Ethical Considerations in Web-Site Design: Developing a Graphical Metric

Bill McDaniel and Pat McGrew


“(we should do) good, not from inclination, but from duty.” from Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.” Immanuel Kant

Kant’s belief that duty and respect should be the basis for interacting with our fellow humans forms the basis for many discussions as new technologies emerge. Each new technology that changes the type of information that is available and how it can be accessed opens up the need to review that technology in light of how the information is gathered, protected, and made presented. One technology that presents a variety of challenges worthy of this discussion is the World Wide Web and its supporting technologies. The Web has been more quickly integrated into business, academic, and personal life than any technology that has come before it, and yet it was not until long after its original deployment that discussion regarding accessibility issues began.

With the proposal and adoption of Web Accessibility initiatives around the world, it is time to carefully review the perceived ethical obligations to make websites “accessible” to the handicapped. This approach to web site design, while honorable, may not be realistic for certain types of sites and for users with certain types of handicaps. Using the Kantian view of duty and respect and Rawls’ Ethics of Justice as the basis, certain criteria may be derived for evaluating the ethical responsibilities of web site designers and of web site users. These can be expressed as vectors on a planar graph, the size and direction of the vector providing information about ethical choices made by both the designer and the user.

This paper examines the accommodations both designers and users must make. In the process we develop and present a two dimensional plane of practicality vs. ethicality with our newly developed accommodation vectors as they apply to a variety of web design techniques and web deployment technologies.