UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

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Accessibility and User-Generated Content

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 Apr 2007

I met Jacco van Ossenbruggen from CWI, Netherlands at the Museums and the Web conference. I’d seen Jacco at previous international WWW conferences, but this was the first time we spoken – and Jacco provided valuable contributions to the UK Museum’s Semantic Web Thinktank meeting.

After the conference I wanted to email Jacco about another area of mutual interest (URIschemes). A Google search for “Jacco CWI” quickly found a page containing Jacco’s email address – and the page I found, a Web-based record of an IRC chat – raised some interesting issues related to accessibility.

The page on MMSEM XG First Face to face meeting in Amsterdam, held on 10 July 2006 contained a transcript of the IRC channel, which was used by remote participants at the meeting:

<jacco> A use case from, for example, the MESH project, could be on news.
<jacco> Giovanni: MUSCLE is working on music use cases
<jacco> AXMEDIS is a big player in this
<jacco> Massimo, could you say something on MUSCLE
<jacco> ?
<giovannit> http://www.axmedis.org/
<jacco> within the MPEG-7 standard actually using the description schemes is really difficult

Now I suspect that the Web accessibility hardliners would tell us that this infringes accessibility guidelines, with the various project acronyms and technical standards not being expanded (e.g. through use of the <abbr> or <acronym> elements) and possibly on the difficulty in understanding.

Interestingly enough a similar example came up in the Accessibility 2.0 Professional Forum at the Museums and the Web 2007 conference which I’ve mentioned previously. How should institutions address accessibility issues when end users add comments to a blog posting or contribute to discussion board? As we can’t expect that they’ll provide the necessary semantic markup (and, in many cases, the software doesn’t allow them to do this) does this mean we can’t deploy systems for users to create their own content?

The example given above, taken from the W3C Web, illustrates that W3C itself takes a pragmatic approach to this problem. They will take ‘reasonable measures’ to ensure resources on their Web site are accessible – but if that can’t be done, they don’y take the approach that they can’t provide the service at all. And the IRC channel itself provides a valuable aaccessibility aid, especially for participants who are ‘geographically-challenged’ and can’t attend the meeting.

So if your accessibility hardliners are using accessibility issues as an argument for not providing such services, feel free to use this as example.

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