UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Revisiting Web Accessibility Metadata

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 Feb 2009

At the OzeWAI 2009 conference Liddy Nevile gave a talk on “AccessForAll Metadata for all Australian Resources”. I’ve known Liddy for over 10 years (I think we first met at a W3C working group meeting on PICS). Liddy has interests in both metadata and accessibility and has been working on the development of standards for accessibility metadata for some time. Liddy prefers the term ‘adaptability’ to ‘accessibility’ for reasons she explains in her paper on “Adaptability and Accessibility: a New Framework” – and I’m in broad agreement with her.

Liddy gave several reasons why the vision of making every digital resource universally accessible to all was flawed (but unfortunately her talk was not recorded, so you’ll have to take my word for that :-) .

Her talk reminded me of the ideas concerning accessibility and metadata which I had about 10 years go and presented in a talk in May 1999 on “Accessibility, Automation and Metadata” at a WAI meeting held in Toronto after the WWW 8 conference.

It’s funny looking back at a presentation like this after a period of almost 10 years. Sentiments such as those expressed by Julie Howell (who then worked at the RNIB):

Rather than encouraging ‘simplicity’ in Web design … we try to encourage ‘flexibility’, so that Web sites can be tailored to individual need ‘simply’. Flexibility affords the personalisation which people with sight problems require.”

still do not seem to be accepted in some quarters (such as policy makers in the Government) where there still seems to be a culture of mandating a single approach rather than responding to a diversity of requirements.

I suspect that the (rather vague) ideas suggested in my talk haven’t yet really surfaced in widespread use not because of the lack of tools to implement such approaches, but because ideas based around personalisation weren’t popular back then.  But now that PLEs and PREs are in vogue, we need to be revisiting these issues – and not just at the application level, but also the metadata standards needed to implement this. But as Liddy and I admitted in a paper on “Web Accessibility 3.0: Learning From The Past, Planning For The Future” we also need to acknowledge that good ideas are not necessarily implemented.  There a need to learn from failures of the past and take into account the following when seeking to develop alternative approaches:

  • The need for acceptance in the market place for tools which support the a personalisation vision for accessibility;
  • The dangers of seeking to standardise too soon;
  • The dangers of embedding technological decisions within legislation too soon;
  • The need to ensure that solutions can scale to vast numbers of resources and users.

Are we, I wonder, now in a position in which such concerns can be addressed?

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