical choice you can make when it comes to any internal accessibility advocates you may have: keep them happy. Foster their personal and professional growth. Support them. Give them a real voice and listen to them. Take them seriously. Let them mentor others who also care about accessibility. You will need them someday.

Applying Utilitarianism

The greatest happiness of the greatest number is what Jeremy Bentham stated as the goal of Utilitarianism. But this isn’t to say that our goal is simple “pleasure”. John Stuart Mill, for instance, differentiated between “higher pleasures”, which are intellectual and moral, and “lower pleasures”, which are purely physical. In my view, it also implies reducing pain. Maximizing happiness must include diminishing misery, especially if we’re focused on achieving long-term outcomes. Sadly, our nation seems to prioritize punishment – applying more misery – to situations where eliminating misery needs higher priority.

Almost a decade ago, I came home to find a burglar in my home. I had left my house to go to the eye doctor and apparently my burglar and his friends saw this as an opportunity to break in and steal stuff. Unfortunately for them, I had to turn around to get something I had left at home. When I got to the house I noticed their “getaway” car speed away, but thought nothing of it. I stumbled into the burglar as I was entering my office. He was walking out with my laptop and a pile of other stuff in his hands. Both of us caught by surprise, I punched him in the face as he ran past me. In less than an hour, both the burglar and his accomplices had been caught by the police.

I’ll admit: punching this guy felt great. I wanted to do it more. He had violated my home. He had tried to steal my wife’s jewelry box, which included sentimental things she received from her grandmother. But that would have satisfied only my own baser instincts for revenge. Make no mistake: I would have felt good about punching him – justified, even. But there’s no justice to be found in revenge.

The truth is, this burglar was a drug addict. Later, we learned that he and his pals had broken into several other houses in the area. The getaway car they were driving was registered to the burglar’s mother. This guy and his pals were drug addicts, paying for their habits by stealing stuff and selling it on the street or pawn shops.

Having your house broken into is, in a word: weird. It is unsettling. I’m 6ft and over 200lbs. I’m generally not afraid of much, but for the next 2 weeks even I was checking and double-checking the locks on my doors. Had they actually gotten away with the stuff they wanted to steal, my wife would’ve lost several things that had meaning to her. I would’ve lost 2 guns and ammunition (they were in a pile he had place by the door) and, even though they had trigger locks, I’d live every day terrified that my guns would make their way into the hands of even worse people than our burglar.

So here’s our situation: Burglar and his two accomplices are drug addicts who steal stuff from other people to pay for drugs. It is easy to simply regard drug addicts as losers. I had a lot of experience with drug users and addicts in my youth and there is a lot of truth to labelling people that way. But this is oversimplifying the issue. Once an addict has reached a point in their addiction that they’re breaking into houses, they’re now increasing the level of misery in the world.

Where is “justice” in this situation? How do we drive public policy from this? What do we do to maximize happiness and minimize misery here? This is where our Justice system fails not just the “bad guys” but the “good guys” as well. Justice isn’t measured by the proportion of retaliation applied. Retaliation causes more misery. Justice should be measured by the amount of misery we avoid or cease from occurring.

In other words, our goals should be to ensure that this sort of thing stops happening. We should reduce the likelihood that people’s stuff gets stolen, and to do that, we need to find the cause. Why was this guy going around breaking into houses and stealing stuff? Because the drug addict needed to pay for their habit. His drug addiction caused him enough misery that he had to steal to support the habit. His stealing increased the misery of his victims. Indeed there’s a ripple effect to addiction that sows the seeds of misery all around. The addict’s very existence is a net negative to society.

To stop this cycle of misery, you can’t just grab addicts and toss them in jail. You need to stop the addiction. No other option really exists. You can’t make the black market drugs more affordable. You can’t shake your fingers at the addict to tell them to stop it. You can’t really do anything that would be effective or just other than to stop the addiction. Merely sentencing people to jail just doesn’t work. Putting them on parole and making them pee in a cup periodically – expecting them to sort out their own habit – won’t help. The only thing that will help is taking targetted action that stops the addiction and keeps it stopped.

Addiction – as I understand it – is horrible. Getting off the drugs is hard enough, but staying off is also a constant struggle. Speaking merely as an ex-smoker, it was around 3-4 years before I was 100% able to fully reject the thought of picking up a cigarette, and even if I had one right now I’d be right back at it – and cigarettes are nothing compared to heroin or methamphetamine. Relapse happens and as a country, we’re doing nothing to stop it.

The real answer to this challenge is to provide services that help eliminate the causes for crime. In the case of an addict stealing to maintain their habit, the real answer is to provide ongoing drug treatment. To conservatives, this might seem like a waste of money, but drug addiction treatment is actually cheaper than throwing people in jail. While conservatives might say “I don’t want to pay for those losers to get drug treatment”, all of the other possible options cost taxpayers more and do nothing to stop misery. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the average cost for one year of methadone maintenance treatment is approximately $4,700 per person. Compare that to one year of imprisonment, which is estimated to cost about $18,400. This alone makes “Get tough” policies on drug crime bad policy no matter whether you’re liberal or conservative. After all, if conservatives want to stop wasting tax money, clearly the better answer is the one that costs taxpayers less.

In applying Utilitarianism we need to make decisions based on a holistic view of the happiness gained and misery ended/ averted and should do so with a strong preference to the “higher pleasures” and longer-term happiness. Complex problems rarely have simple solutions, and this one is no different. Our first goal, in the case of drug addiction, should be to avoid addiction in the first place. This requires a mix of law enforcement, social outreach, and education up front. As well as treatment for addicts even before they commit crimes. Simplistic and emotionally-driven negative reactions to such progressive ideas fail to consider the overall cost to taxpayers and quality of life.

This example is but one in which Utilitarianism helps lead us to a policy path that will most effectively improve society, free of ideological dogmas. By seeking to address the root cause of challenges in our society – and choosing the path that eliminates the greatest pain across the whole of society, we can improve the quality of life for all citizens equitably without irrational dogmas.

Facts have no political affiliation

On Tuesday November 8th, I was in Amsterdam with Job van Achterberg. I did a presentation for Fronteers monthly meetup. The organizers of Fronteers had set Job and I up in a fantastic venue to do a couple of accessibility talks. It was a TV studio that also had a bar. Fronteers brought in food and I met – and reconnected with – a ton of awesome people in the Amsterdam developer scene. The prior day, we did talks in Berlin at the Contentful offices. After the Fronteers event, we ran into Yoav Weiss and Jason Grigsby, both of whom were in town for a different event. Being election night in the US, naturally the topic turned to politics.

Whenever a political conversation starts, people generally dance around their real feelings. They tend to feel each other out to ensure that the conversation doesn’t turn into an argument. In this case, it didn’t take very long for it to become clear that nobody involved in the conversation wanted Donald Trump to become elected. Grigsby seemed clearly pro-Hillary whereas I viewed her as my 2nd choice after Bernie Sanders. Either way, Trump was an unacceptable candidate to everyone in the conversation.

After a few drinks, I went to my room. Because Amsterdam is 6 hours ahead of the US East Coast, by the time I went to bed it was still too early to see any results from the US election. Regardless, I was convinced we’d have our first female President of the United States. There was no "hope" about it at this point. In my mind there was no way the United States would elect Trump, so all I was waiting for was confirmation. The election would be over and we could close off the chaos of 2016 with the positive vibes from averting a disaster.

Around 3am I was awakened by the buzz of my iPhone vibrating on the nightstand. I had a volley of text messages from my wife, telling me that Trump was winning. "Whatever", I wrote back, "West coast hasn’t closed yet", and I went back to sleep. I woke up at 6am. “I am so sorry dude. Take your time if you need to. I can’t imagine how this must feel” was the text message I got from Job. My stomach sank. I looked at the news on my phone. Trump won. What-the-fuck?

Everything was a fog that morning. We were supposed to go to Dusseldorf that morning after breakfast. I was doing a new talk, but now my brain was filled with fear and uncertainty. I took my morning shower, got dressed, and met Job for breakfast. It all felt like my morning routine lasted both one minute and a year at the same time. How did we get here? How did my fellow Americans get this so wrong? When will the re-count start?

Donald Trump was a joke candidate. I half suspected he was planted by the Clinton campaign to ensure Hillary got elected. Trump had spent the last 7 years leading the Birther movement. He literally mocked a disabled reporter on TV. He was caught on tape saying that when you’re rich you can grab women "by the pussy" and "they like it". His speeches had the cohesiveness and logical consistency of the drunk bar regular who everyone tolerates – even mocks – when he gets trashed and talks about the latest alien conspiracy. I was relieved when Trump got the GOP nomination over someone like Marco Rubio – an attractive, young, white male who tows the GOP party line. I was convinced that Trump was so absolutely repulsive that there is no way he’d have a chance of winning. Trump is more like a caricature of the GOP. He’s the prototype for everything worth mocking about the uninformed, ignorant, fact-averse, dogmatic, and hateful GOP voter. He’s the type of guy the GOP has been exploiting due to their ignorance. Despite the way he wants to present himself, he’s not the kind of person who is a Puppet Master but one of the puppets. How could anyone actually vote for Trump?

It is 9 months later and I still don’t know. Pundits offer plenty of analysis, but none of it really adds up. The GOP has been in a continuous detachment from logic for decades now, but as a progressive the gap between George W. Bush and Donald Trump is a chasm. In the 2000 election, I felt the difference between Gore and Bush was a philosophical one. For the most part, Gore was left-of-center and Bush was right-of-center – both of whom moved to the center to gain votes but neither could have qualified as extreme at any point. The Reagan era really signaled the beginning of the trend, however, of Republicans embracing extreme social elements we see so clearly today. Bush Sr. was worse than Reagan, Bush Jr. was worse than Sr., Romney worse than both, but none of them could be considered “scary”. None of them seemed detached from reality. All of them seemed driven to push the country to the right as much as they could while also aware that they needed to ensure well-being of their party, protect their chances (and the chances of their party members) for re-election. They cared and were mindful of the pressures they faced from the left. They clearly had their own agendas, but wanted to carefully steer their agendas. The real goal of the GOP has been to lower barriers to profitability for the rich. The benefactors of the GOP agenda are people whose incomes are measured within quarterly financial reports. Regulations and taxes are barriers to short-term corporate profits. The "party elite" of the GOP still operate this way and the far-right elements of the GOP were viewed as nothing more than useful idiots. They’re loyal, but idiots nonetheless, and the GOP leadership appease these idiots simply to retain their loyaly.

In this context, Donald Trump can be viewed in one of two ways: As either Idiot-in-Chief or Exploiter-in-Chief. He’s either the Pied Piper of the extreme wing of the GOP – a master conman, embracing and exploiting these useful idiots – or he’s such an idiot himself that they’re just naturally drawn to him. In the former case, we can regard Trump as an evil genius. In the latter case, we’re faced with the fear and uncertainty of dealing with a profoundly stupid man at the helm of the most powerful nation on earth. Unfortunately, we have Hanlon’s Razor to contend with: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity..

We must remember, this is a man who spent the entire Obama presidency trying to convince everyone that Obama was not born in the United States. Trump even continued this campaign of birtherism after Obama released his actual birth certificate. Even if Trump is evil, he’s still stupid enough to think that he could continue this type of shenanigan and be taken seriously by others. Evil and stupid are a horrible combination. And this takes me to the actual point of this blog post.

Voters have a moral obligation to make their voting decision based on facts

My friends on Facebook, where I’m truly unrestrained in my political expressions, know that I did not want to vote for Hillary Clinton. To this day I maintain that Bernie Sanders was the best option of all candidates of both parties. I voted for Hillary in the general election because she was objectively the best candidate of the two that remained.

Our political discourse in the United States is dominated heated discussion around lightning-rod topics like abortion and climate change. Left-wing conspiracy theorists claim that this is all carefully curated to keep “us” fighting with each other so that we remain distracted enough that “they” can continue with their own agendas. Regardless of whether or not that is true, it sure seems like the media has taken the bait, with Fox News and MSNBC leading the charge on behalf of the Right and the Left and freely giving airtime to pundits who continue to drive that wedge.

The true failure however, rests in the hands of the individual. American society has abandoned its ability to think critically. Never in our history have we had such the facts necessary to make informed decisions. Despite this access to information, we still seem just as uninformed as we were generations ago. The typical American has direct access to the entirety of human knowledge via the Web. Each of us can take the time to pause for a moment and verify the claims that politicians, pundits, and peers make (and repeat) during political discussions. Despite this, we still have partisans spreading lies and the public believing and repeating these lies instead of shunning these purveyors of deception.

Here’s one such example:

This sort of statement is unquestionably false, and the evidence of its falseness can be found in any history book in any secondary school in any district in the United States. The Confederate States of America seceded from the United States. Each seceding state produced their own Declaration of Causes or Articles of Secession citing their reasons for leaving the United States. Those conspiracy theorists who do not believe books can even read those original documents from the southern states themselves. At any rate, by definition secession means that these States were no longer part of the United States of America. General Robert E. Lee was commander of their armies during a war that they waged against the United States of America. Put bluntly: while Robert E. Lee was an American before the secession and he was very obviously stopped being one when he became an enemy combatant against the US. He didn’t fight against "The North", he fought against the United States of America.

After the war, many Confederate leaders were charged with treason against the United States. A large reason that many of the leaders of the Confederacy weren’t tried and hanged was due to the very gracious amnesty granted by Johnson in an attempt to reunify the country and bring peace. This does not mean they were not punished. Robert E. Lee lost his right to vote and lost property. In fact, Arlington National Cemetery exists on land seized from Robert E. Lee. The statement made by Walsh, above, isn’t merely incorrect but a blatant lie.

Our current political atmosphere is polluted by liars and deniers using falsehoods to trick other people into falling in line based on raw emotion and blind allegiances that are constantly bolstered by more and more lies. Facts exist outside of one’s political affiliation. A thing is either true or false regardless of how you feel about it. Emotions and ideals cannot influence whether a statement is accurate. It is nothing short of evil to knowingly bear false witness to reality or to deny truth in order to attain one’s goals. The same can be said for those who believe and repeat those falsehoods instead of verifying counterclaims.

Lying to the American public should be exposed aggressively, regardless of the political affiliation of the liar. Liars should be exposed, ridiculed, and shunned. Compulsive liars should not be given airtime on news channels unless the aim is to expose the liar, and the public should just liars harshly even if the lies fit into our political ideals.

…It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. — Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863

In my opinion we will never be a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" if we allow politicians and pundits to lie to the people.