Is Accessibility 2.0 Becoming Mainstream?
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 1 May 2008
In May 2007 I presented a paper entitled “Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes” at the W4A 2007 conference. This paper reflected discussions which took place at a professional forum on “Accessibility 2.0: A Holistic And User-Centred Approach To Web Accessibility” which took place at the Museums and the Web 2007 conference.
Yesterday Frankie Roberto, a Web developer at the Science Museum, emailed me with details of a recent conference entitled “Accessibility 2.0: a million flowers bloom“. Now the use of the 2.0 meme to refer to a renewed and user-focussed approach is nothing new, so we shouldn’t be surprised at seeing the ‘Accessibility 2.0′ term being coined by independent bodies. But what was pleased was to see that the ideas and approaches which Lawrie Phipps and myself first described in a paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” back in 2004 being reflected by those more directly involved in accessibility support and advocacy.
The Accessibility 2.0 conference was described as “the first ever conference focussing on web accessibility in a Web 2.0 world. By Web 2.0 we mean rich web applications which allow users to create content by writing blogs, uploading videos or commenting on other user’ content and creating networks.“. The conference Web site went on to say that “The title of the conference was inspired by T.V. Raman, a Google Research Scientist, to describe the current wave of creativity and innovation brought about by the development of web applications“.
The introduction to the conference was given by Robin Christopherson of AbilityNet. I’ve met Robin on a number of occasions and Robin participated at the Accessibility Summit II hosted by the JISC TechDis service for which I was one of the event co-facilitators and speakers. A report on the meeting was published in the E-Government Bulletin. The participants at the meeting “call[ed] for change in the way web accessibility is advocated particularly in local and central government, education and the museum and cultural sectors.“ Although we have not managed to organise a follow-up meeting, I feel the “Accessibility 2.0: a million flowers bloom” conference has reflected the views and approaches expressed at the summit and brought those ideas out to a wider community.
The blog post about the conference which Frankie referred me to was entitled “Open Data“. In the blog post, written by Jeremy Keith, a Web developer living and working in Brighton, England, Jeremy expands on the talk he gave at the conference. Jeremy drew parallels with approaches which can address long term access to resources. He commented “Open formats are better than closed formats” whilst acknowledging that the ”terms “open” and “closed” are fairly nebulous“. Jeremy went even further by admitting that “Standardization doesn’t necessarily lead to qualitatively better formats. Quite the opposite in fact. The standardization process, by its very nature, involves compromise“. He goes on to support the simplicity of HTML, but, in response to the diversity provided by a Web 2.0 environment “instead of battling against the anarchic nature of the Web, go with it” and “embrace flexibility in your attitude towards accessibility“.
Jeremy argues that in today’s Web 2.0 world, users are now making use of publishing services (he himself mentions Flickr, Twitter, Pownce and Magnolia). In a world in which users may read and write in equal measures “accessibility guidelines that deal with Web content just don’t cut it any more“.
I very much welcome this contribution to the debate and, indeed, the image of Accessibility 2.0 reflecting a renewed approach to accessibility in which we encourage ‘a million flowers to bloom’. And it’s great to see this approach being advocated by those actively involved in the accessibility arena, such as organisations like Abilitynet, which hosted the conference. But how, I wonder, should we address the conservatism we’re likely to face within the institutions which have adopted an approach to Web accessibility which is based on simple conformance with checklists which simply cover the Web content? And what about the Web developers and content creators who, possibly for a period of almost 10 years, have prided themselves on implementing such guidelines? How should we change this culture?