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Archive for the ‘Accessibility’ Category

Building an Accessible Digital Institution: the Next Steps

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 July 2014

Building an Accessible Digital Institution

A few weeks ago at the Cetis 2014 conference on Building the Digital Institution I facilitated a workshop session on Building an Accessible Digital Institution. The abstract for the session described how:

A digital institution should ensure that it supports the needs of students with disabilities. But how should we go about building an accessible digital institution? This session will review the strengths and weaknesses of internationally agreed approaches such as WAI’s WCAG guidelines, explore how the BS 8878 Web Accessibility Code of practice may address limitations of the WAI approach and see how BS 8878 may be applied in a learning context.

However the numbers attending the session were low. What is the reason for the apparent lack of interest in accessibility of digital resources?

What is the reason for the apparent lack of interest in accessibility of digital resources?

It may be that universities feel they’ve ‘solved’ accessibility by asking their staff to ensure that content conforms with WCAG guidelines. However, a quick look at the accessibility of many university’s websites is sufficient to indicate that this ‘solution’ hasn’t had the desired effect, which is why I feel it’s important to consider how the BS 8878 code of practice can help to document achievable and realistic ways of enhancing the accessibility of institutional web resources.

And perhaps, since the threat of legal action and fines for organisations whose Web content is not accessible seems to have disappeared, there is less of an interest in this area.

If that is the case, a new driver is about to arrive, which is likely to result in institutions needing to change their approaches to accessibility – the proposed cuts next year to the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).

Cuts to the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA)

As described by Sarah Lewthwaite in a recent Guardian article entitled “Cuts to grant funding for disabled students will put their studies at risk” the proposed cuts to the Disabled Students’ Allowances in 2015 “may lead to higher drop-out rates, lower grades and students struggling without support“. The article goes on to describe how:

Under the banner of modernisation, David Willetts has announced measures to cut Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) from September 2015 – grants offered to disabled students to support their studies. Without this funding – a vital support mechanism in recruitment – higher education will no longer be viable for some. For others, cuts will mean persevering without necessary support, leading to higher drop-out rates,dissatisfaction and lower educational attainment.

The article also asks Is disability in higher education being redefined? and points out that:

Proposed changes to DSA funding may fundamentally redefine disability in higher education. Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs), such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADD/ADHD, have been singled out for the largest cuts, and there is a real danger that their needs become invisible.

Shortly after the announcement of the cuts was made there was an announcement of a campaign urging all UK political parties to add digital accessibility pledges to their 2015 election manifestos. The petition begins:

We, the signatories of this petition, hereby urge every UK political party to show commitment to building an inclusive society in which all persons can participate without loss of dignity, including older persons, and persons regarded as having disabilities of any kind, independently of ability or skill, creed, race, gender, sexuality or other characteristic or preference.

A follow-up article, Funding cuts to disabled students will hit some universities hard, provides evidence of the likely impact of the cuts:

These cuts, estimated at nearly 70% of the total DSAs budget, will put the studies of disabled students at risk. DSAs currently support 53,000 disabled students, paying for assistive technologies, non-medical assistance and other costs incurred by studying with a disability.

It may be that we will see renewed interest in accessibility issues. But beyond signing a petition what else can be done?

Next Steps

BS 8878

Image from Hassell Inclusion blog – see http://www.hassellinclusion.com/bs8878/

At the IWMW 2013 event held at the University of Bath a year ago Jonathan Hassell gave a plenary talk entitled “Stop Trying to Avoid Losing and Start Winning: How BS 8878 Reframes the Accessibility Question“. At the end of the talk a show of hands showed that there was significant interest in a dedicated event which explored how BS 8878 could be applied in a university context, in particular how it could be used not only to support the provision of accessible informal resources but also in teaching and learning and research contexts.

The announcement to the cuts in the DSA is likely to result in renewed interest in institutional approaches to the provision of accessible web services. Although the numbers attending the Cetis accessibility workshop were low I did receive encouragement to revive Cetis’s work in this area, which had previously been addressed by the Cetis Accessibility SIG. I’m also pleased to say that following discussions with Sarah Lewthwaite (a disability researcher based in London) and Jonathan Hassell (lead author of the BS 8878 code of practice) we have agreed to explore the possibility of further work in this area including running an event of the applicability of BS 8878 in an educational context.

If you’re interested in how the forthcoming DSA changes may impact you, and would like to know how you can respond to the changes in a strategic way, please get in touch and we’ll send you information as it becomes available.

 

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Accessibility for E-learning: What We Can do Today and in the Future

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 May 2014

The Cetis 2014 Conference: Building the Digital Institution

The theme for the Cetis 2014 conference is “Building the Digital Institution“. As described in the conference abstract:

Each year the Cetis conference provides a unique opportunity for developers, learning technologists, lectures and policy makers to come together to discuss recent innovations in the domain of education technology. This year’s conference focuses on the digital institution and explores how technology innovation can support and develop every aspect of university and college life, for teachers and learners, researchers and developers, service directors and senior managers.

The conference will open with a keynote talk from Phil Richards, the Jisc Chief Innovation Officer. The closing talk will be given by Audrey Watters, a Technology Journalist. If you’d like to hear more about Audrey’s talk a 60 second interview ahead of #cetis14 has been published on the Cetis blog.

Parallel Session: Building an Accessible Digital Institution

Abstract for the accessibility session at Cetis conference. Full details at http://www.cetis.ac.uk/2014-cetis-conference/building-accessible-digital-institution/ Although the two plenary talks will provide a shared context for participants at the conference the most important aspect of Cetis conferences has always been the parallel workshop sessions.

One important aspect to consider when looking to build the digital institution is to ensure that the digital institution is an accessible institution.

In the early days of the development of Web-based learning environments the Web accessibility content guidelines (WCAG) developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) were felt to provide a framework for the creation of universally accessible Web resources and services.

However we now know that the development of accessible Web services is more complex than simply following a set of guidelines. As summarised in the abstract of a paper on “A challenge to web accessibility metrics and guidelines: putting people and processes first

This paper argues that web accessibility is not an intrinsic characteristic of a digital resource but is determined by complex political, social and other contextual factors, as well as technical aspects which are the focus of WAI standardisation activities. It can therefore be inappropriate to develop legislation or focus on metrics only associated with properties of the resource.

But if institutions need to look before WCAG guidelines, what should they be doing? In the parallel session on Building an Accessible Digital Institution myself and Andy Heath will try to provide answers to this question.

In the first half of the half-day session we will review the limitations of the WCAG approach and describe how the BS 8878 standard, with its focus on policies and processes, seeks to address these limitations. We will explore how BS 8878 can be used in the context of e-learning.

In the second half of the session we will look at new developments, models and ways of thinking about accessibility.

We will welcome brief case studies from participants at the session who may be working in this area.  Please get in touch if you would like to contribute.

Note that registration details for the Cetis conference are available on the Cetis web site.


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Video is now a ‘must have’ in Higher Education – but what are the implications for accessibility?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 April 2014

” Video is now a ‘must have’ in Higher Education”

Video is a 'must have' in HEA recent  tweet from @OpenEduEU (described as ‘Open Education Europa portal is the gateway to European innovative learning’) caught my attention:

RT @RECall_LLP: Video now a ‘must have’ in Higher Education? Report by @Kaltura ow.ly/vQeFk #lecturecapture #elearning #edtech

The article was based on a survey which received 550 responses. The respondents were drawn from IT, digital media, instructional design, senior administration and faculty departments of K12 and HE worldwide who completed an online surveyed between January and March 2014.

Is seems that this is broad agreement that “video has a significantly positive impact on all aspects of the student lifecycle, from attracting and retaining students to enhancing learning, boosting learning outcomes and building stronger alumni relations“.

Note that the full report can be downloaded after completing a registration form.

It should be noted that the report has been published by a company called Kaltura which describes itself as “The leading video platform: video solutions, software and services for video publishing, management, syndication and monetization“. A cynic might suggest that the company has a vested interest in commissioning a survey which show significant interest in use of video in higher education. I feel that the implications of the survey findings are worth considering but it would be helpful to have evidence of the popularity of video usage in the UK higher education sector.

YouTube Use in Selected UK Higher Education Institutions

Back in October 2010 in a post entitled How is the UK HE Sector Using YouTube? I explained how “It can be useful for the higher education sector to be able to identify institutional adoption of new services at an early stage so that institutions across the sector are aware of trends and can develop plans to exploit new dissemination channels once the benefits have been demonstrated“.

The post provided benchmark details on YouTube usage statistics for what appeared to be 15 official UK institutional YouTube channels which were easily identifiable at the time, together with details for the University of Bath and the Open University.

A comparison of the usage statistics recorded in the initial survey with the current findings is given in Table 1.

Table 1: Growth of YouTube Usage Across Selected Official UK Universities from October 2010 to April 2014
Institution Total Nos. of Views No. of Subscribers
Oct 2010 Apr 2014 %age
change
Oct
2010
Apr
2014
%age
change
1 Adam Smith College  25,606 1,063,820  4,055% 39 1,758 4,408%
2 Cambridge University 1,189,778 7,200,870  505%  6,921  37,030  435%
3 Coventry University 1,039,817  2,904,121  179%  1,147  3,668 220%
4 Cranfield School of Management      20,607  459,196  2,128%      82  1,502  1,732%
5 Edinburgh University    236,884 1,759,174  643%  1,280  9,338 630%
6 Imperial College    353,355 2,682,861  659%     859  8,131  847%
7 LSBF (London School of
Business and Finance)
     96,212  676,297  603%     244  2,778  1,039%
8 Leeds Metropolitan University    589,659 1,675,534  184%     512  2,465  381%
9 Nottingham University    284,820 2,151,187  655%     596  7,038  1,081%
10 The Open University    392,720    872,706  122%  2,944  16,562  463%
11 Said Business School,
University of Oxford
   660,541  1,545,331  134%  1,808  6,598 265%
 12 St George’s, University of London    338,276  1,209,538   258%     825  2,650      221%
 13 UCL    287,198 1,491,114  419%     810  5,718  606%
 14 University of Derby    117,906  758,874  544%     106  1,144 979%
15 University of Warwick     90,608 439,492   385%     276  1,520 451%
TOTALS  5,722,987 26,890,115    370%  18,449  107,900 485%

The survey carried out in October 2010 also provided statistics for additional UK University YouTube accounts which were found. A comparison with the current findings is given in Table 2.

Table 2: Growth of YouTube Usage Across Selected UK Universities from October 2010 to April 2014
Institution Total Nos. of Views No. of Subscribers
Oct 2010 Apr 2014 %age
change
Oct
2010
Apr
2014
%age
change
1 University of Bristol     18,171     56,651     212%     27      83     207%
2 Coventry University (CovStudent) 1,036,671 2,904,121     181% 1,139 3,668     222%
3 RHULLibrary       3,847      8,000     108%     10      27    170%
4 Aston University      (89,080)      -  -  (132)  -   -
5 UoL International Programmes 74,017 1,522,574  1,957% 499 5,640 1,030%
6 University of Greenwich          9,254     388,501   4,098%      19    712   3,647%
7 Northumbriauni          6,226     389,268   6,104%      23    412   1,691%
8 Huddersfield University International study 24,195 76,373     216% 22 111 405%
9 The University of Leicester 246,986 2,304,959 833% 320 5,019 1,468%
10 University of Kent 26,996 178,207 560% 102 935 817%
11 Canterbury Christ Church University 25,439 60,755 139% 36 244 578%
 12 Open University     391,625    872,706   139% 2,936 16,557      464%
 13 University of Bath 252,850 675,769   167% 93 1,196 1,186%
TOTALS 2,116,277 9,438,244  346%  5,226  34,604 562%

Note that the channel for Aston University from the initial survey no longer exists. In order to provide comparable statistics the data from the initial survey has been omitted. Also note that the data in the tables was collected on 7 October 2010 and 20 April 2014.

Reflections

The tables provide evidence of the, perhaps unsurprising, popularity of video usage in the UK higher education sector.

It should be pointed out that this information is based solely on use of YouTube. Institutions are likely to make use of a number of other video delivery services (the University of Leeds, for example, has an official YouTube channel which has 246,989 views and 949 subscribers and also a Lutube video service which currently hosts 3,447 public videos, although no download statistics appear to be available). Based on the sample evidence it would appear that we can agree with the statement “Video is now a ‘must have’ in Higher Education“.

This will have many implications for the sector including the question of what video management and delivery tools should be used. But in this post I wish to focus on the accessibility implications of greater use of video resources.

Accessibility Considerations

Institutional Accessibility Policy Statements

In a recent webinar on ‘MOOCs and Inclusive Practice’  I gave a brief presentation on Accessibility, Inclusivity and MOOCs: What Can BS 8878 Offer?.

University accessibility statementIn the presentation I suggested that institutional accessibility policy statements were likely to be based on WCAG conformance. A quick search for accessibility policies available at http:///foo.ac.uk/accessibility helped me to identify two ways in which WCAG policies are used:

  1. The University is committed to ensuring the all web pages are compliant with WCAG guidelines
  2. The University will seek to ensure the all web pages are compliant with WCAG guidelines

But are policy statements such as (1) achievable in an environment in which significant use is made of video resources? Will all video resources used on institutional web sites be captioned? In light of the greater use of video resources, it would appear to be timely to revisit accessibility statements – it should be noted, for example, that according to the Internet Archive the policy statement shown above is unchanged since at least September 2009.

But would a policy statement of the type shown in (2) be appropriate? Such statement do appear to be very vague. Are there not alternatives between these two extremes?

The Potential for BS 8878

In  my presentation on Accessibility, Inclusivity and MOOCs: What Can BS 8878 Offer? (which is available on Slideshare and embedded below) I suggested that the sector should explore the relevance of BS 8878 Web Accessibility Code of Practice, a British Standard which provides a framework in which appropriate policies can be determined for use in the development and deployment of Web products.

Due to the lack of time during the webinar it was not possible to discuss the details of how BS 8878 could be used in an elearning context. However at the Cetis 2014 conference on Building the Digital Institution I will be co-facilitating with Andy Heath  a session which will address the challenge of Building an Accessible Digital Institution. In this session we will “explore how the BS 8878 Web Accessibility Code of practice may address limitations of the WAI approach and see how BS 8878 may be applied in a learning context” and go on to “explore emerging emerging models of accessibility and developing architectures and technical standards“.

Note that the early bird rate (£100 for the 2-day event) for the conference is available until 1 May. I hope that those who have an interest in accessibility for elearning, as well as in the broad range of learning issues which will be addressed at the conference, will consider attending the event.  In the meantime I’d be interested to hear what your current policies and practices are for the accessibility of your elearning resources and, in particular, whether your practices reflect the policies. Feel free to leave a comment on this post.


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Accessibility is Primarily About People and Processes, Not Digital Resources!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 November 2013

Earlier today I gave the closing talk at the OZeWAI 2013 conference, which was held in La Trobe University, Bundoora, Australia. However as I was in bed in Bath at the time, I pre-recorded my presentation. I had intended to answer questions using Skype or via Twitter but as I was asleep after having arrived home after a brief holiday in Marrakesh a few hours before the talk was delivered I was unable to do this.

The title of my talk is “Accessibility is Primarily About People and Processes, Not Digital Resources!“. In the talk I review approaches developed by accessibility researchers and practitioners in the UK (with some input from Australian colleagues) since 2005 and complementary standardisation work which resulted in the BS 8878 Code of Practice for Web Accessibility.

The slides, with accompanying audio, are available on Slideshare and embedded below.

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“Interesting!” – The Value of Twitter Direct Messages for Researchers

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 November 2013

Responding to a Google Alert

Twitter DM conversationEarlier today I received a Google Scholar Alert informing me that Google had found new papers which cited my research publications.

Of particular interest to me was the alert which informed me of a citation which had been published in a book. The book is entitled Computer Systems Experiences of Users with and Without Disabilities: An Evaluation Guide for Professionals and is available, in part, via Google Books. Although I was not able to see which paper had been published (page 100-268 were not shown in the preview) I explored the table of content and found two chapters which are very relevant to work I am current doing.

What I Learnt From the Alert – and the Tool I Used for the Subsequent Initial Discussion

Table of contentsNext Friday I’ll be giving a talk at the OZeWAI 2013 conference in Australia, although, unfortunately, I’ll be giving this as a remote presentation. I have produced the first draft of the talk and in the script I have written:

I particularly liked the question that was posed which suggested that we may need different perspectives in order that developers can see things differently.

I then go on to highlight a chapter entitled “Disability, Web Standards, and the Majority World” by Sarah Lewthwaite and Henny Swan which is included in a book on “Rhetorical Accessability: At the Intersection of Technical Communication and Disability Studies” published a few months ago.

Yesterday Sarah and I had a chat about our recent work and possible new opportunities to build on our interests and expertise in Web accessibility. This morning when I saw the alert and noticed the section which explained “Why we should be talking about psychotechnology for socialization, not jut websites” I was intrigued and sent Sarah a direct message via Twitter about the book drawing particular attention to the section on psychotechnology. Sarah’s response: “Interesting!” suggests that this may be of interest to both of us (although, of course. she may have just been polite!)

However since Sarah and I first became professionally acquainted using Twitter (the 30 seconds I spent reading Sarah’s Twitter biography before then following a link to her blog and discovering our mutual professional interests subsequently led to an award-winning joint paper) I have an interest in how Twitter use can provide an effective tools for collaboration and sharing for researchers.

In this case I could have used a social bookmarking tool such as Delicious for openly sharing this resource – but I have stopped using Delicious and this action would, I suspect, not have been noticed by Sarah.  What I would not have done would be to send an email message; email is not a tool I use any longer for small-scale sharing of resources which may, or may not, turn out to be of interest.

Is Twitter used significantly by researchers in this way, whether by public tweets or direct messages to one’s fellow collaborators? I’d be interested in hearing examples of such activities.

Meanwhile, what about the suggest that “we should be talking about psychotechnology for socialization, not jut websites“? A stub Wikipedia article provides the following information about psychotechnology:

Psychotechnology (sahy-koh-tek-nol-uh-jees)refers to any application of technology for psychological purposes or to any way of using psychological processes for a desired outcome

Should be talking about psychotechnology for socialization? And should I update my presentation for next week’s talk? I must admit that I haven’t a clue!

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Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to Be Contextually Sensitive

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 July 2013

Ariadne paper of accessibilityThe final paper which I’ve written during my time at UKOLN has just been published in the Ariadne e-journal. In the article on Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to Be Contextually Sensitive myself, Jonathan Hassell, David Sloan, Dominik Lukeš, E.A. Draffan and Sarah Lewthwaite argue that rather than having a universal standard for Web accessibility, Web accessibility practices and policies need to be sufficiently flexible to cater for the local context.

As described in the editorial:

[The authors] argue for a wider application than just to Web content, and that an alternative strategy could be adopted which would employ measures that are more context-sensitive. The authors point out that little attention has been paid to the principles underlying Global Accessibility Standards and that in non-Western environments may even prove to be counter-productive. They highlight the alternative of more evidence-based standards and examine their disadvantages. Having used the example of simple language to illustrate the difficulties, the authors offer another example in the provision of accessibility support to publicly available video material. They argue that standardisation of the deployment of Web products is more important that the conformance of the products themselves. The authors summarise the aims of BS 8878. They explain the scope of the framework that it adds to WCAG 2.0 and how it encourages Web site designers to think more strategically about all accessibility decisions surrounding their product. They conclude that globalisation is not limited to users: owners of sites do not wish to be constrained in their choice of international suppliers and products, but the latter are by no means standardised globally – but the benefits of an international standard are enormous.

The article follows in an extensive series of peer-reviewed papers which have challenged mainstream approaches to Web accessibility, which typically mandate conformance with WCAG guidelines.

This work began with a paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” which was published in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology journal in a special issue on E-Learning Standards – Looking Beyond Learning Objects in 2004.

A paper on “Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World” was presented at the W4A 2005 conference. The following year a paper on “Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility” coined the term “holistic accessibility” to describe the approaches we had developed.

Following a series of papers which explored how such approaches can be deployed in various contexts such as learning and cultural heritage an award-winning paper on “Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World” presented at the W4A 2010 conference provided a socio-political context to this work and including examples of digital accessibility and social exclusion including “Aversive Disablism” and “Hierarchies of Impairment“.

Last year a paper on “A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First” presneted at the W4A 2012 conference began with a summary of our work and the implications:

This paper argues that web accessibility is not an intrinsic characteristic of a digital resource but is determined by complex political, social and other contextual factors, as well as technical aspects which are the focus of WAI standardisation activities. It can therefore be inappropriate to develop legislation or focus on metrics only associated with properties of the resource.

I’m pleased that the final paper has been co-authored by David Sloan, my long-standing co-author is this series of papers; Sarah Lewthwaite, a disability researcher who helped to ensure that our work was grounded in disability work which I had previously been unaware of; Dominik Lukeš, whom I first encountered on Twitter last year who provided an insight into the limitations of mandating guidelines for written English; Jonathan Hassell, lead author of the BS 8878 code of practice which embraces many of the approaches described in our previous work and E. A. Draffan who described how such approaches can be implemented in practice.

But is this our final paper or simply the most recently published paper? In less than two weeks I will be leaving UKOLN and so will no longer be able to rely of the funding provided by JISC to continue this work. However I hope that the loss of JISC funding will not prevent me from continuing further work in this area. Following Jonathan Hassell’s talk on “Stop Trying to Avoid Losing and Start Winning: How BS 8878 Reframes the Accessibility Question” at the recent IWMW 2013 event a show of hands made it clear that there was significant interest in an event on the implementation of BS 8878 in contexts which are of particular relevance to the higher education sector, including support of teaching and learning and research. I have had discussions with Jonathan on ways in which institutions can implement achievable policies and practices for enhancing the accessibility of their digital products. If you would would be interested in hosting a workshop at your institution or have more general questions feel free to leave a comment on this post or get in touch.


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Using Social Media to Publish/Share Ideas/Opinions Which Have Not Been Peer Reviewed

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 January 2013

In The Bell, Listening to Fat Man Swings

Fat Man Swings at The Bell

Fat Man Swings at The Bell (I responded to a tweet during the break)

Last night I was in The Bell in Bath listening to Fat Man Swings when I noticed someone had mentioned me in a tweet:

@NSRiazat no but briankelly may be able to help

The message related to a discussion on the #phdchat Tweetchat during which Nasima Riazat (@NSRiazat) asked:

Has anyone used social media to publish/share ideas/opinions which have not been peer reviewed prior to sharing? #phdchat

According to her Twitter biography Nasima Riazat is “#PhDchat moderator. PhD research expertise in capacity building, distributed leadership, leadership sciences, developing middle leaders – Open University UK“. Her question was therefore very relevant for those who participate in the #phdchat discussions, which I have commented on previously.

The question, and its timing, may well horrify those who do not ‘get’ Twitter and are worried about being inundated with tweets during every hour of the day and having to respond during out-of-work hours. However established Twitter users will understand that Twitter provides a steady stream of content which you can dip into when it suits you and @ messages can often be ignored. On this occasion I felt the question was of interest and so I responded during the break to say I would address the question. The interaction, incidentally, including taking and posting a photo of the band probably took less than a minute.

Publishing and Sharing Ideas Which Have Not Been Peer Reviewed

Back in October, during Open Access Week I gave a series of talks on Open Practices for the Connected Researcher at the universities of Exeter, Salford and Bath in which I described the benefits which social media could provide for researchers. The talk was based on personal experiences of use of social media to support my peer-reviewed papers, especially in the area of Web accessibility. I described how social media could be used to develop one’s professional network (with the example of how I met Sarah Lewthwaite (@slewth) on Twitter and subsequently collaborated on a paper which won an award at an international conference). I also described how use of services such as Twitter and Slideshare could be used by one’s co-authors during a conference presentation in order to maximise the numbers of views of the paper and accompanying slides by those who have a particular interest in the conference – those who may subsequently cite the paper in their own research publications or take actions based on the ideas described in the paper.

But although social media has proven value in developing one’s professional network and enhancing access to research publications, the question which was raised addressed a different scenario: Has anyone used social media to publish/share ideas/opinions which have not been peer reviewed prior to sharing?

I suspect the answer to this question will be influenced by the area of research together with personal approaches towards openness and the culture within one’s research group or host institution.

In my case my areas of research are based on the Web (Web accessibility, Social Web, Web preservation, Web standards and institutional repositories). My organisation (and our funders) has always been supportive of open access for the research outputs. In addition I have sought to embrace open practices in my work. I should add that I do not feel that others should adopt similar approaches; as I described in a post on The Social Web and the Belbin Model my preferred roles as a ‘plant’ and ‘resource investigator’ in the Belbin model are well-aligned with use of social media services such as blogs. I am therefore comfortable with the notion of exposing one’s ideas to public view at early stages, with the intention that flaws in the ideas will be identified at an early stage and the value of the ideas will be enhanced by contributions from others.

For me the ideas published in a blog post (or even a tweet) can be subsequently developed and used in a peer-reviewed paper. As an example, in September 2012 I wrote a brief post which asked “John hit the ball”: Should Simple Language Be Mandatory for Web Accessibility? After the post had been published I came across a tweet from @techczech (Dominik Lukes) which commented:

Should Simple Language Be Mandatory for Web Accessibility? http://ow.ly/dOV4T < Bad idea for #a11y – ignorant of basic #linguistic facts

I looked at Dominik’s Twitter biography (“Education and technology specialist, linguist, feminist, enemy of prescriptivism, metaphor hacker, educator, (ex)podcaster, Drupal/Wordpress web builder, Czech.“) and followed the link to his blog and read his post on “Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?”: What every learning technologist should know about accessible documents #ALTC2012. I realised that we had similar interest so I decided to follow him on Twitter and then had an interesting phone conversation on Web accessibility and language issues.

I subsequently submitted a brief paper on this topic with Alastair McNaught, JISC TechDis, to the W3C WAI’s online symposium on “Easy to Read” (e2r) language in Web Pages/Applications. As described in a post on ‘Does He Take Sugar?’: The Risks of Standardising Easy-to-read Language the paper was not accepted. However since we were not restricted to the 1.00 word limit imposed by the organisers of the online symposium Alastair and I expanded on our original which were further developed through the contribution provided by Dominik. Our article entitled ‘Does He Take Sugar?’: The Risks of Standardising Easy-to-read Language was published in the Ariadne ejournal just before Christmas.

Although the article was not peer-reviewed we have subsequently realised that the ideas described in the article could provide a new insight into our previous work in developing a framework for making use of accessibility guidelines such as WCAG. We are currently discussing how we can build on these new insights.

To summarise, a brief blog post was commented on in a tweet. This led to an exchange of tweets, a phone call, a joint Skype call and a joint article – with an understanding that we will look for opportunities for further collaboration. Without the blog post and without the tweet, this would not have happened!


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‘Does He Take Sugar?': The Risks of Standardising Easy-to-read Language

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 December 2012

 'Does He Take Sugar?': The Risks of Standardising Easy-to-read LanguageBack in September 2012 in a post entitled “John hit the ball”: Should Simple Language Be Mandatory for Web Accessibility? I described the W3C WAI’s Easy to Read activity and the online symposium on “Easy to Read” (e2r) language in Web Pages/Applications.

The article highlighted the risks of mandating easy-to-read language and, following subsequent discussions with Alastair McNaught of JISC TechDis, led to a submission to the online symposium. Although reviewers of the paper commented that the submission provided “very sound ideas about how to approach e2r on level with other accessibility issues” and “The argument that the user perspective needs to be taken into account for discussing and defining “easy to read” makes a lot of sense” the paper was not accepted. Since the reviewers also suggested that “The authors should provide more material on how this step could be realized” and “More background on BS 8878 and a justification should be added” we decided to submit an expanded version of our paper to the current issue of the Ariadne Web magazine.

In subsequent discussions when preparing the paper I came across Dominik Lukeš, Education and Technology Specialist at Dyslexia Action, who has published research in the areas of language and education policy. Dominik’s blog posts, in particular a post on The complexities of simple: What simple language proponents should know about linguistics, were very relevant to the arguments which Alastair and myself had made in our original paper. I was therefore very pleased when Dominik agreed to contribute to an updated version of our paper. The paper, ‘Does He Take Sugar?': The Risks of Standardising Easy-to-read Language, has been summarised by Richard Waller in his editorial for the current issue of Ariadne:

In “Does He Take Sugar?”: The Risks of Standardising Easy-to-read Language, Brian Kelly, Dominik Lukeš and Alistair McNaught highlight the risks of attempting to standardise easy-to-read language for online resources for the benefit of readers with disabilities. In so doing, they address a long-standing issue in respect of Web content and writing for the Web, i.e. standardisation of language. They explain how in the wake of the failure of Esperanto and similar artificial tongues, the latest hopes have been pinned on plain English, and ultimately standardised English, to improve accessibility to Web content. Their article seeks to demonstrate the risks inherent in attempts to standardise language on the Web in the light of the W3C/WAI Research and Development Working Group (RDWG) hosting of an online symposium on the topic. They describe the aids suggested by the RDWG such as readability assessment tools, as well as the beneficiaries of the group’s aims, such as people with cognitive, hearing and speech impairments as well as with readers with low language skills, including readers not fluent in the target language. To provide readers further context, they go on to describe earlier work which, if enshrined in WCAG Guidelines would have had significant implications for content providers seeking to comply with WCAG 2.0 AAA. They interpret what is understood in terms of ‘the majority of users’ and the context in which content is being written for the Web. They contend that the context in which transactional language should be made as accessible to everyone as possible differs greatly from that of education, where it may be essential to employ the technical language of a particular subject, as well as figurative language, and even on occasions, cultural references outside the ordinary. They argue that attempts to render language easier to understand, by imposing limitations upon its complexity, will inevitably lose sight of the nuances that form part of language acquisition. In effect they supply a long list of reasons why the use and comprehension of language is considerably more complex than many would imagine. However, the authors do not by any means reject out of hand the attempt to make communication more accessible. But they do highlight the significance of context. They introduce the characteristics that might be termed key to Accessibility 2.0 which concentrate on contextualising the use of content as opposed to creating a global solution, instead laying emphasis on the needs of the user. They proceed to detail the BS 8878 Code of Practice 16-step plan on Web accessibility and indicate where it overlaps with the WCAG guidelines. Having provided readers with an alternative path through the BS 8878 approach, they go on to suggest further research in areas which have received less attention from the WCAG guidelines approach. They touch upon the effect of lengthy text, figurative language, and register, among others, upon the capacity of some readers to understand Web content. The authors’ conclusions return to an interesting observation on the effect of plain English which might not have been anticipated – but is nonetheless welcome.

The article is of particular relevance since it brings home very clearly the limitations of WAI’s approach to Web accessibility and the belief that universal accessibility can be obtained by simply following a set of rules documented in the WCAG guidelines. As we’ve explained in the article, this isn’t the case for the language used in Web pages. However although the approach developed by WAI has significant flaws, the BS 8878 Code of Practice enables guidelines developed by WAI and other organisations to be used in a more pragmatic fashion. We hope that the experiences in using this Code of Practice described by EA Draffan in her talk on Beyond WCAG: Experiences in Implementing BS 8878 at the IWMW 2012 event help in the promoting greater use of this approach, including use of the standard to address the readability of Web pages.

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My Response to WAI’s Website Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology 1.0 Working Draft

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 October 2012

Last week in a post entitled W3C WAI Invite Feedback on Website Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology 1.0 Working Draft I highlighted the publication of WAI’s  Website Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology 1.0 working draft and encouraged readers to respond to the call for feedback.

The closing date for comments is tomorrow, 20 October 2012. I have submitted my comments which are given below.


Response to the WCAG-EM 1.0 Working Draft

The Web Accessibility Initiative’s work in providing guidelines which can help enhance the accessibility of Web resources for people with disabilities since WAI’s launch in 1997 [1]  is to be valued.

However, as might be expected (and is the case with many of the standards which have been developed over the years by W3C), the various guidelines which have been produced by WAI have shown to have limitations or proven inappropriate for use in a real-world context. Accessibility researchers and practitioners based primarily in the UK have been pro-active in identifying limitations of  the WAI model and proposing ways in which the guidelines can be contexualised and used where appropriate. This work dates back to 2005 when a paper entitled “Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World” was presented at the W4A 2005 conference [2]. Further work included papers on  Contextual Web Accessibility – Maximizing the Benefit of Accessibility Guidelines [3],  Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes [4], One World, One Web … But Great Diversity [5], From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability [6], Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World [7] and A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First [8].

The abstract for our most recent paper [8] summarised the concerns we have regarding the WAI model (which is based on three sets of guidelines – WCAG, UAAG and ATAG:

This paper argues that web accessibility is not an intrinsic characteristic of a digital resource but is determined by complex political, social and other contextual factors, as well as technical aspects which are the focus of WAI standardisation activities. It can therefore be inappropriate to develop legislation or focus on metrics only associated with properties of the resource.

The authors describe the value of standards such as BS 8878 which focus on best practices for the process of developing web products and include a user focus.

I have concerns that the WAI’s Website Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology 1.0 working draft [9] could be counter-productive if it is used by policy-makers to  mandate conformance with WCAG, rather than treating WCAG as a valuable set of guidelines whose use should be considered in context.

The WAI model itself provides one example of such contextual issues. WAI’s view of what it refers to as ‘universal accessibility‘ is that this requires conformance with WCAG, UAAG and ATAG guidelines. Since browsers which do not conform with ATAG are not ubiquitous it is clear that the values of WCAG conformance will be limited. In addition the ways in  Web content is created has changed drastically since WAI was launched and the WAI model developed.  Email messages sent to WAI mailing lists, for example, will be Web content hosted on the WAI’s mailing list archive on the W3C Web site. It is unlikely that such content will conform with WCAG guidelines.

A recent post entitled “John hit the ball”: Should Simple Language Be Mandatory for Web Accessibility? [10] highlighted that WAI have acknowledged that conformance with the current WCAG guidelines will n0t, as some people mistakenly think, address all disabilities. However, as described in the post,  providing additional guidelines for incorporation in a future version of WCAG would be inappropriate as guidelines which mandate use of simple language would not be welcomed by everybody, for reasons described in the post and a more in-depth post on The complexities of simple: What simple language proponents should know about linguistics [11] by Dominik Lukes.

Beyond the limitations of the WAI model there are the contextual factors regarding the purposes of Web resources (which the WAI document highlights). The WAI model was developed at a time when the Web was being used primarily as an informational resource, although we were also seeing examples of commercial transactions being developed. But beyond the provision of information and the purchasing of products which are mentioned in the WAI document, there are also more complex areas such as learning and cultural appreciation for which there is a need to develop a better understanding of what is meant by such areas in a Web context.

It should also be noted that clarity provided on the scope of Web resources provided in the WAI document may ironically lead to organisations failing to provide Web resources which may provide accessibility benefits to some if they fail to conform fully with WCAG guidelines. This is likely to be particularly the case in the public sector, who may be required to provide Web sites which conform fully to WCAG guidelines.

In addition to dangers that this may lead to online resources failing to be deployed, there is also a need to consider the costs of providing resources which conform fully with WCAG guidelines, particularly at a time of economic constraints. To give a particular example a paper entitled Supporting PDF accessibility evaluation: early results from the FixRep project [12] analysed the provision of metadata in PDFs of (typically) peer-reviewed papers hosted in a university’s institutional repository and concluded:

“This means that only 10% of all PDFs processed have any likelihood of conforming to accessibility guidelines, and even then we would require further content level analysis to evaluate the extent to which they do indeed conform.”

It is felt (although further research is needed) that these findings are likely to be the case across institutional repositories more widely. Should we require that peer-reviewed papers should not be hosted on institutional repositories unless they conform with WCAG guidelines? If such a decision is made, what will the financial implications be and will “just-in-case accessibility” be an appropriate investment of scarce financial resources?

In light of such issues (which are discussed in more detail in the peer-reviewed papers which have been mentioned) what actions are appropriate for the Website Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology 1.0 working draft? I would suggest that the document should explicitly mention the limitations of the WAI model (i.e. its dependencies of ATAG and UAAG) ; the need to address contexual factors and the need to address accessibility issues in a broader context including the context of use and purpose of the Web resource and the financial implications of conforming with the guidelines.

Finally I would suggest that document makes it clear that it would be inappropriate for policy-makers and legislators to enact legislation based solely on WCAG conformance. I would hasten to add that this is not to suggest that no interventions need to be made. Rather I would propose that it would be more appropriate to develop policies and legislation based on the processes surrounding the development of Web products as suggested in  Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes [4]. In the UK, such approaches have been described in the British Standard Institute’s BS 8878 Web Accessibility Code of Practice which is described at [13].

References

1. WAI Launch Agenda, WAI,  http://www.w3.org/WAI/References/agenda

2. Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World, Kelly, B., Sloan, D., Phipps, L., Petrie, H. and Hamilton, F. Proceedings of the 2005 International Cross-Disciplinary Workshop on Web Accessibility (W4A). ISBN: 1-59593-036-1.  http://opus.bath.ac.uk/438/

3.  Contextual Web Accessibility – Maximizing the Benefit of Accessibility Guidelines, Sloan, D., Kelly, B., Heath, A., Petrie, H. Fraser, H. and Phipps, L. WWW 2006 Edinburgh, Scotland 22-26 May 2006. Conference Proceedings, http://opus.bath.ac.uk/402/

4. Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes, Kelly, B., Sloan, D., Brown, S., Seale, J, Petrie, H., Lauke, P. and Ball, S. WWW 2007 Banff, Canada, 7-11 May 2007. http://opus.bath.ac.uk/398/

5. One World, One Web … But Great Diversity, Kelly, B., Nevile, L., Draffan, EA. and Fanou, S. WWW 2008 Beijing, China, 21-22 April 2008. Proceedings of the 2008 international cross-disciplinary conference on Web accessibility (W4A), Beijing, China. Pages 141-147, Year of Publication: 2008. ISBN:978-1-60558-153-8 DOI: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1368044.1368078

6. From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability, Kelly, B., Nevile, L., Sloan, D., Fanou, S., Ellison, R. and Herrod, L.
Disability and Rehability: Assistive Technology, Volume 4, Issue 4, July 2009, pages 212 – 226. DOI: 10.1080/17483100902903408

7. Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World, Kelly, B., Lewthwaite, S. and Sloan, D. W4A2010, April 26-27, 2010, Raleigh, USA. Co-Located with the 19th International World Wide Web Conference. Copyright 2010 ACM ISBN: 978-1-4503-0045-2
DOI: 10.1145/1805986.1805992

8. A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First,  Cooper, M., Sloan, D., Kelly, B. and Lewthwaite, S. W4A 2012, April 16-17, 2012, Lyon, France. Co-Located with the 21st International World Wide Web Conference. Copyright 2012 ACM ISBN 978-1-4503-1019-2

9. Website Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology 1.0 working draft, WAI, 20 September 2012. http://www.w3.org/TR/2012/WD-WCAG-EM-20120920/

10. “John hit the ball”: Should Simple Language Be Mandatory for Web Accessibility?, Kelly, B., UK Web Focus blog, 19 Sept 2012, http://ukwebfocus.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/john-hit-the-ball-simple-language-mandatory-for-web-accessibility/

11. The complexities of simple: What simple language proponents should know about linguistics, Lukes, D. Metaphor Hacker blog,  28 Septemeber 2012, http://metaphorhacker.net/2012/09/the-complexities-of-simple-what-simple-language-proponents-should-know-about-linguistics/

12.  Supporting PDF accessibility evaluation: early results from the FixRep project. In: 2nd Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries International Conference (QQML2010), 2010-05-25 – 2010-05-28, Chania.  http://opus.bath.ac.uk/24958/

13. BS 8878 web accessibility standards (supersedes PAS 78) – all you need to know, Jonathan Hassell, http://www.hassellinclusion.com/bs8878/


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W3C WAI Invite Feedback on Website Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology 1.0 Working Draft

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 October 2012

On Monday 20 September 2012 the W3C WAI published the Website Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology 1.0 working draft. The W3C invites comments on this working draft which should be sent by 20 October 2012 to public-wai-evaltf@w3.org (note that a publicly visible mailing list archive is available).

This is a large document (31 pages when printed) and so I am giving time for those with responsibilities for managing large-scale Web sites to read this document and provide feedback. It should be noted that since institutions may have accessibility policies which claim conformance with WAI guidelines, it will be important that the conformance criteria are realistic and achievable, and that conformance does not add other significant barriers to the provision of institutional Web sites.

It should be noted that the scale of university Web sites will provide particular challenges in achieving compliance. As described in the working draft:

A website may include areas with smaller collections of related web pages such as an online shop, an area for each department within the organization, a blog area, and other parts. In some situations such areas can be considered to be a full, self-enclosed website each. This methodology can be applied to such individual sub-sites (a website within another website) and to the main website in its entirety. However, this methodology may not be applied to a website excluding any of its parts. Excluding parts of the website from the scope of evaluation would likely conflict with the WCAG 2.0 conformance requirements full pages and complete processes, or significantly distort the evaluation results.

The document then goes on to depict a typical University Web site:

and explains how:

In the example above, none of the depicted parts may be excluded from the scope of evaluation in the context of this methodology, if it is to applied to the university website. This includes any aggregated and embedded content such as online maps for the university campus and forms for credit card transactions, including when such parts originate from third-party sources.

Note that the document defines a website asA coherent collection of one or more related web pages that together provide common use or functionality. It includes static web pages, dynamically generated web pages, and web applications“. The University of Bath Web site at http://www.bath.ac.uk/ is clearly one example of a coherent collection of related web pages. However it is less clear whether other Web services hosted on the same domain, such as the repository at http://opus.bath.ac.uk/, would also be regarded as part of the coherent set of related web pages. It might be safe to assume that this is the case; in which case accessibility conformance might need to apply to every page (including dynamic pages) hosted under *.bath.ac.uk. Therefore, content provided by third-party services, such as embedded YouTube videos, embedded RSS feeds and content included in Web pages using HTML iframe elements, JavaScript and other syndication technologies would also be included.

This represents quite a challenge in ensuring that the content will conform with WCAG 2.0 guidelines! Especially when one considers that the WCAG guidelines are independent of the particular file formats used to host the content; so PDF, MS Word, MS PowerPoint, etc. files which have an institutional URL

Revisiting WCAG 2.0 Guidelines

In order to illustrate the difficulties to be faced in conforming with WCAG 2.0 guidelines, consider the challenges in ensuring full conformance with Principle 3: Understandable – Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.

On the surface this does not appear unreasonable. The WCAG 2.0 document then provides a more specific guideline: Guideline 3.1 Readable: Make text content readable and understandable. The difficulties start when you see the details:

3.1.4 Abbreviations: A mechanism for identifying the expanded form or meaning of abbreviations is available. (Level AAA)

3.1.6 Pronunciation: A mechanism is available for identifying specific pronunciation of words where meaning of the words, in context, is ambiguous without knowing the pronunciation. (Level AAA)

Yes, in order for an institutional Web site to be conformant with WCAG Level AAA every page, Web pages which contain an abbreviation must provide a mechanism for identifying the expanded form or meaning of abbreviations and for identifying specific pronunciation of words where meaning of the words, in context, is ambiguous without knowing the pronunciation! OK? Or perhaps I should have written “OK (orl korrect)?” as this is one of the possible origins of the abbreviation.

I think it is safe to say that no institution should consider stating that its Web site conforms with WCAG AAA guidelines. But will it be possible for any large-scale Web site to conform fully with all WCAG guidelines, including those which are relevant to WCAG A conformance? I would have thought that any Web site which embeds content from third-party services will not be able to guarantee that the embedded content will be conformant.

Perhaps it is time to move away from stating conformance with WCAG guidelines and, instead, making use of alternative approaches, with BS 8878 providing an approach to consider for those based in the UK. What do you think? Is it realistic to expect that institutional Web sites will be able to conform to WCAG 2.0 guidelines?

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What Can Web Accessibility Metrics Learn From Alt.Metrics?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 September 2012

Research Report on Web Accessibility Metrics

A W3C WAI Research Report on Web Accessibility Metrics, published on 30 August 2012, is currently open for review, with feedback requested by 30 September 2012.

The introduction to the report describes how:

Recently, a plethora of metrics has been released to complement the A, AA, and AAA Levels measurement used by the WAI guidelines. However, the validity and reliability of most of these metrics are unknown and those making use of them are taking the risk of using inappropriate metrics. In order to address these concerns, this note provides a framework that considers validity, reliability, sensitivity, adequacy and complexity as the main qualities that a metric should have.

The introduction concludes:

A symposium was organized to observe how current practices are addressing such qualities. We found that metrics addressing validity issues are scarce although some efforts can be perceived as far as inter-tool reliability is concerned. This is something that the research community should be aware of, as we might be making efforts by using metrics whose validity and reliability are unknown. The research realm is perhaps not mature enough or we do not have the right methods and tools. We therefore try to shed some light on the possible paths that could be taken so that we can reach a maturity point.

David Sloan and I contributed to an Website Accessibility Metrics symposium held last year with a paper Web accessibility metrics for a post digital world (available in PDFMS Word and HTML formats). The abstract for our paper stated:

This paper argues that, as we move towards a ‘post-digital’ world where use of the Web becomes normalised, there is a need to address Web accessibility measurement challenges within a wider real-world context. Strategy and policy that defines Web accessibility purely by the conformance of digital resources with technical guidelines can lead to a danger that ‘good enough’ solutions may fail to be deployed; they also fail to consider a wider measure of user experience in accessibility measurement. We propose that metrics should draw on aspects of user experience to provide a more meaningful, real-world measure of the impact (or not) of accessibility barriers and therefore priority in addressing them. Metrics should also consider context in terms of the quality of effort taken by organisations to provide an inclusive experience; one option for doing so is the framework provided by British Standard 8878 Code of Practice for Web Accessibility. In both cases, challenges exist in the complexity of defining and implementing such metrics.

Or, as we described in a follow-up paper entitled A challenge to web accessibility metrics and guidelines: putting people and processes first:

This paper argues that web accessibility is not an intrinsic characteristic of a digital resource but is determined by complex political, social and other contextual factors, as well as technical aspects which are the focus of WAI standardisation activities. It can therefore be inappropriate to develop legislation or focus on metrics only associated with properties of the resource.

In the light of our involvement in last year’s research symposium we intend to respond to the W3C’s request for feedback on the Research Report on Web Accessibility Metrics. It should be noted that responses must be submitted by 30 September 2012 to the public-wai-rd-comments@w3.org list which has a publicly visible mailing list archive. I am therefore posting some thoughts on this blog in advance of that date in order to get feedback before making the formal response.

What Can Web Accessibility Metrics Learn from Alt.Metrics?

Section 1.2 of the report is entitled The Benefits of Using Metrics. This section should, I feel, be followed by a section on The Risks of Using Metrics. It would be useful to base such a section on the experiences gained in other areas in which metrics are being developed. Areas in which useful comparisons could be made include metrics for online reputation (i.e. services such as Klout) and assessment of research impact (e.g. alt.metrics); in both of these areas the potential benefits of metrics have been identified, but their limitations are also acknowledged.

Last Friday (21 September 2012), a live chat on Twitter, peer review and altmetrics: the future of research impact assessment took place on the Guardian’s Higher Education Network. During the discussion DrGunn (Dr. William Gunn, the Head of Academic Outreach for Mendeley) pointed out the need to recognise the limitations of metrics for the assessment of research impact:

First, it’s important to note that the point of altmetrics isn’t to suggest that it may be possible to use any measures of impact or influence to fully judge the merit of individuals. Citations, tweets, bookmarks, etc are all indicators of influence, but influence isn’t merit.

and highlighted the need for evidence which demonstrates relationships between metrics and tangible real-world outcomes:

The second point is addressing Stevan’s comment about coupling metrics to real positive outcomes. Science Exchange, Mendeley, PLOS, and Figshare have joined together and launched the Reproducibility Initiative, which aims to provide a positive incentive for doing work that’s robust and reproducible.

Such approaches are needed in the development of metrics for Web accessibility. But we should be clear about what is being measured. Is the work in identifying areas of research aiming to develop ways of measuring conformance with Web accessibility guidelines, such as WCAG. Or is the aim to develop metrics which relate to real-world experiences of people with disabilities seeking to make use of Web products?

In the conclusions the report makes the point that:

Employing metrics whose validity and reliability is questionable is a very risky practice that should be avoided. We therefore claim that accessibility metrics should be used and designed responsibly.

The statement that “accessibility metrics should be used and designed responsibly” is meaningless as nobody would argue that “accessibility metrics should be used and designed irresponsibly“! The report needs to  be clear about the reasons why Web accessibility metrics are being developed and who the beneficiaries of such work would be. The development of an international standard for Web accessibility metrics might benefit large software vendors, which would have a global market for selling tools for measuring conformance with such standards. There might also be benefits for organisations which would like to be able to display a badge demonstrating conformance with such standards. But what are the benefits for the user community, especially users with disabilities?

In addition there is a need to consider the risks in developing Web accessibility metrics. Might the development of such metrics lead to organisations failing to provide Web services if they failed to conform fully with such metrics, even if such services may still be of value to people with disabilities?

I’d welcome your comments, but more importantly, I’d encourage people with an interest in this area to respond to the call for comments  by sending a message by 30 September 2012 to the public-wai-rd-comments@w3.org (note this list has a publicly visible mailing list archive).

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“John hit the ball”: Should Simple Language Be Mandatory for Web Accessibility?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 September 2012

W3C WAI “Easy to Read” (e2r) Work

The W3C/WAI Research and Development Working Group (RDWG) is planning an online symposium on “Easy to Read” (e2r) language in Web Pages/Applications (e2r Web). The closing date for submissions (which can be up t0 1,000 words) is 24 September 12 October 2012. The symposium itself will take place on 3 December 2012.

The Easy to Read activity page provides an introduction to this work:

Providing information in a way that can be understood by the majority of users is an essential aspect of accessibility for people with disabilities. This includes rules, guidelines, and recommendations for authoring text, structuring information, enriching content with images and multimedia and designing layout to meet these requirements.

and goes on to describe how:

Easy to Read today is first of all driven by day to day practice of translating information (on demand). More research is needed to better understand the needs of the users, to analyze and compare the different approaches, to come to a common definition, and to propose a way forward in providing more comprehensive access to language on the Web.

It provides a list of potentially useful tools and methods for measuring readability:

  • Flesch Reading Ease
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
  • Gunning Fog Index
  • Wiener Sachtextformel
  • Simple Measure Of Gobbledygook (SMOG)
  • Gunning fog index (FOG)

The aim of this work is to address the needs of people with disabilities:

  • People with cognitive disabilities related to functionalities such as
    • Memory
    • Problem solving (conceptualizing, planning, sequencing, reasoning and judging thoughts and actions)
    • Attention (e.g. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD) and awareness
    • Reading, linguistic, and verbal comprehension (e.g. Dyslexia)
    • Visual Comprehension
    • Mental health disabilities
  • People with low language skills including people who are not fluent in a language
  • Hearing Impaired and Deaf People

Early Work in this Area

When I saw this announcement it reminded me of early W3A WAI work in this area. Back in March 2004 an early draft of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines for Web accessibility provided the following guideline:

Guideline 3.1 Ensure that the meaning of content can be determined.

and went on to describe level 3 success criteria which could demonstrate that this guideline had been achieved:

  • Syntax
    • Using the simplest sentence forms consistent with the purpose of the content
      • For example, the simplest sentence-form for English consists of Subject-Verb-Object, as in John hit the ball or The Web site conforms to WCAG 2.0.
    • Using bulleted or numbered lists instead of paragraphs that contain long series of words or phrases separated by commas.
  • Nouns, noun-phrases, and pronouns
    • Using single nouns or short noun-phrases.
    • Making clear pronoun references and references to earlier points in the document

Yes, if that version of the WCAG guidelines had been implemented if you wished your Web site to conform with WCAG Level 3 you would have had to ensure that you avoided complex sentences!

Conformance with Level 3 guidelines were intended to Web resources “accessible to more people with all or particular types of disability“. The guidelines explained how “A conformance claim of “WCAG 2.0 AAA” can be made if all level 1, level 2, and all level 3 success criteria for all guidelines have been met.

Such guidelines would be helpful for people with cognitive disabilities: those with Asperger’s syndrome, for example, find it difficult to understand metaphors such as “It’s raining cats and dogs“. The guidelines seem to have been developed by those who wished to implement the vision of “universal accessibility“. But I think we can see that seeking to address accessibility in this fashion is flawed.

Dangers of Such Work

I have to admit that I would be worried if the Easy to Read research activities were to lead to enhancements to the WCAG guidelines. Under the current WAI model, full conformance to WCAG, together with ATAG and UAAG guidelines is supposed to lead to universal accessibility. There is also an assumption that universal accessibility is a desired goal.

But is this really the case? The early drafts of WCAG 2.0 guidelines suggested that “John hit the ball” conformed with the goal of ensuring that the meaning of the content can be determined. Would WCAG 2.0 checking tools flag “the ball was hit by John” as an accessibility error, meaning that the Web page could not achieve the highest accessibility rating? And what about my favourite sports headline: “Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious” – a headline which brings a smile if Mary Poppins was part of your cultural background and you recognise Celtic as a football team, but which is clearly not universally accessible.

I would welcome research into ways in which styles of writing can enhance the accessibility of the content to people with disabilities. My concern would be if such research were to be incorporated into future versions of WCAG guidelines – especially if WCAG conformance is mandated in legislation, as is the case in some countries. But rather than failing to carry out such research, I feel the main challenge for WAI is to re-evaluate its underlining model based on the triumvirate of standards and its commitment to ensuring that Web resources are universally accessible – this might be a great soundbite, but in reality may be an unachievable – and even undesirable – goal. After all ‘universal accessibility’ doesn’t appear to  allow for any contextualisation and an important aspect of accessibility must surely be the context of use. What do you think?


Twitter conversation from: [Topsy] – [SocialMention] – [WhosTalkin]

Posted in Accessibility, W3C | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

IWMW 2012: The Image

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 June 2012

Photos of IWMW 2012

A recent post on IWMW 2012: The Movie described how the accessibility of individual resources, such as  a set of slides and a video recording of a talk, can be enhancing by bringing together such related resources, rather than having to implement WCAG guidelines on the individual resources.

A related approach to enhancing accessibility by focussing beyond the digital resource could be images of an event. The IWMW 2012 photographs hosted on Flickr, for example, can enhance one’s long-term memory of an event by triggering memories of iconic aspects of an event. For me, the trip to Our Dynamic Earth was a highlight, and I’m pleased that Sharon Steeples took such a great photo of it, one of her many great photos of IWMW 2012, as illustrated at the top of this post.

But would it be possible to have a single image which depicted the three-day IWMW 2012 event? Well Kevin Mears (@mearso) has risen to that challenge!

During the event Kevin tweeted links to a series of cartoons he had produced which gave his visual impressions of a number of the plenary talks and parallel sessions he attended. During the event the following tweets were widely retweeted, favourited and images viewed:

For anyone who’s interested I did some visual notes for @usabilityed ‘s session.#iwmw12 pic.twitter.com/8GWmtgTr

I did a drawing of Brian’s welcome talk @iwmw  #iwmw12   pic.twitter.com/Apb6AFJo

Today’s doodle from the talk about data visualisation. So many interesting visualisations. #iwmw12 pic.twitter.com/gIK3LOpy

This getting hard work now. Plenty of info in the KIS talk. #iwmw12   pic.twitter.com/ozeqPl4k

I did a sketch note from B4 : big and small data. #iwmw12  pic.twitter.com/gWZET01i

Quick turnaround of the notes this time. Easy with such good sessions. #iwmw12 pic.twitter.com/G3achZvL

My doodle of the controversial session this afternoon. Hard for the drawing to be as dramatic as the talk! #iwmw12  pic.twitter.com/rUUKcrZL

Forgot to post last night’s drawing from the ‘Do I need an app?”. #iwmw12  pic.twitter.com/DRQrm7sE

Last doodle from immw12. Had to wait til I got home cos I’m too cheap to pay for mobile. #iwmw12. Had great time. pic.twitter.com/QdLRNF4W

But most interesting of all was the tweet:

I collated my sketch notes from #iwmw12 into one big poster. Any demand out there for printed ones? http://t.co/E3CdplbH

This image is embedded at the bottom of this post – and note that it can be viewed on Flickr at a number of sizes including 1600×1132. I suspect that looking at the details of the sketch will bring back memories which would not have been the case from a factual summary of the talk – the drawing (shown) of the line printer paper in the sketch of Ferdinand von Prondzynski‘s somewhat controversial plenary talk brought home the point about the somewhat rather protracted introduction in which the speaker sought to establish his credentials as an experienced user of IT.

Or to put it another way, images can be a valuable way of enhancing one’s understanding and recollections of things that happen in the physical world.  And to think that some people would ban such images unless they were accompanied by a comprehensive textual summary of every element of the sketches!


 

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

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IWMW 2012: The Movie

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 June 2012

Importance of Networking

The Wilson Review states that “Networking between universities & the business community is a critical component of an efficient innovation ecosystem” (point 7 in the Executive Summary). This is equally true for networking across institutions for those with responsibilities for the provision of institutional Web services across the sector. As I highlighted in the Welcome talk at UKOLN’s IWMW 2012 event senior managers in institutions are quite capable of using Google to search for “outsourcing web management and looking for alternative providers of such services. But rather than pretend that this couldn’t happen at the event we explored how sharing of expertise, knowledge, advice and support can help to provide cost-effective approaches to the management and development of web services across the sector.

“Work in More Open Ways”

Yesterday an article on the BBC News on TEDGlobal: Net opens up era of radical openness described a “call-to-arms for corporations to work in more open ways” . In the context of conferences, workshops and other events in the higher education sector such openness is being seen in the provision of amplified events in which, as described in a recent post the sharing of resources at conferences and other events need no longer be restricted to those who were able to be physically present.

Accessing Slides and Videos of IWMW 2012 Plenary Talks

The ideas shared, criticisms expressed and visions for the future made by plenary speakers at the IWMW 2012 event can now be seen by those who did not happen to be physically in a lecture theatre in the Appleton Tower at the University of Edinburgh during 18-20 June 2012: the videos of the plenary talks have now been processed and uploaded to the UKOLN Vimeo account. In addition a page on the IWMW 2012 Web site provides access to the embedded videos together with the accompanying slides.

As illustrated in the screenshot shown below the page on the IWMW 2012 web site allows you to view a video recording of a talk whilst simultaneously scrolling through the speakers slides. This provides an interesting aspect on accessibility: the slides and the video recording in isolation will have limitations in maximising one’s understanding of the individual resources, but brought together it can be easier to understand the points the speaker is making of the text and images displayed on a slide. It is. of course, not coincidental that the image I have used to illustrate this point is taken from the talk on “Beyond WCAG: Implementing BS 8878” given by EA Draffan. And for those in the audience who were distracted by the person fainting during the talk, the slides and video recording provide an opportunity to revisit the presentation.

Posted in Accessibility, Events | 2 Comments »

Streaming of IWMW 2012 Plenary Talks – But Who Pays?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 June 2012

 

The sixteenth in the series of annual Institutional Web Management Workshops, IWMW 2012, is now underway. As we were concerned last year that Web team budgets and pressures of work would make it difficult for people to attend a 3-day event, the IWMW 2011 took place over two days. However the feedback we received in the final session last year made it clear that there was demand for the event to revert to its traditional 3 day format.

Since the concerns about budgets and workloads will probably be even more valid this year we were still concerned about the number of delegates. However, following an influx of last minutes bookings, the final numbers are even larger than last year with 170 registered delegates.

We also have a number of sponsors again this year, with Jadu sponsoring the badges and lanyards, TERMINALFOUR are sponsoring a parallel session and Siteimprove providing inserts in the delegate pack. In addition Statistics into Decisions and Gas Mark 8 are co-sponsoring the event amplification and video-streaming of the plenary talks.

Since the University of Edinburgh video-streaming service has other commitments this week, TConsult, who have provided event amplification at IWMW events in the past, will this year also be providing the video-streaming service. The ustream.tv service is being used to deliver the live video stream. However since we are aware that viewers will probably not appreciate the adverts include in the free version of the service, we will be using Watershed, the premium version of the service. The charging for this service is based on viewer hours. Looking at the pricing options it seems that we can pay $49 for a month’s subscription, which gives us 500 viewer hours, with an additional $0.49 per additional viewer hour. This seems reasonable – unless the plenary talks attract a large audience. Since there are 8.5 hours of plenary talks we will be able to cater for 60 people watching all the plenary talks. Based on previous year’s experiences the expected numbers should fall within the standard allowance. However if some of the talks become unexpectedly popular – and the popularity which can be generated by viral social networks such as Twitter – we could be hit with a large bill. We have therefore put a cap on the total number of users. In order to ensure that people who wish to watch a plenary talk do not have access blocked we ask that people watching the live video stream switch off the live stream when the talks they are interested in has finished.

These considerations lead to the question: who should pay for live streams at conferences? At recent IWMW events the live video streaming was provided as part of the service by the host institution. However this year we have had to address the question of the business model for the provision on the service for the first time.

Although we are providing access to an ad-free video-streaming service we cannot commit to doing this in the future. One alternative will be to make use of the free ad-supported version of the service. As illustrated, when you join a stream an advert will be displayed, for about 20 seconds, it would seem.

Adverts which are used to fund a video service which is free at the point of delivery is, of course, something we are all familiar with – ITV have been doing this for many years and we are all willing to watch programmes on commercial channels, provided the content is of interest to us.

I would be interested to hear from people who would not be willing to watch video streaming of content of interest to them on how the costs of the service should be provided. I would, of course, expect such suggestions to be reasonable and feasible: saying that we should simply be getting more money to provide such services is not realistic in the current environment.

A similar question could be asked about the accessibility of recordings of the videos. We do not intend to provide captions for the recordings and, since legislation talks about ‘reasonable measures’ we do not feel there is a legal requirement to do this. We feel that the provision of the live video stream itself enhances the accessibility of the event – a point brought how to me last year when Janet McKnight uploaded a photo of herself watching the live video stream, with her baby in her lap (as illustrated). Put simply, the provision of the live video stream itself enhances access to the content for people who can’t attend the event for a variety of reasons. Having to spend additional money from an undetermined source to caption the videos would potentially undermine the provision of the live video stream itself, forcing us back to the world of siloed conferences in which only paying delegates could participate.

Unless, of course, we could make use of the textual summaries of the plenary talks provided by the official event amplifier on her Twitter account. We did this at IWMW 2010, as can be seen from the accompanying image of the Twitter captions of the talk by Ranjit Sidhu. This will be an approach we will explore again at this year’s event.

I‘ll conclude this post by summarising the policy for video streaming and access to video recording of talks at IWMW events.

In order to maximise the impact of the ideas presented in talks at IWMW events we will seek to support event amplification to enable members of the sector who aren’t physically present to engage in the discussions and sharing of ideas. We will also seek to provide a live video stream of plenary talks and access to recordings of the talks after the event.

We will aim to provide these services in a sustainable fashion. We will be transparent about the ways in which these services are being funded.

Is that a reasonable policy?

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Serindipity? It’s Madness!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 June 2012

The final preparations for UKOLN’s IWMW 2012 event included booking a ceilidh band for the evening social on the opening night of the event. This had been left until just over a week before the event as we were unsure of the numbers we might get in light of limited budgets for people to attend such events. However I’m pleased to say that the event will be even larger than last year with approximately 170 delegates.

I had been in touch with a number of ceilidh bands based in Edinburgh but the one that seemed most appealing was The Belle Star band.  As described on their web site:

One of Scotland’s top all-women dance bands, The Belle Star Band have got to be unique in spanning three cultures – Scottish Urban Ceilidh, Jewish Klezmer and Canadian/American Contradance. Their great sense of swing, strong fiddle-driven sound and love of playing for dancing make them the glue in any social gathering“.

Before confirming the booking I thought  I’d ask if anyone I knew had seen them. In response to my tweet I received the reply:

Wow! Yes. Blast from the past!

and following my question “Any good?” came the confirmation:

Oh yes! Sort of the female version of Madness back then, but they didn’t get a look in :-) Talent and energy and great music :-)

That was good enough for me, and we have now booked The Belle Star for Monday night’s ceilidh. The Twitter account which helped me make this decision was @disabilityarts. As Web accessibility is an important area of my work I was interested in finding out more. From the Twitter biography I found that “DAO is a journal for disabled bloggers, creatives and performers to share work and experience. Tweets are from Marian (sub-editor) and Colin (editor)“.

The serendipity of finding out that someone who recommended The Belle Star Band had similar interests was confirmed in a Twitter discussion from which I learnt about the user-focussed approaches to the redesign of the disabilityartsonline.org.uk web site and, of even more interest to me, was an article on Digitising Disability. This provided a quote on the Disability and Steve Jobs’ Legacy  by Tim Carmody in Wired.com which explained that:

“’Accessible’ means ‘something everyone can use.’ In pop culture and consumer technology, “accessible” sometimes means things that are easy for lots of people to understand or enjoy.

This view of accessibility clearly has parallels with the W3C WAI’s approach to Web accessibility for which the mantra, expressed by Tim Berners-Lee is “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect“.

But just as we wouldn’t expect all works of art to be accessible to all, we should also not expect all Web products to be accessible by all.

Back in 2004 myself, Lawrie Phipps and Elaine Swift realised that the accessibility of Web resources shouldn’t be the prime consideration for elearning resources.  In a paper entitled “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” we argued that the important aspect was the accessibility of the learning outcomes, not the digital resources.  The “understanding” of the content may come about through a particular pedagogical approaches, such as Social constructivism in which, according to Wikipediagroups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings“.

In a subsequent paper on “Accessibility 2.0: Next Steps For Web Accessibility” we developed out initial ideas and explored what accessibility might mean for access to cultural resources:

The Great Masturbator by Salvador Dali

How could you describe [the accompanying image] meaningfully to someone unable to see it? What is it a picture of? What is it about? How helpful is it to know that the artist, Salvador Dali, called it “The Great Masturbator”?

The Creative Case For Diversity page, which @disabilityarts brought to my attention, went on to describe the Capturing the moment, capturing the motion video which is embedded below. The article explains:

The technology is there to be exploited, to be harnessed, to be pushed. Simon Mckeown is a disabled artist who has spent much of his working life within the commercial world of gaming and computer animation and so knows a thing or two about pushing at boundaries.

But is this video accessible to a blind user? Does the web site conform with WAI accessibility guidelines? The answer is no. And this illustrates that the focus on conformance of the digital resource with a technical checklist is an over-simplistic approach to enhancing accessibility.

For me it is now timely to go the mechanistic approach to web accessibility and move towards a ‘post-digital’ view of accessibility which we touched on in a paper on Web accessibility metrics for a post digital world.  The article on “Digitising Disability” went on to explain howThe technology is there to be exploited, to be harnessed, to be pushed“. Let’s take One Step Beyond the simplicities of a checklist approach to accessibility. That step should be based on an understanding of what accessibility means from those engaged in disability studies and seeing how this might be applied in an online environment.

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The Blog Post as a Magnetic For Impact Findings

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 June 2012

We have recently been asked to provide evidence of the usage and impact of the diverse services we provide. Such a request is perfectly understandable – commercial companies with be able to point to their profit margins as evidence of the effectiveness of their activities and whilst ways of doing this for those working in higher education will be more complex, I appreciate the need to do this.

Usage statistics can be easy to gather, especially for use of social media service. As an example on Saturday @dajbelshaw tweeted:

Whoah. Just noticed my ‘TELIC: The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’ presentation has had 9,539 views since uploading *yesterday!*

and the following day informed us that:

20,000 views now. Uploaded Friday. Insane. slidesha.re/KobQZV

This example made me realise that the velocity as well as the overall usage statistics – coincidentally my most viewed slides on Slideshare, Introduction To Facebook, have also been viewed over 20,000 times – but this has been over a period of four years.

Whilst such usage statistics can be relatively easy to gather (and I will leave it to others to interpret the metrics), it can be more time-consuming to gather qualitative evidence of the take-up of services.

On Friday, however, I noticed an incoming link which was sending traffic to this blog. The link was from the eGovernment Resource Service for the Victoria Government, Australia and related to a post on Aversive Disablism, Web Accessibility and the Web Developer which I posted on 1 May 2012, the Global Accessibility Awareness Day. It then occurred to me that having a blog post embedded in a government’s web site might be a useful indicator of the value of my work in the area of web accessibility. Further investigation I found addition pages on the web sites about an article I had written on Web Accessibility: Putting People and Processes First and a paper on Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World.

As described on the Web sitethe eGovernment Resource Centre provides access to the Victorian Government body of knowledge on eGovernment, government 2.0, government use of social media and information and communications technology (ICT) and government website best practices, with Australian and international examples“. It does seem to me that I will be able to use this as an example of the impact at an international level of my work.  I also realised that I would not have been aware of this if I had not seen the incoming link to the blog post.  Blog posts, it would seem, can act as a magnet for attracting evidence of impact which would be difficult to detect otherwise.

I then went on to wonder why the Victorian Government in Australia was aware of my work.  I then remembered that in January 2009 I gave the opening plenary talk on “From Web Accessibility 2.0 to Web Adaptability (1.0)” at the OzeWAI conference in Melbourne and in November 2009 gave a plenary keynote talk, provided as a pre-recorded slidecast on “From Web Accessibility To Web Adaptability” at the OzeWAI at OZCHI 2009 conference”. Perhaps the connections I made in the first trip and the followup talk I gave ten months later made an impact which I have only become aware of recently?

Meanwhile, back to the gathering of further evidence ….

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Introducing #BS8878 on Global Accessibility Awareness Day (#GAAD)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 May 2012

 

Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Today is the first Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). As described on the Global Accessibility Awareness Day Web site:

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is a community-driven effort whose goal is to dedicate one day to raising the profile of and introducing the topic of digital (web, software, mobile app/device etc.) accessibility and people with different disabilities to the broadest audience possible.

Today’s event therefore provides a valuable opportunity to highlight important work in the area of Web accessibility which has been developed in the UK and is relevant to a worldwide audience.

Revisiting WAI and WCAG

There will be little need to raise the profile of the work of WAI, the Web Accessibility Initiative and the guidelines they have developed to help enhance the accessibility of Web resources: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which describe how web content, including native W3C formats such as HTML as well as formats such as Flash and PDF which may be included on Web sites, should be defined in order to enhance access by people with disabilities who may be using standard Web browsers or assistive technologies which should support the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) Creators of Web content should be using authoring tools which are based on ATAG, the Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines, which will help to ensure that the content is WCAG-conformant.

Unfortunately experience has shown that this simple model is insufficient for developing Web products which reflect the diverse ways in which the Web is used today. As summarised in a paper on “Reflections on the Development of a Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility” the reasons for this include limitations in the guidelines themselves, limitations of the three-part model, the inappropriateness of an approaches based on universal accessibility for services which may be targetted at specific groups of users or even an individual user and the lack of guidance in the WAI approach on ways of providing ‘good enough’ accessibility as opposed to WAI’s ‘just-in-case’ approach. To give an example of the need to be able to develop ‘good enough’ solutions, if an institution’s institutional repository contains many thousands of research papers in PDF format and the PDFs, which may be deposited by the author, do not conform with accessibility guidelines, should the repository service be discontinued?

It should also be noted that the limitations of WCAG aren’t restricted to limitations of WCAG 1.0. As described in a paper on “Guidelines are only half of the story: accessibility problems encountered by blind users on the web” recently published in the Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems:

This paper describes an empirical study of the problems encountered by 32 blind users on the Web. Task-based user evaluations were undertaken on 16 websites, yielding 1383 instances of user problems. The results showed that only 50.4% of the problems encountered by users were covered by Success Criteria in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0). For user problems that were covered by WCAG 2.0, 16.7% of websites implemented techniques recommended in WCAG 2.0 but the techniques did not solve the problems. These results show that few developers are implementing the current version of WCAG, and even when the guidelines are implemented on websites there is little indication that people with disabilities will encounter fewer problems. The paper closes by discussing the implications of this study for future research and practice. In particular, it discusses the need to move away from a problem-based approach towards a design principle approach for web accessibility.

But if WCAG has failed to live up to its expectations, is it no longer relevant? We disagree with this view – rather there is a need for a higher level standard which provides a context for use of WCAG and other accessibility standards.

BS 8878: Web Accessibility Code of Practice

As described in a post entitled BS 8878: “Accessibility has been stuck in a rut of technical guidelines” the BS 8878 Web Accessibility Code of Practice has been developed in order to address limitations of WAI’s approaches. As described in a paper on “A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First” BS 8878 “makes recommendations for accessibility being addressed across a 16 Step Model of the web product development and maintenance process“. The paper goes on to describe BS 8878 in more detail:

These steps span: initial conception and requirements analysis (steps 1 to 6); strategic choices based on that research (steps 7 to 11); the decision to procure or develop the web product either in-house or contracted out (step 11); production of the web product (steps 12 and 13); evaluation of the product (step14); the launch (step 15); and post-launch maintenance (step 16).

Step 1: define the purpose of the web product
Step 2: define the target audiences for the web product
Step 3: analyse the needs of the target audiences for the web product
Step 4: note any platform or technology preferences and restrictions of the web product’s target audiences
Step 5: define the relationship the product will have with its target audiences
Step 6: define the user goals and tasks the web product needs to provide
Step 7: consider the degree of user-experience the web product will aim to provide
Step 8: consider inclusive design and user-personalized approaches to accessibility
Step 9: choose the delivery platforms to support
Step 10: choose the target browsers, operating systems and assistive technologies to support
Step 11: choose whether to create or procure the web product in-house or contract out externally
Step 12: define the web technologies to be used in the web product
Step 13: use web guidelines to direct accessible web production
Step 14: assure the web product’s accessibility through production
Step 15: communicate the web product’s accessibility decisions at launch
Step 16: plan to assure accessibility in all post-launch updates to the product
Figure 1: 16 Step Model of BS 8878

This model has been drawn up based on real-world experience in companies and organisations that have effectively addressed accessibility. BS 8878 addresses accessibility both at the organisational level and the individual product level. It needs to be adapted to any situation it is applied.

The official slides on BS 8878 from its launch, together with other free information including, case studies of organisations using BS 8878, detailed blogs on its use by SMEs, tools and training for applying the Standard, and news on its progress towards an International Standard, can be found at http://www.hassellinclusion.com/bs8878/

BS 8878 was published by the British Standards Institute and has not been adopted by standards body outside the UK. However on Global Accessibility Awareness Day it would appear particularly appropriate to highlight the valuable work which has taken place in the UK. Perhaps Web accessibility practitioners, developers and policy-makers outside the UK should be asking “How can we learn from the approaches which have been taken in the UK?“; “Shouldn’t we be looking to implement a similar code of practice within our national standards body?” and even “Shouldn’t BS 8878 form the basis of an international standard?


About the Author and his Previous Work

Brian Kelly attended the launch meeting for WAI in April 1997 and has been active in promoting best practices for Web accessibility ever since. Initially the focus of his work was in promoting take-up of WCAG guidelines across the UK’s higher and further education sectors. However following feedback from those involved in developing of web-based elearning services, it became apparent that use of WCAG guidelines was not always appropriate in the context of e-learning development work. A paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” published in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology in 2004 introduced the idea of ‘holistic approaches’ to web accessibility.

The limitations of WAI’s approaches were described in a paper on “Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World” which described how “the context of the Web resource in question and other factors surrounding its use are used to shape an approach to accessible design” was published in 2005.

A paper on “Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility” was awarded a prize for Best Research Paper at the ALT-C 2005 conference.

The importance of context was described in a paper on “Contextual Web Accessibility – Maximizing the Benefit of Accessibility Guidelines” which was presented at the W4A 2006 conference.

The importance of development of policies and accompanying processes to support user-focussed approaches to Web accessibility were described in a paper on “Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes” presented at the W4A 2007 conference.

A review of work to date was given in a paper on “Reflections on the Development of a Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility” presented at the ADDW08 conference.

The need to adopt alternative approaches to Web accessibility was described in papers on “Accessibility 2.0: Next Steps For Web Accessibility” published in the Journal of Access Services and “From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability” published in the Disability and Rehability: Assistive Technology journal, both published in 2009.

Insights from disability studies were included in a paper on “Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World” presented at the W4A 2010 conference.

The limitation of accessibility metrics were addressed in a paper “Web Accessibility Metrics For A Post Digital World” presented at a W3C WAI online symposium in 2011.

These ideas were further developed in a post on “A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First” presented at the W4A 2012 conference.

These, and other peer-reviewed papers on Web accessibility can be accessed from the UKOLN Web site.


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

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Aversive Disablism, Web Accessibility and the Web Developer

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 May 2012

Today is the seventh annual Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD). A described in a post on the Diary of a Goldfish blogThis is the day where all around the world, disabled and non-disabled people blog about their experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination. In this way, we hope to raise awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we’ve made“. My contribution will be to explore the question: “are web developers and web authors who have embraced WCAG guidelines unknowingly creating barriers for people with disabilities?


Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2012Sarah Lewthwaite introduced me to the term “adversive disablism” a couple of years ago when we had a brief discussion on Twitter and I was motived to follow the link to her (old) blog. Following a subsequent discussion Sarah drew my attention to a post she had written on Web Development and Aversive Disablism.

I quickly realised that Sarah’s expertise in disability theory added a new dimension to the Web accessibility research papers which David Sloan and myself, together with several other disability researchers and practitioners had published since my first paper, on Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility, was published in 2004.

Sarah, David and myself subsequently wrote a paper on Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World which was accepted at the W4A 2010 conference. In the paper (which is available in PDF, MS Word and HTML formats) we describe how:

Blatant forms of discrimination and prejudice towards disabled people appear to be declining in the UK and elsewhere. As such, it is not always clear how or why inequality persists, particularly online where disability could become a matter of relevance, rather than definition.

To understand this phenomenon, it is useful to consider Mark Deal’s concept of Aversive Disablism: ‘Aversive disablists recognise disablism is bad but do not recognize that they themselves are prejudiced‘ [6]. Where aversive racists are not anti-black, but pro-white [7], aversive disablists may not be anti-disabled, but rather pro-non-disabled. This disablism, is often unintentional.

The paper goes on to add:

In terms of Web development, significant inroads are being made through legislation, education and advocacy, but aversive disablism can and does persist at many levels. Importantly, since Web 2.0 thrives upon user-generated content and social interactions which are propagated and remixed across media, there are a multitude of levels and opportunities for aversive disablism to become integrated within systems.

But what does this mean in the context of Web development, especially for those who feel their approaches do not discriminate against users with disabilities but may, in reality, inadvertently do so? Four examples come to mind in which decisions taken by Web developers, managers and policy makers may provide unintentional barriers to users with disabilities:

  1. I won’t use JavaScript on my Web site.
  2. I insist that Web pages must validate.
  3. We don’t make videos available unless they are fully-captioned.
  4. We will only use HTML as a document format on our web site.

These views have, I suspect, been held by people with long-standing involvement in Web accessibility and would appear to be based on agreed best practices. But consider some alternative views to each of these points:

  1. JavaScript can assist the usability of Web sites, including the usability by people with disabilities. And although some assistive technologies may not have supported JavaScript nowadays many tools will provide such support.
  2. The vast majority of Web pages do not validate with formal HTML standards, but this is not necessarily a barrier to accessibility, especially for trivial HTML errors such as unescaped & characters.
  3. Videos may be valuable for users with disabilities and to deprive such users of access to these videos due to a lack of resources to fund captioning may be a barrier to these users.
  4. Institutional repositories currently host primarily PDFs of peer-reviewed papers. Insisting that an accessible HTML equivalent of such resources must be published will be a severe barrier to the implementation of open access policies.

We might then conclude that such disablist approaches may have been taken by people who regard guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a set of inflexible rules which must be applied at all times or who may interpret legislation as mandating conformance with such guidelines and are unwilling to take a risk that such an interpretation is mistaken.

But in addition such disablist approaches may also be taken by those so immersed in the Web environment, that they fail to appreciate the benefits for people with disabilities of blended approaches, as illustrated in a post on Videoing Talks As A Means Of Providing Equivalent Experiences.

As we described in our most recent paper, the challenge for policy makers and developers involved in Web activities is to ensure that they put people and processes first. I would hope that such user-focussed approaches are the norm. However a post which asks Is PDF accessible in Australia? argues that “it is time the Australian Government Information Management Office and the Human Rights Commission fully embrace both the spirit and the recommendations of WCAG 2.0” which can only be met by use of the following technologies: XHTML1, HTML 4, HTML5. Implementation of such a policy would seem likely to result in significant new barriers to researchers including, ironically, barriers to researchers with disabilities.

To revisit the question I posed at the beginning of this post: “are web developers and web authors who have embraced WCAG guidelines unknowingly creating barriers for people with disabilities?” Might not those with understandable motives in developing a more elegant, robust and open Web environment hinder access to resources for people with disabilities who are living in today’s environment of flawed tools, complex business models and, perhaps, over-ambitious accessibility guidelines?

And if your response is that adopting WCAG has been better than doing nothing, that may have been the case when our understanding of web accessibility was limited. But now we have a better understanding of how WCAG can be applied in a pragmatic way – and in the UK we have BS 8878 which we can – should – be using as a standard.


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

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A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Enhancing Access to Slides

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 April 2012

On Monday 16 April 2012 David Sloan presented our paper on A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First at the W4A 2012 conference.

The slides David used were uploaded to Slideshare in advance of his talk, so that the remote audience watching the live video stream would be able to have a better view of the slides that would be the case if only the video stream was available. Such an approach can clearly help to enhance access to the resource by those who were not present at the conference. In addition this can mean that the slides can also be viewed on a mobile device by conference attendees who might have difficulties in viewing the screen display.

Use of Slideshare would therefore appear to be very relevant for a conference such as W4A 2012, the 9th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility, which seeks to understand innovative ways of enhancing access to web resources for people with disabilities. However in my experience such process-driven solutions tend not to be overlooked, especially by those who regard conformance with WAI’s WCAG guidelines as the definitive solution for enhancing web accessibility.

Our paper challenged such views by arguing that “web accessibility is not an intrinsic characteristic of a digital resource but is determined by complex political, social and other contextual factors, as well as technical aspects which are the focus of WAI standardisation activities. It can therefore be inappropriate to develop legislation or focus on metrics only associated with properties of the resource.” In addition to legislation and metrics we could well have added policies, not only for institutions but also for event organisers.

The paper (which is available in MS Word, PDF and HTML formats) proposed that BS 8878 provides an relevant standard for ensuring that appropriate processes are being addressed and provided a case study from the Open University which illustrated how learning analytics can be used to help identify problems being experienced by students with learning difficulties (which might include difficulties experienced which are due to problems beyond conformance with WCAG guidelines) and suggest appropriate interventions.

How might such approaches be applied in the context of conferences and other events which seek to minimise barriers for people with disabilities? Might not a reasonable policy for event organisers be:

We will seek to ensure that slides used by speakers in presentations will be made available on Slideshare (or equivalent service) so that the slides can be viewed by delegates on popular mobile devices (including Apple iPhone/iPad and Android devices) . This will help participants who may have difficulties in viewing the screen display provided at the event.

This suggestion, which focusses on the processes needed which can provide clear benefits to an identified user community, is itself an example of the ideas described in the paper which argue that WCAG conformance is simply one part of a much wider set of issues which need to be considered when addressing accessibility issues. Unfortunately, as we mention in the presentation “If organisational policy focuses exclusively on technical guideline conformance, there [is] a risk accessibility efforts can be mis-focused“.

It should be noted that the “seek to ensure” wording is used as it is appreciated that this may not also be possible: speakers may not use a desktop presentation software such as PowerPoint or may be presenting confidential or sensitive information which would not be appropriate t0 publish openly.

The slides are available in Slideshare and embedded below.

I should also add that by the end of the third day of the conference there had been over 2,000 views of the slides. Note bad for a presentation given to an audience of about 60 and an example of how the potential benefits provided to remote users and local users may also help in raising awareness of the ideas outlined in the paper. These figures also illustrate the benefits of uploading the slides in advance with, at the time of writing, only two other slideshows have been uploaded (although two additional slideshow have been tagged with the w4a2012 tag). These were uploaded after David’s and have been viewed 5 and 316 times, perhaps because the buzz generated by the #w4a12 tweets had dissipated after delegates went home after the event.

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Are You a Marxist in Your Approaches to Research?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 April 2012

The Point Is To Change The World

Hitherto, philosophers have sought to understand the world; the point, however, is to change it” Karl Marx famously argued. But in the twenty-first century it is researchers rather than philosophers who have a higher public profile in seeking to understand the world. The question then is “is it the role of researchers to also change the world?

From my point of view I have been involved in various aspects of research for which the purpose of the research is to identify and develop best practices – and the purpose of this work is for such best practices to be embedded by practitioners. If the research output is seldom downloaded from an institutional repository (or, worse, is hidden behind publisher’s paywalls) it will be difficult for the work to achieve the goal of developing understanding and informing practice. Promoting the research is therefore, for me, an essential aspect of a researcher’s activities.

In a review of How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism by Eric Hobsbawm published in The Guardian suggested that “Marx’s celebrated over-statement attempted to build what might now be called an ‘impact requirement’“. This suggests that Marx’s quote may continue to be applicable in today’s research environment in which society expects to see evidence of the benefits of work which society (the tax-payer or the student fee-payer) pays.

But if, like me, you feel that researchers have some responsibility in seeing ideas produced through research processes, how might this be done?

Helping To Enhance Impact

Last month a post on this blog described a Paper Accepted for #W4A2012 Conference. The paper, on  “A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First” has been accepted for the W4A 2012 conference, the 9th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility which takes place in Lyon on 16-17  April 2012. The paper is the latest in a series of peer-reviewed papers on Web accessibility based on work led by myself and David Sloan, an accessibility researcher based at the University of Dundee.

This paper is co-authored with Martyn Cooper (the lead author, who is based at the Open University), Sarah Lewthwaite (based at King’s College London who was a co-author of our award-winning paper on Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World presented at the W4A 2010 conference) together with David Sloan.

In order to help to maximise the impact of the paper we have made it available from Opus, the University of Bath’s institutional repository.

Whilst providing open access to a research paper is a desirable goal, it is still a passive approach which does not necessarily help in seeing the ideas provided in a paper being widely adopted.

As part of a pro-active approach to sharing our ideas, myself and my co-authors have agreed to raise awareness of our paper across our professional networks through use of our preferred social media channels. In addition to this post Martyn Cooper has published a post on his contribution to the paper and Sarah Lewthwaite has mentioned the paper on her Slewth Press blog. We can also expect @martyncooper, @sloandr and @slewth talking about the paper on Twitter.

In addition to such blogging activities I have produced a 90 second video summary of my contribution to the paper, which, to allow the video to be easily embedded elsewhere, has been published on YouTube and is embedded below.

In addition to raising awareness of the paper we are also providing opportunities for the ideas described in the paper, including adoption of the BS 8878 Code of Practice For Web Accessibility, to become better understood by practitioners. EA Draffan, who was a co-author of one of our earlier W4A papers on “One World, One Web … But Great Diversity” will give a plenary talk on Beyond WCAG: Experiences in Implementing BS 8878at UKOLN’s forthcoming IWMW 2012 event. At the same event David Sloan will facilitate a 90 minute workshop session on Managing the Process of Providing an Inclusive Institutional Web Presence.

We also hope that the delivery of the paper at the W4A 2012 event on Monday 16 April will help to raise the visibility of our ideas, not only for the event participants but also by using Slideshare and, we hope, recording the presentation itself.

Your Thoughts

In a recent post on Marketing for Scientists Martin Fenner described how:

Scientists may feel uncomfortable about marketing their work, but we all are doing it already. We know that giving a presentation at a key meeting can be a boost for our career, and we know about the importance of maintaining an academic homepage listing our research interests and publications. And people reading this blog will understand that a science blog can be a powerful marketing tool.

I would be interested in other researchers’ views on approaches to maximising the impact of their work. Is this something which you feel is a fundamental aspect of research activities; is it something to be done, out somewhat reluctantly, perhaps due to departmental REF-related pressures or, alternatively, should researchers have a disinterested view of take-up of their ideas in order, say, to maintain one’s objectivity and detachment?  Comments are welcome. Alternatively feel free to complete the accompanying brief survey.

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The Importance of Images in Blog Posts

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 March 2012

Over the past year or so I’ve become aware of the importance of images in blog posts. I noticed this after I started to move away from reading blogs on my RSS reader on my mobile device, which didn’t include images, to use of RSS and Twitter aggregator services, such as Smartr, Pulse, Flipboard or Zite.

An example of the interface which I use most mornings on the way to work can be seen. This image shows the Pulse App on my iPod Touch. As can be seen in the display of UKOLN RSS feeds my blog and the blog for my colleague Marieke Guy both feature images taken from the blog posts which can held differentiate posts; in contrast items available in the UKOLN News RSS feed, for which we tend not to provide images,  fail to stand out.

It was as the importance of such personalised newspaper apps started to become apparent that I decided to make greater use of images on this blog. In this respect I am well behind Martin Weller who, on his Ed Techie blog, frequently includes images in his posts.

The thing I didn’t expect was to see such interfaces being provided for desktop browsers. However last week when I followed a link to a post on Library 2.0 on Steve Wheeler’s Learning With ‘E’s blog I found a similar graphical interface, with an image for the most recent post displayed prominently and images for other recent posts displayed underneath.

I think it will be interesting to see the way in which user interface approaches developed for mobile devices start to migrate to a desktop environment.

In a post on Who let the blogs out? Steve discusses the new theme, with a tongue-in-cheek reference to a recent series of posts on the Context is King vs Context is King debate:

For all these years I have been focusing mainly on content. It was substance over style. Focusing solely on content at the expense of context is a mistake. 

Steve went on to describe the changes to the blog:

I gave my blog a makeover a few days ago. I invoked one of the new templates that Blogger has just started to offer its users. You can see the difference it has made.  …  It holds the content, and presents it in a manner that is more accessible, easy to explore and in a more dynamic way. 

The point about “accessible content” is important, I feel, particularly in the context of accessibility for people with disabilities, which often focusses on support for Assistive Technologies (AT). But since the content hosted on blogs is available as RSS feeds, this enables end users much greater flexibility in reading blog content in ways which reflect their own personal preferences, some of which may be determined  by particular disabilities.  So for me the accessibility challenge when presented with more graphical and flexible interfaces such as the one that can be seen on Steve’s blog is the ease by which such content can be rendered by AT tools, possibly including tools which don’t support JavaScript. It is good to see that the blog is felt to conform with accessibility guidelines according to WAVE (based, of course, on only checking guidelines which can be tested with automated tools) although the blog does not conform with HTML standards.

It will be interesting to see if developments such as this theme, which is provided on the Blogger.com platform, owned by Google, will challenge traditional views on the importance of HTML conformance and Web accessibility guidelines. I would be interested to find out if the content of the blog can be made available to AT tools whilst still providing the new interface for those who prefer this way of interacting with continually the updated content we often find on blogs.

I should add that Steve’s blog can be read on my iPod Touch and Android phone using apps such as Pulse. This makes me wonder if we can regard such devices as AT tools for users who may, for example, find it difficult to make use of desktop computers?

Posted in Accessibility, Blog | 17 Comments »

Paper Accepted for #W4A2012 Conference

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 March 2012

A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First

I’m pleased to report that a paper on “A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First” has been accepted for the W4A 2012 conference, the 9th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility.

The paper is the latest in a series of peer-reviewed papers on Web accessibility based on work led by myself and David Sloan, an accessibility researcher based at the University of Dundee.

This paper is co-authored with Martyn Cooper (the lead author, who is based at the Open University), Sarah Lewthwaite (based at King’s College London who was a co-author of our award-winning paper on Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World presented at the W4A 2010 conference) together with David Sloan.

The paper will be made publicly available next month. The abstract for the paper describes how:

This paper argues that web accessibility is not an intrinsic characteristic of a digital resource but is determined by complex political, social and other contextual factors, as well as technical aspects which are the focus of WAI standardisation activities. It can therefore be inappropriate to develop legislation or focus on metrics only associated with properties of the resource.

The authors describe the value of standards such as BS 8878 which focus on best practices for the process of developing web products and include a user focus.

The paper concludes with a case study that illustrates how learning analytics could provide data to support the improvement of the inclusivity of learning resources, providing a broader perspective beyond the digital resource.

A post which will discuss these ideas, and the challenges which are presented to legislators, policy makers and practitioners who develop practices based on a view that web accessibility is an intrinsic property of a resource which is independent of its context of use, will be published at a later date. For now, however, I’d like to reflect on the working practices and tools we used in writing the paper.

Collaborative Tools Used In Writing The Paper

Display of paper from Skydrive App on iPod Touch

As I suspect is increasingly the norm for collaborative writing, once we had had the initial exchange of emails and agreed to submit a paper, we created a Google Doc. The document was used initially for sharing ideas for the paper and writing the initial draft based on the initial proposed structure.

As the submission deadline approached we became aware that the paper would need significant editing in order to be within the page limit impose by the conference organisers. We therefore copied the content to an MS Word file so that we could had a better idea of the overall shape of the paper which helped to identify the sections we needed to remove.

In order to carry out the final editing we agree that the MS Word file would be the new master copy, and we abandoned the Google Doc which was used in the initial brainstorming of ideas and the production of the earl drafts.

We investigated use of Google Docs as an environment for managing the MS Word file, but that didn’t work.  We therefore decided to evaluate the Microsoft’s Skydrive service which, as described in Wikipedia is “a free-of-charge file hosting service that allows users to upload files to a cloud storage and then access them from a Web browser“. The Wikipedia article goes on to add:

Microsoft added Office Web Apps support to SkyDrive in its “Wave 4″ update allowing users to upload, create, edit, and share Microsoft Office documents directly within a Web browser. Users can create, view and edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote documents within the Web browser. … Users of recent versions of Microsoft Office (for Windows or Macintosh) can use the desktop applications to edit the same section of documents stored on SkyDrive simultaneously. Changes are synchronized when users save the document, and where conflicts occur, a user is given the selection to choose which version to keep.

We found that we could store an MS Word file on Skydrive and edit the file within the browser whilst maintaining the MS Word formatting, although as the checking-in and -out capabilities are dependent on the version of MS Word used locally we did not fully exploit this capability. Skydrive also provides access control, so I could specify who could read or update the paper. In addition the Skydrive App for my iPod Touch enabled me to view the file on a mobile device – and this morning while rereading the paper I noticed a couple of minor changes which improved the readability of the paper. The accompanying screenshot shows the view of the paper which I read on the app.

I’m pleased that writing this paper provided an opportunity to evaluate a new service which appears valuable for collaborative writing when a formatted MS Word file is the intended final output. This is a tool I intend using again in the future. However I’m sure there are many people who have used other collaborative authoring tools which may provide additional advantages. I’m also willing, as part of my open practices for my professional activities, to share my development practices as well as provide open access to my outputs. I’d invite others to share the practices they use in their collaborative writing.

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Paper on Metrics Accepted

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 December 2011

“How can metrics be developed that fulfill requirements such as validity, reliability, and suitability?”

The Call for Papers was unambiguous about the important of metrics:

The goal of this symposium is to bring researchers and practitioners together to scope the extent and magnitude of existing …. metrics, and to develop a roadmap for future research and development in the field.

although there was an acknowledgement of the challenges in developing appropriate metrics:

Using numerical metrics potentially allows a more continuous scale for [measurements] and, to the extent that the metrics are reliable, could be used for comparisons. However, it is unclear how metrics can be developed that fulfill requirements such as validity, reliability, and suitability.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve had a paper accepted for the online symposium which will take place on 5 December 2011.  But what is the subject of the symposium?  I have recently published posts about the complexity of metrics for research papers, including issues such as download statistics for papers which are distributed across multiple services and metrics for providing answers to the question of “what makes a good repository?”.  Or perhaps the paper concerned metrics associated with use of Social Web services, another area I have addressed in several posts over the past year.

Both areas are very complex, with people questioning the validity of current approaches which are being taken to developing metrics which can be used to make comparisons – clearly areas worthy of research into how metrics can be developed and to have a questioning and critical appraisal of approaches which are being proposed. But this wasn’t the area addressed in the paper and in the symposium.

Online Symposium on Website Accessibility Metrics

The paper was, in fact, accepted for the Online Symposium on Website Accessibility Metrics (and is available in MS Word, PDF and HTML formats)

As the call for papers points out “conformance to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is based on 4 ordinal levels of conformance (none, A, AA, and AAA) but these levels are too far apart to allow granular comparison and progress monitoring; if a websites satisfied many success criteria in addition to all Level A success criteria, the website would only conform to level A of WCAG 2.0 but the additional effort would not be visible.”  It seems that rather than having simple four conformance levels, WAI are looking for more sophisticated algorithms which will be able to differentiate cases in which, for example, a Web page contains hundreds of images, none of which contain the alt attributes which are needed to enhance access to assistive technologies and a Web page which also contains hundreds of images, only one of which fails to have a meaningful alt attribute.  Currently both pages with fail WCAG conformance, since this requires all images to contain alt attributes.

It seem that the goal is a Klout score for Web accessibility, but with the difference that the underlying algorithms will be made public. But just as with Klout there is, I feel, a need to question the underlying assumptions which underpin the belief that accessibility can be determined by conformance with a set of rules, developed as part of the WAI’s model based on conformance with guidelines for content (WCAG), authoring tools (ATAG) and browsers and other user agents (UAAG). It is worth, therefore, making some comparisons between metrics-based tools such as Klout for measuring and the range of web accessibility measurement tools of which the now defunct Bobby tool was an early example.

Metrics for Online Reputation (Twitter)  Metrics for Online Web Accessibility Impact of Scholarly Research
Example of Tools Klout, Peerindex, … A-Checker, Bobby (defunct) and others listed in the Complete list of accessibility evaluation tools (last updated in 2006 with several broken links) Publish or Perish, Microsoft Academic Search, Google Scholar Citations, …
Purpose Measurement of online influence Measurement of accessibility of Web resources Measurement of productivity and impact of published scientific works
Underlying model Undocumented algorithms based on analysis of Twitter communities, posts, retweets, etc. Based on conformance with WAI model, based on three sets of guidelines, for content, authoring tools and user agents. Conformance, however, focuses only on WCAG guidelines. h-index, g-index, ….
Legal status No legal status. Conformance required in several countries. No legal status but may be used to determine research funding.
Limitations The system can be easily ‘gamed’. Tools such as Klout provide use of themselves in order to increase scores. The tools fail to take into account differences across different communities (e.g. use same approaches for comparing reputation of celebrities, brands and public sector organisations). The system can be easily ‘gamed’. The WGAC 1.0 guidelines promoted use of technologies developed within the host consortium, even when such technologies were little used. The tools fail to take into account the different ways in which the Web can be used (e.g. to provide access to information, to support teaching and learning, to provide access to cultural resources, for games, …). May be skewed by numbers of authors, self-citations, context of citations, …

Using Metrics In Context

However I do feel that there is value in metrics, whether this is for helping to identify the quality of research publications, online reputation or  accessibility of online resources.  The difficulty arises when the metric is regarded as the truth, and becomes a goal in itself.  So whilst I feel there is validity in publishing details of Klout, PeerIndex and Tweetstat statistics across a selection of institutional Twitter accounts in order to help understand patterns of usage and, I should add, to understand the limitations of such metrics-based tools, I also feel that institutions would be foolhardy to regard such statistics as concrete evidence of value.  Rather such statistics can be useful when used in conjunction with other evidence-based parameters.

The danger with Web accessibility metrics is that they have been used as a goal in their own right. In addition, sadly, the previous government has mandated conformance with these metrics across Government Web sites.  And back in 2004 WAI gave their views on Why Standards Harmonization is Essential to Web Accessibility, which seems to be leading to WCAG conformance being mandated across EU countries. If a proposal on “Why Online Reputation Standards Harmonisation is Essential” was published, especially by the body responsible for the online reputation standard which was proposed as the only standard which should be used,  there would be uproar, with, I would hope, the research community seeking to explore limitations in the proposed standard.

Fortunately the organisers of the WAI symposium do seem to be aware or criticisms of their approaches to Web accessibility as providing the only legitimate approach.  The Call for Papers invited contribution which “may include approaches for measuring ‘accessibility in terms of conformance‘ (metrics that reflect violations of conformance of web content with accessibility guidelines such as WCAG or derivatives such as Section 508) and ‘accessibility in use‘ (metrics that reflect the impact that accessibility issues have on real users, regardless of guidelines)” (my emphasis).

The fundamental objection myself and fellow author of our series of paper on this subject, is that accessibility is not an innate characteristic  of a digital object, but of the user’s difficulty in engaging with an object to fulfil a desired purpose. The view that all Web resources must be universally accessible to everyone, which underlies pressures for organisations to conform with WCAG guidelines, is a flawed approach.

So if I’m critical of metrics related to conformance with guidelines, what do I feel is needed?  Our papers argues for making use of metrics related to guidelines related to the processes surround the development of online resources.  In the UK the BS 8878 guidelines provide the relevant Code of Practice.  As Jonathon Hassell pointed out in a recent post on For World Usability Day: The state of accessibility on the HassellInclusion blog:

[BS8878's] goals were to share best practice in the first Standard about the process of accessibility rather than it’s technical aspects. It’s succeeded in helping harmonise the separate worlds of inclusive design, personalisation and WCAG approaches to accessibility.

Jonathon went on to add:

Uptake is always difficult to measure, and it’s still early days for organisations to go public and say they have changed the way they work to follow BS8878. However, some organisations already have including: Royal Mail, beta.gov.uk and Southampton University. And many others are working on it. BS8878 is one of the best-selling standards BSI have ever created – so it’s met their goals. I’ve trained many organisations globally and my BS8878 presentations on slideshare have been viewed by over 6000 people from over 25 countries.

There is a need to encourage greater take-up of BS 8878, and I hope our paper will help in describing ways in which such take-up can be measured.

But what of the development of new ways of measuring WCAG conformance? As described in a paper on Involving Users in the Development of a Web Accessibility Tool at a cost of over 2M Euros the EU-funded European Internet Accessibility Observatory Project developed a robot for measuring conformance with WCAG guidelines across a range of government Web sites in the EU. As described on the eGovernment Monitor Web site has released  the eAccessibility Checker which builds on the EU-funded project and can be found at http://accessibility.egovmon.no/.  However looking at the results of a survey carried out last month across a number of Norwegian Web sites it seems that  there of a number of problems which are experienced by over 80% of the Web sites! If such tools report a low-level of conformance can’t we then use this as evidence of the failures of the WAI model rather than, as has been the case in the past, a failure in organisations to be willing to enhance the accessibility of their services?

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Metrics, This Time For Web Accessibility

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17 October 2011

Metrics For Web Accessibility

A recent tweet from @LouWoodley alerted me to a post which described “Here is how you can game Klout“.  The post described how an automated bot seems to have been successful in gaining a high ranking on Klout.  A clear example of the limitations of automated use of metrics in order to seek to establish some kind of value – in the case related to the impact, outreach and influence of individuals using Twitter.

In this post, rather than revisiting a discussion of the pros and cons of metrics for analysing interactions on the social web I’d like to drawn attention to a call for short papers for an “Online Symposium on Website Accessibility Metrics“. The call for papers describes how:

The W3C/WAI Research and Development Working Group (RDWG) will hold an online symposium on measuring website accessibility and invites your contribution. The goal of this symposium is to bring researchers and practitioners together to scope the extent and magnitude of existing website accessibility metrics, and to develop a roadmap for future research and development in the field.

The background to this area of work describes how:

Measuring the level of web accessibility is essential for assessing accessibility implementation and improvement over time but finding appropriate measurements is non-trivial. For instance, conformance to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is based on 4 ordinal levels of conformance (none, A, AA, and AAA) but these levels are too far apart to allow granular comparison and progress monitoring; if a websites satisfied many success criteria in addition to all Level A success criteria, the website would only conform to level A of WCAG 2.0 but the additional effort would not be visible.

and goes on to admit that:

Using numerical metrics potentially allows a more continuous scale for measuring accessibility and, to the extent that the metrics are reliable, could be used for comparisons. However, it is unclear how metrics can be developed that fulfill requirements such as validity, reliability, and suitability. For example, is a web page with two images with faulty text alternatives out of ten more accessible than another page with only one image with a faulty text alternative out of five? While such a count may be a fairly simple and reliable metric it is generally not a valid reflection of accessibility without additional information about the context in which the faults occur, but identifying this context may introduce complexity, reduce reliability, and raise other challenges.

The online symposium is invited submissions for papers which will “constitute the basis from which to further explore a research and development roadmap for website accessibility metrics”.  Papers are invited which discuss of the relationship of two approaches: (1) measuring ‘accessibility in terms of conformance’ with guidelines such as WCAG or Section 508 and (2)  ‘accessibility in use’ metrics that reflect the impact that accessibility issues have on real users, regardless of guidelines.  Papers are invited to address the following types of questions:

  • What sort of techniques can we explore to combine metrics that are computed automatically, semi-automatically (with input from humans), and manually (where the judgement is made by humans, even if with input from software)?
  • How can we build an infrastructure (such as IBM Social Accessibility) that allows experts to store accessibility information (metadata) for use with metrics that are computed during subsequent audits?
  • What metrics, or combination of metrics, can be used as predictors of accessibility?
  • How shall we characterize the quality of such predictors in terms of properties such as reliability, validity, sensitivity, adequacy and adaptability?
  • Which approaches can be embraced for validating, benchmarking, and comparing web accessibility metrics?
  • How should we tackle metrics in web applications with dynamic content?

Discussion

Myself and several Web accessibility researchers and practitioners have, over the years, written several papers in which we have described reservations regarding use of WAI guidelines as a definitive benchmark for Web accessibility. Our work began in 2004 with a paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” and a year later a follow-up paper on “Implementing a Holistic Approach to E-Learning Accessibility” won a prize for the best research paper at the ALT-C 2007 conference. Since then we have published several further papers with contributions from a number of Web accessibility researchers and practitioners which have developed our ideas further. In brief we might describe our ideas with the Twitter-friendly summary: “Accessibility is about people & their content; it is not an inherent characteristic of a resource“.

I therefore welcome the invitation for ideas on “ ‘accessibility in use’ metrics that reflect the impact that accessibility issues have on real users, regardless of guidelines“.

I should say that I do feel that there is still a need to be able to provide more sophisticated Web accessibility rankings that go beyond the WAI A/AA or AAA scores (which, in a university context seem to have parallels with the first, upper second, lower second and third class ranking we have for undergraduate achievements). We should be able to useful differentiate between Web pages (and Web sites) which  have images which have 95% containing alt equivalents from those with only 5% – currently both such pages will be treated equally as a WCAG failure. Similarly it would be useful to rank the importance of a failure to conform with WCAG guidelines (for example missing alt text on images should be regarded as more significant than having a hr element without the required terminating / in an XHTML document which breaks HTML conformance requirements).

But to prioritise analysis and subsequent actions based on the resource still focuses on the content, in isolation of the context, the target audience and the purpose of the Web resource or service.  Such an approach fails to consider blended approaches (“blended accessibility for blended accessibility” as we described in a presentation back in 2006) or the provision of multiple access routes to content (such as access to content published in the Guardian which, as described in a recent post, can be accessed via the Guardian Facebook, Kindle, iPhone or Android apps, on the Guardian Web site and via Guardian RSS feeds.

The “Online Symposium on Website Accessibility Metrics“, however, provides an opportunity to revisit previous work from a new perspective: the role of metrics. In general metrics may be needed for several purposes including:

  • Measuring conformance to agreed benchmarks
  • To identify good and bad practices which can lead to sharing experiences and changing working practices.
  • To penalise conformance which fails to reach acceptable measures.
  • To understand the limitations of benchmarks and to identify ways in which they may be refined.

Tools such as Bobby, WebXact, WAVE, and similar accessibility checking tools tended to focus on conformance with WCAG guidelines and, in some cases, the Section 508 US guidelines which had many similarities to WCAG.

However an initial survey published in 2002 and a follow-up survey in 2004 of  conformance with WCAG guidelines for UK University home pages using Bobby was used to demonstrate the limitations of such tools and the underlying guidelines they were based on: i.e. the 3 universities  in 2002 and the nine universities in 2004 having a WCAG AA conformance rating (based on automated testing which will, in any case, tend to give a higher rating) demonstrated failures ion the guidelines rather than failing across the UK higher education sector.

This example illustrates how the tools were used to demonstrate flaws in the underlying guidelines,  and why it would, in some cases, be inappropriate to use the metrics to highlight good or bad practices or to penalise lack of conformance.

What Is To Be Done For Web Accessibility Metrics?

Whilst our accessibility research highlighted limitations in WAI’s approaches, we did not feel it would be appropriate to abandon efforts to develop guidelines to enhance access to digital resources and services for people with disabilities.   We proposed a less mechanistic approach which we described as a “holistic approach to Web accessibility” which was described in a paper on  “Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility” and subsequently further refined and developed in several papers including”Holistic Approaches to E-Learning Accessibility” and “Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility“.

Our approaches became validated with the launch of BS 8878; Code of Practice for Web Accessibility.  As described in  a post on BS 8878: “Accessibility has been stuck in a rut of technical guidelines” BS 8878 acknowledges the complexities of Web accessibility and provides a 16 step plan which identifies the necessary steps for enhancing accessibility, whilst acknowledging that it may not always be possible to implement best practices at all stages.

For me, therefore, the focus of future Web metrics work should be based on metrics associated with the 16 stages of BS 8878, rather than the single stage in BS 8878 which addresses technical guidelines such as WCAG.

In a post on Web Accessibility, Institutional Repositories and BS 8878 I described how the UK’s BS 8878 Code of Practice for Web Accessibility might be applied in the content of large numbers of PDF resources hosted in institutional repositories. Some suggestions for  metrics associated with the various stages described in the post are given below.

  1. Note any platform or technology preferences:
    Advice: PDFs may not include accessibility support.
    Metrics: Monitor numbers of resources provided in PDF format and measure changes over time.
  2. Define the relationship the product will have with its target audience:
    Advice: The paper will be provided at a stable URI.
    Metrics:  Monitor changes in URIs for resources and report on any changes.
  3. Define the user goals and tasks:
    Advice: Users will use various search tools to find resource. Paper with then be read on screen or printed.
    Metrics: Monitor terms used in searches and use to identify possible usability problems.
  4. Consider the degree of user experience the web product will aim to provide:
    Advice: Usability of the PDF document will be constrained by publisher’s template. Technical accessibility will be constrained by workflow processes.
    Metrics: Feedback on enhancements to the template should be made to the publisher and records kept on implementation of recommendations.
  5. Consider inclusive design & user-personalised approaches to accessibility:
    Advice: Usability of the PDF document will be constrained by publisher’s template. Technical accessibility will be constrained by workflow processes.
    Metrics: Records should be kept on personalised preferences selected and feedback should be gathered on the personalised experiences.
  6. Choose the delivery platform to support:
    Advice: Aims to be available on devices with PDF support including mobile devices.
    Metrics: Records on usage of platforms should be kept and used to inform and possibly modify the policy decision.
  7. Choose the target browsers, operating systems & assistive technologies to support:
    Advice: All?
    Metrics: Selection of target browsers may be determined by popularity of such browsers.  There will therefore be a need to define how to measure browser usage.
  8. Choose whether to create or procure the Web product:
    Advice: The service is provided by repository team.
    Metrics: Not appropriate.
  9. Define the Web technologies to be used in the Web product:
    Advice: HTML interface to PDF resources.
    Metrics: Not appropriate.
  10. Use Web guidelines to direct accessibility web production:
    Advice: HTML pages will seek to conform with WCAG 2.0 AA. PDF resources may not conform with PDF accessibility guidelines.
    Metrics: Use of automated tools to measure conformance with best practices for HTML and PDF resources.  Deviations from best practices should be documents and remedial action taken, if felt to be appropriate.
  11. Assure the Web products accessibility through production (i.e. at all stages):
    Advice: Periodic audits of PDF accessibility planned.
    Metrics:  This is the key area.
  12. Communicate the Web product’s accessibility decisions at launch:
    Advice: Accessibility statement to be published.
    Metrics: Provide a feedback tool for the accessibility statement and ensure that issues raised are addressed.

Does this seem to be an appropriate response to the question “What should be done with Web accessibility metrics?”

Posted in Accessibility | 1 Comment »

What Twitter Tells Us About The #DevCSI #a11yhack Event

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 June 2011

The DevCSI #a11yhack Event

On Tuesday and Wednesday I attended the DevCSI’s Accessibility Hackdays – A11y hackspace which was described as “A two day workshop bringing accessibility (a11y) users, experts and developers together to hack on ideas, prototypes and mashups, while exploring the challenges in providing usable accessibility“.

Unfortunately I arrived late on Tuesday and so didn’t have an opportunity to join in the discussions which aimed to identify development areas related to accessibility ( for which the Twitter tag “#a11y” is often used).   So yesterday I used the development time as an opportunity to identify existing Twitter applications which might be used to support the event.

In response to my colleague’s Mahendra Mahey’s invitation for participants to describe the problem space prior to summarising the development activities which had taken place I stated that:

UKOLN’s DevCSI work has a focus on the building of communities. There have been community activities over 2 days.  But what evidence do we have of community engagement; sharing and the sustainability of such communities and how do we enable participants to understand, interpret and curate their own communities?

I then demonstrated a number of applications and summarised how the applications can help to address the problems described above.

What Twitter Told us About The Event

TwapperKeeper and Summarizr

I began my mentioning the TwapperKeeper archive for the #a11yhack hashtag which I created on the train on Tuesday afternoon after I noticed that the archive hadn’t been set up.  I then showed the output from the Summarizr analysis service for the #a11yhack tag and pointed out that @maccymacx was the top Twitterer and was also mentioned or replied to the most. As she tweeted shortly afterwards@briankelly preso: #twitterstreamgraphs shows that I’m top of most #a11yhack twitter ratings, should I be worried? :S“. Note I also pointed out that there were only two geo-located tweets, one from Birmingham and one from London.  Such low levels of usage has been recorded for many of the Summarizr summaries I had examined, indicated that Twitter is not currently being used to geo-locate tweets.

Graph of folk recently tweeting q=a11yhack

After the demonstration related to the Twitter volume I then demonstrated Tony Hirst’s Web based tool which provided a visualisation of the connections between people who tweeted with the #a11yhack tag (though note I found that I had to enter the hashtag into the search box).

As Tony described in a blog post entitled OUseful.info: Using Protovis to Visualise Connections Between People Tweeting a Particular Term this service was developed in April in order to “publish a service that lets folk generate their own network visualisations”. In his post Tony described how “the app demonstrates whether folk recently tweeting a particular term or hashtag all know each other, or whther the discussion going on around the term/tag is taking place outside of an echo chamber“.

Twitter StreamGraph

After discussed how the service described above helped to gain a better understanding of the connections between people using the event’s hashtag I demonstrated the Twitter StreamGraph timeline for the #a11yhack hashtag.

From this we could clearly see that the peak time for the tweeting had been at about 11am yesterday morning, with a second peak after we had returned from lunch.  Perhaps most interesting, however, are the much smaller visualisations of a small number of tweets at 2am (just before the hackers were heading off to bed) and at about 7am (when they were getting ready to start hacking on the final day).  I think this demonstrates that such DevCSI events do have a requirement for network access at unexpected times of the day!

Using Gephi To Map Twitter Networks

In a recent post Tony Hirst described A Map of My Twitter Follower Network.  The production of the map requires some manual intervention so it was not possible to be able to provide a live demonstration of Twitter networks related to, say, the @devcsi account.  However I suggested that since the DevCSI had an important role to play in supporting the development of communities that it might be useful exercise to see the develop of Twitter communities around the various topics areas which have been addressed at DevCSI events.

Realtime Display of #a11yhack Tweets

I concluded by demonstrating the Revisit realtime display of #a11yhack tweets (which is illustrated).

A point of showing this display was to demonstrate how a wide range of visualisations of Twitter streams can be provided, which can allow users to choose an interface which reflects their personal preferences, rather than expecting every Web-based interface to be universally accessible to all users – as some felt to be the case in the early years in the development of accessible Web sites.

Conclusions

Shortly after the DevCSI event was over Sandi Wassmer, the invited keynote speaker at the event, in giving her thanks to the event organisers picked up on how the DevCSI #a11yhack event had appeared to have fulfilled its purpose:

Thanks to  @mahendra_mahey  @SteveALee  @devcsi for enabling collaboration, innovation & creativity to flourish at #a11yhack.

An example of the collaboration, innovation and creativity was seen when, following Bruce Lawson’s   demonstration of webVTT in his invited talk on HTML5, Scott Wilson of the JISC-funded CETIS service developed a W3C widget to generate WebVTT (the Web Video Text Track file format that is under development for solving time-aligned text challenges for video.). Bruce, who was only present at the event on this first day, was alerted to this development on Twitter and shared the news across his Twitter community, as illustrated in the above image.

Further summaries about the event should be published shortly on the DevCSI blog. I’d like to conclude by echoing Sandi’s comments on how the DevCSI event helps to support collaboration, innovation and creativity and to give thanks to my colleague Mahendra Mahey, the DevCSI project manager for his willingness to take risks in providing the environment which supports the rapid development environment we saw over the last couple of days and Steve Lee, the co-facilitaor of the event, and wish Steve well in his new venture with the  OpenDirective, spin-off company from the JISC OSS Watch service.

Posted in Accessibility, Events | 4 Comments »

UKOLN’s DevCSI Accessibility Hackdays: #A11y Hackspace

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 May 2011

On 21-22 June 2011 UKOLN’s DevCSI project is organised the #a11y hackspace event, which is described as “A two day workshop bringing developers, accessibility (a11y) users and experts together to hack on ideas, prototypes and mashups, while exploring the challenges in providing usable accessibility“.

It seems to be that this event could provide an ideal opportunity for developers with an interest in accessibility to explore solutions and approaches which could be used in the context of the BS 8878 Code of Practice on Web accessibility (which is summarised on the AbilityNet Web site).

In a post on Web Accessibility, Institutional Repositories and BS 8878 I have previously described how the 16 steps defined in BS 8878 could be applied in the context of defining the accessibility policies and processes for enhancing the accessibility of institutional repositories. One of the steps is to “Assure the Web products accessibility through production (i.e. at all stages)“. I suggested that this could be addressed by use of tools to monitor the extent to which PDFs hosted in institutional repositories are conforming with accessibility guidelines for PDFs. This suggestion was based on a paper on  “Supporting PDF accessibility evaluation: Early results from the FixRep project” which I described in a blog post last year. Might there be an opportunity for developers to build on this initial work, I wonder?

If you have other suggestions which could be addressed at the hackday note that a wiki has been set up. Also note that the event is free to attend and the online booking form is open for bookings.

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Fixing the Web – for People with Disabilities

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 March 2011

I have previously described the limitations of basing an institutional Web accessibility policy purely on conformance with WAI WCAG guidelines. Such an approach, whilst appearing very laudable, fails to address the more challenging areas of enhancing access to Web resources and services for people with disabilities, including the challenges of key institutional activities such as the provision of e-learning for students and of institutional repositories for researchers.

The BS 8878 Code of Practice provides a valuable framework for addressing such challenges and, as suggested previously, could be used to provide a policy framework for enhancing access to institutional repositories.

However although BS 8878 seems to provide a policy framework which is appropriate for use in the UK, there is still a need for a mechanism for users with disabilities to be able to report access problems and for such concerns to be addressed. The Fix the Web initiative has been set up to enable end users to report problems and for such problems to be evaluated by Web experts and, where appropriate, for such problems to be reported to service providers.

As described on the JISC CETIS Accessibility blog, provided by Sharon Parry, this can be described as “Crowdsourcing to Fix the Web“. Sharon summarises this initiative:

Fix The Web is a site which encourages people with disabilities to report any accessibility problems they have with a website. Volunteers then take these problems up with the website owners. …

Using a middleman (or woman) to act as an interface between people with disabilities, who experience problems with inaccessible websites, and the web developers themselves could help make the web a better place for everyone and act as an informal means of educating developers about the importance of accessibility.

A post on the JISC TechDis blog reports on how development work funded by the JISC is being used by the Fix the Web team:

Fix the Web and Southampton University have successfully incorporated a Fix the Web reporting button into the Accessibility Toolbar that Southampton evolved from the original JISC TechDis project. …

If you want to find the new plugin and use it for you or your learners to report any inaccessible sites please download it from http://www.fixtheweb.net/toolbar. You can find out more about making a difference by volunteering your web accessibility awareness and expertise at http://www.fixtheweb.net/being-volunteer.

What are the implications of recent developments such as BS 8878 and Fix the Web for those involved in the provision of Web services, whether institutional Web services or the use of the Web to support teaching and learning or research work. I think it is clear that BS 8878 provide a Web accessibility policy framework which is appropriate for use across the sector. In addition to this those with particular interests and expertise in Web accessibility may find it beneficial to volunteer to support this initiative. This will involve:

  1. Ensuring the information from the disabled person, though very brief (some of this will come through tweets!) is reproduced in a polite and comprehensible form.
  2. Finding the web owner via their website and send the information to them through email or contact form.

I know many people involved in institutional Web activities have strong interests in accessibility issues. Here is an opportunity to make such interests and expertise available in a wider context and help to enhance online experiences for people with disabilities.

Posted in Accessibility | 1 Comment »

When Technology (Eventually) Enhances Accessibility

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 March 2011

“You’re Damned If You Do and Damned If You Don’t!”

Should you make use of a technology if you can’t guarantee that it will be accessible to people with disabilities?  Should you, for example, provide access to videos if you can’t provide captions for the videos?

If you have stated that your institution’s Web site will conform fully with WCAG (1.0 or 2.0) guidelines then you won’t be able to host such videos as the WCAG 2.0 guidelines state:

Guideline 1.2 Time-based Media: Provide alternatives for time-based media.

1.2.2 Captions (Prerecorded): Captions are provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media, except when the media is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such. (Level A)

Of course failing to provide videos may in itself act as a barrier to people with disabilities: as Lorenzo Dow put itYou’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t!

At the recent JISC CETIS Accessibility SIG meeting which I mentioned recently Shadi Abou-Zahra commented that he felt that some of he criticisms I had made of the difficulties of implementing WCAG guidelines were inappropriate as WAI do not address the policy issues regarding  implementation of the guidelines  – they simply point out that a failure to implement guidelines can result in problems for people with various disabilities.  I have to admit that I wish WAI had been much more vocal in making this point since many public sector organisations (including the UK Government) have stated (or, indeed, mandated) conformance with WCAG guidelines without giving any caveats.

But let’s acknowledge that although there may have been communications problems in the past we are now in a position to exploit WCAG and other guidelines in a pragmatic and achievable way, with the BS 8878 Code of Practice now providing the policy framework to guide us.

The Challenge of Providing Access to Videos

What can be done if you wish to host videos and feel it is not feasible to provide captions?  This may be because ownership of the videos is devolved – perhaps large numbers of students have taken videos of their graduation ceremony and these are being hosted (or linked to) from the institution. Or perhaps, as has been the case at a number of events for developers, researchers and practitioners  video interviews were made with participants and speakers in order to provide potential attendees with an authentic perspective on what to expect at the event and the costs of just-in-case captioning can’t be justified?

The BS 8878 Code of Practice recognises that accessibility is not always easy – or indeed possible – to implement. The important thing to do, therefore, is to document policies and processes.  But in addition there is a need to understand that technological developments may help to address accessibility issues, so that resources which are not accessible today could be made accessible tomorrow but only if those resources are available.

An example of this is the iTitle Twitter captioning service which enabled a Twitter stream to be synchronised with a video stream on popular video-streaming services such as YouTube or Vimeo.

YouTube provides another example of how technological developments may enhance the accessibility of video clips.  Back in November 2009 YouTube announced that they had added a feature that generates video captions:

We’ve combined Google’s automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology with the YouTube caption system to offer automatic captions, or auto-caps for short. Auto-caps use the same voice recognition algorithms in Google Voice to automatically generate captions for video.

Initially this feature only worked for English and was  “enabled for a small number of channels that usually feature talks and interviews: UC Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Yale, UCLA, Duke,UCTV, Columbia, PBS, National Geographic“. However in March 2010 a CNET News article announcedYouTube brings auto-captioning to everyone“:

Video providers are now able to apply for machine transcription on their own videos. And for videos that have not yet been transcribed, a user can request it themselves. YouTube then puts it in a transcription queue, which can take anywhere from an hour to a day–a time Google is trying to make as fast as possible.

An article in The Register does point out some limitations in th automated transcriptions: “Automatic captions for a 14-year-old’s video diary: nigh incomprehensible” but then goes on to add “US President Obama’s weekly address to the nation: works pretty nice“.

But what are my experiences?  Do I sound like a 14 year old or President Obama?  Generating the automated captions was trivial and, as can be seen in the image below, the system could understand that I was speaking English.  But what has been transcribed as “acceptable snow” was actually me saying “it’s a cancerous cell“!

We therefore can’t say that YouTube’s automatic captions have solved the problem.  But  it strikes me that the quality of the captioning is likely to improve as algorithms improve, additional processing power is provided and, perhaps most importantly, the system begins to recognise regional accents and also individual speaking patterns.

It should also be noted that, as described on the YouTube Web site, the automated captioning service creates a captions.sbv file containing the captions and the time stamp. As this is a text file it can be edited using a simple text editor so that if, for example, much of the captioning is correct but the odd word has been transcribed incorrectly it would be possible to use the automated conversion for the bulk of the conversion work.

Should we not, therefore, be providing YouTube with a wider range of videos containing our various regional accents in order to enhance the automated analyses?  And will a failure to upload our videos result in a failure to enhance accessibility for tomorrow’s audiences?

And if we have lecturers who speak with a clear and distinct English accent (unlike my Scouse accent with traces of the years spend in Yorkshire, Newcastle and the East Midlands) and videos of their talks are successfully captioned, wouldn’t if be unreasonable to fail to provide this service? Let’s remember that UK legislation expects organisations to take reasonable measures – isn’t uploading videos in order to enhance access a reasonable thing for organisations to be doing now?

Posted in Accessibility | 5 Comments »

BS 8878: Applying a Level of Redirection to Web Accessibility

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 March 2011

As mentioned in a post entitled “A Grammatical View of Web Accessibility” on Monday I gave a talk on “BS 8878 and the Holistic Approaches to Web Accessibility” at a CETIS Accessibility SIG meeting held at the BSI HQ in London.

My talk described the background to the development of the holistic approach to Web accessibility and how this approach relates to the BS 8878 Code of Practice on Web Accessibility.  When I listened to Jonathon Hassell’s talk on “BS 8878 and the Feedback Process” which preceded mine it was clear that BS 8878 provides a very good implementation of the ideas which myself and fellow accessibility researchers and practitioners have developed since 2005.

Our initial concerns (described in more detail in a paper on “Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World” which is available in PDF, MS Word or HTML formats) were based on a realisation of flaws in the WCAG 1.0 guidelines and a growing awareness of the limitations of the WAI model, which is dependent on full implementation of WCAG, ATAG and UAAG guidelines.

The WAI guidelines (and the WCAG guidelines in particular) should therefore be regarded as a target to aspire towards if they are appropriate to the intended use of the Web service and the target audience and the guidelines can be implemented by taking reasonable measures, which will be dependent on factors such as the scope of the service, your available resources and budgets and the maturity of the technologies you intend to use (don’t, for example, expect that a W3C standard such as SMIL will necessarily provide an accessible solution as support for the standard is low).

The WAI guidelines should therefore be regarded as a set of technological best practices. However such guidelines are useful in helping to make the, sometimes difficult, choices of the technologies to be chosen, the levels of accessibility to be provided and ways in which such accessibility support can be sustained.  This is where BS8878 can provide a solution by outlining 16 stages in the process of developing accessible Web services, including the process of deciding which WCAG guidelines may be appropriate and how they should be deployed.

It struck me that the BS 8878 is an example of the saying I heard many years ago: “There isn’t a problem in computer science which can’t be solved by adding a level of redirection“. In this case the areas in which WCAG fail to provide an appropriate solution can be addressed by providing a standard which enables the scope of WCAG’s usage to be defined.

Note that if you still feel that all Web resources must be universally accessible to everyone, please tell me how the many thousands of PDFs containing in institutional repositories will be made accessible?  (Perhaps by getting rid of such resources?!)

Finally I should add that a video of my talk is available on YouTube and embedded below.

Note: If you wish to view the video you may find it useful to view the slides which are available on Slideshare and embedded below. This link was added shortly after the post was published.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

A Grammatical View of Web Accessibility

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 February 2011

Later today (Monday 28 February) I’ll be giving a talk on “BS 8878 and the Holistic Approaches to Web Accessibility” at a CETIS Accessibility SIG meeting which is being held at the BSI Headquarters in London.

My talk will review the development of the holistic approach to Web accessibility and describe how this approach seems to be in harmony with the BS 8878 Code of Practice on Web accessibility, as I have previously discussed.

As I was finalising the slides it occurred to me that the WAI approach focusses on the implementation of best practices for the creation of Web resources and of the tools used to create and view the resources. The WAI model (and the WCAG, ATAG and UAAG guidelines) regard accessibility as an intrinsic property of the resource. In contrast the holistic approach regards accessibility as a property of the use of a resource and accessibility can be addressed by having a better understanding of such uses.

This approach was described in our first paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” (available in PDF, MS Word and HTML formats) in which we described how the concept of blended learning could be applied to the provision of accessible e-learning. A paper on “Implementing a Holistic Approach to E-Learning Accessibility” (available in PDF, MS Word and HTML formats) subsequently provided a case study which illustrated how these approaches are being applied to cultural heritage resources. This was followed by a paper on “Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes” (available in PDF, MS Word and HTML formats) which further developed this approach and described how it could be used in other scenarios.

Using a grammatical model (subject-verb-object) we might say that the WAI approach focusses on the object with the subject being regarded as everyone and the verb being understand or perceive. The WAI approach can be summarised as “everyone can understand all resources“.

In contrast the holistic approach regards accessibility as a function of what a user does with a resource. Accessibility is not directly a function of a resource and alternative resources (including real world resources) provide a legitimate way of enhancing accessibility. In addition the use relates to the target audience and not necessarily everybody. We might therefore apply grammatical model (subject-verb-object) but this time giving greater emphasis on the verb and appreciating that there may be a variety of subjects.

Put simply we might say that the provision of e-learning resources and real-world alternatives can provide a diversity of learning approaches:

  • John learns from the Web resource.
  • Jill learns from the real world resource.

Look back at the paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” we described a field trip for a geography student, which requires climbing a mountain or other terrain unsuited for a student in a wheelchair or with similar physical disabilities. The paper pointed out that solutions need not necessarily be restricted to those with obvious disabilities, as such concerns could be shared by an overweight student or a heavy smoker who finds physical exertions difficult. The paper described how:

… using our model the teacher would identify the learning experiences (perhaps selection of minerals in their natural environment and working in a team) and seek equivalent learning experiences (perhaps providing the student with 3G phone technologies, videos, for use in selecting the mineral, followed by team-building activities back at the base camp).

We can see how we were focussing on the activities (the verbs) in our initial paper rather than characteristics of the relevant resources.

Does this model help to provide a better understanding of our approaches? Is this model helpful in understanding how diverse approaches to Web accessibility can be implemented?

I hope to get answers to these questions at the CETIS Accessibility SIG meeting. I’d also welcome feedback on the blog.

Note that the slides are available on Slideshare and are embedded below.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 1 Comment »