Are You Able?
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 17 February 2009
There were two invited keynote speakers who travelled from Europe to speak at the OzeWAI 2009 conference. As well as my talk (which I described recently ) Dr. Eva M. Méndez (an Associate Professor in the Library and Information Science Department at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and not the American actor!) gave a talk entitled “I say accessibility when I want to say availability: misunderstandings of the accessibility in the other part of the world (EU and Spain)“.
Eva’s research focuses on metadata and web standards, digital information systems and services, accessibility and Semantic Web. She has also served as an independent expert in the evaluation and review of European projects since 2006, both for the eContentPlus program and the ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) program and her talk was informed by her knowledge of the inner working of such development programmes funded by the EU.
Her talk explored the ways in which well-meaning policies may be agreed with the EU, although such policies may be misinterpreted or misunderstand and fail to be implemented, even by the EU itself.
I don’t have access to Eva’s slides, so I will give my own interpretation of Eva’s talk.
We might expect the EU to support the development of a networked environment across EU countries across a range of areas. These areas might include:
Available: Have resources been digitised? Are they available via the Web?
Reusable: Are the resources available for use by others? Or they it trapped within a Web environment which makes reuse by others difficult?
Findable: Can the resources be easily found? Have SEO techniques been applied to allow the resource to be indexed by search engines such Google?
Exploitable: Are the resources available for others to reuse through, for example, use of Creative Commons licences?
Usable: Are the resources available in a usable environment?
Accessible: Are the resources accessible to people with disabilities?
Preservable: Can the resources be preserved for use by future generations?
Since the acronym ARFEUAP isn’t particularly memorable (and ARE-U-API would be too contrived) we might describe this as the Able approach to digitisation. But there is 0ne additional concept which I feel also needs to be included:
Feasible: Are the policies which are proposed (or perhaps mandated) feasible (or achievable)? We might ask are they actually possible (can we make all resources universally accessible to all?) and can they be achieved with available budgets and with the standards and technologies which are currently available?
There is, of course, a question which tends to be forgotten question: is the proposed service of interest to people and will it be used?
The worrying aspect of Eva’s talk was that the EU don’t appear to be asking such questions – or even used the same vocabulary. We need to have the bigger picture in order to address tensions between these different areas and the question (and power struggles) of how we prioritise achieving best practices – for example, should we be digitizing resources, even if we can’t make them accessible; should we regard access by people with disabilities as being of importance than ensuring the resources can be preserved? And let’s not fudge the issue by suggested that each is equally important and all can be achieved by use of open standards. That simply isn’t the case – and if you doubt this, ask managers of institutional repositories. They will probably say that they are addressing the available, reusable, findable, preservable and, perhaps, exploitable issues, but I suspect that the repository managers would probably admit that many of the PDFs in the repositories will not be accessible.