UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for the ‘Accessibility’ Category

BS 8878: “Accessibility has been stuck in a rut of technical guidelines”

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 9 December 2010

Launch of the BS 8878 Web accessibility Code of practice

Yesterday I listened to a Webinar entitled “BS 8878 Explained” which was given the day after the official launch of the “BS 8878 Web accessibility. Code of practice“. The Code of Practice can be purchased for £100 from the BSI shop :-( Once I realised this was the case I tried to  keep a note of the main points which were being made during the Webinar.  Unfortunately the PowerPoint slides which were used do not seem to have been published, so there may be mistakes in the notes I have taken.  It is unfortunate that the launch of this important new code of practice was not supported by the availability of accompanying support materials – uploading the slides to PowerPoint and providing a URL on the title slide would have been simple to do. Perhaps the reasons for not doing this are to maximise consultancy opportunities although, since I have learnt that a recording of the Webinar has been made available, I’m inclined to think that this was just an oversight. Note that I learnt about the availability of the recording of the Webinar from the TwapperKeeper archive of all #bs8878 tweets – and note that an archive of tweets for the 7-8 December 2010 is also available, which may be useful if you want to view the discussions which took place during the Webinar.

Back in June I wrote a post about a draft version of BS 8878 in which I concluded:

the Code of Practice correctly acknowledges the complexities in seeking to enhance accessibility of Web products for people with disabilities.  It was also good to see the references to ‘inclusive design’ rather than the ‘universal design’ which, I feel, leads people to believe that a single universal solution is possible or, indeed desirable.

Many thanks to the people who have produced this document which gets my support.

Although I haven’t read the final published version the Webinar  seems to confirm that a pragmatic and user-focussed approach to Web accessibility has been taken to the production of the code of practice. A summary of my notes from the Webinar is given below and some general comments are given at the end of this post. I should also add that the Access8878 Web site provides a summary of the Code of Practice which is available for free and that Deborah Edwards-Onoro has also published a summary of the Webinar.

Notes from the Webinar

During the Webinar Robin Christoperson and Jon Gooday Elliot Martin gave an introduction to this new BS Code of Practice and provided a case study of how Lloyds TSB have gone about addressing accessibility issues.

The key points I noted during the talk are given below:

  • BS 8878 is user-focussed.
  • BS 8878 covers ‘Web products’ and not just Web sites (including email used over the Web; Flash;  mobile; …).  However the code of practice doesn’t cover software.
  • BS 8878 is a code of practice  which gives guidance (could, should, …) rather than detailed technical specifications.
  • It can be possible to comply with BS 8878 if you implement recommendations. It should be noted that this includes documentation of various processes and decisions.
  • BS 8878 is applicable to all types of organisations.
  • “Accessibility has been stuck in a rut of technical guidelines and a low level focus” i.e. with those working in Web team taking a  checklist approach to accessibility. BS 8878 endorses a more strategic and high level approach. It has been described as provided a more holistic approach.

Following a Lloyd TSB Case Study of how they have addressed accessibility issues the structure of the BS 8878 document was described.

The documents explains why an  accessibility policy is needed, with examples of such policies accessibility statements being provided in annexes to the document.

Advice is given on making ‘justifiable decisions’, which aim to make you think and understand the implications of actions and  ensuring that decisions are documented.

Section 7 of the document covers WCAG guidelines, inclusive design (which wasn’t covered in previous BS 78, the previous code of practice on Web accessibility) and provision of personalised Web sites (e.g. Wen sites for BSL users; style switchers; etc).

Section 8 covers testing processes, to ensure accessibility issues are addressed in the testing processes.  The Annexes provide more detailed examples.

A significant change in the document following changes to DDA legislation (which has been replaced by the Equality Act) which covers liability. Since the legislation applies only to services hosted in the UK there will be need to take care when making use of services provided by 3rd party providers. [It was unclear as to whether this meant that since 3rd party services would be exempt from UK legislation there would be no liability, or the UK organisation using the service would have to accept liability.]

The heart of document is a 16 step plan:

Step 1: Define the purpose.

Step 2: Define the target audience.

Step 3: Analyse the needs of the target audience (note this wasn’t covered in PAS 78)

Step 4: Note any platform or technology preferences

Step 5: Define the relationship the product will have with its target audience

Step 6: Define the user goals and tasks

Step 7: Consider the degree of user experience the web product will aim to provide

Step 8: Consider inclusive design & user-personalised approaches to accessibility

Step 9: Choose the delivery platform to support

Step 10: Choose the target browsers, operating systems & assistive technologies to support

Step 11: Choose whether to create or procure the Web product.

Step 12: Define the web technologies to be used in the Web product

Step 13: Use Web guidelines to direct accessibility web production  This step covers use of WCAG guidelines.

Step 14: Assure the web products accessibility through production (i.e. at all stages)

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

Note that BS 887 is a very new document. The editorial team welcome feedback on  experiences of using the approaches described in the document which can be fed into next version, which should be published in 2 years time.


BS 8878 is user-focussed“:  this was the most pleasing aspect of the Webinar. I have argued in the past that Web accessibility has been regarded as a feature of a resource, with the user often being invisible. It is good to see that the balance has been re-addressed.

Accessibility has been stuck in a rut of technical guidelines and a low level focus“:  another comments I would agree with.  I was pleased to see that Step 13: “Use Web guidelines to direct accessibility web production” is correctly regarded as just one small part of a much more sophisticated approach to addressing Web accessibility challenges.

The more process-driven approach to Web accessibility reflects the ideas which have been described in a series of papers on Web accessibility which a group of accessibility researchers and practitioners have published over the past six years or so.  In particular the BS 8878 Code of Practice implements the suggestions that:

If current approaches in the specification of accessible Web sites are flawed, what alternative approaches should be taken? The authors’ experience suggests that there is not a single specification, or set of them, that can be prescribed for accessibility. The approach that appeals to the more experienced mind is one that operates on a repertoire of techniques, policies and specifications that are worked upon freshly in each new situation. The results of this expert approach cannot be mandated as the relevant expertise cannot be distilled but the practice of consideration, and exploration can be mandated. The authors are inclined to the view that it is more the processes undertaken by authors or not, that are responsible for many accessibility problems. This suggests a process-oriented approach to accessibility rather than one based on strict technical adherence to technical specifications.

which were described in a paper on “One world, one web … but great diversity” which was presented at the W4A 2008 conference in Beijing, China.

The 16 step approach also provides a pragmatic approach to addressing the challenging areas of Web accessibility, such as the accessibility of research publications hosted in institutional repositories or the accessibility of amplified events.  At this year’s W4A 2010 conference in a paper on “Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World” we proposed the following approaches:

Reasonable Measures: Rather than regarding WCAG conformance as a mandatory requirement, WCAG should be regarded as guidelines, which may be ignored if their use conflicts with other requirements – so long as steps are taken to address the potential exclusion that may result. It should be noted that UK legislation that requires use of ‘reasonable measures’ to ensure that users with disabilities are not discriminated against unfairly, provides a legislative context for this approach. A policy based on ‘seeking to make use of WCAG’ will provide the flexibility needed. This would not be possible with a policy which states that all resources must conform to WCAG.

Justification of Costs: ‘Reasonable measures’ should include identification of costs of conforming with accessibility guidelines. There should be consideration of the trade-off between financial savings and usability issues. For example the attraction of promoting open source, free assistive technology in developing countries may be tempered by the challenges of moving users away from familiar, currently-used commercial alternatives – which may in reality have been illegally obtained at low cost.

Provision of Alternatives: If it is too costly or difficult to conform with accessibility guidelines, the provision of alternatives that are as equivalent as possible may be an appropriate solution. As described in[10] the alternative need not be Web-based.

Just-in-time Accessibility: A requirement that all resources conform to WCAG is a ‘just-in-case’ solution. This may be an appropriate resource for widely accessed informational resources, but may be inappropriate if resources are expected to be little used. There may be advantages in delaying provision of accessibility solutions to allow development of technologies which can enable more cost-effective solutions to be devised.

Advocacy, Education and Training: Those involved in supporting content providers and other stakeholders should ensure that education and training on best practices is provided, together with advocacy on the needs for such best practices.

Sharing and Learning: With an emphasis on a community-based approach to the development of appropriate solutions it is important that best practices are widely shared.

Engagement of Users with Disabilities: The need to ensure that disabled people are included in the design and development of Web solutions must be emphasised.

Focus on ‘Accessibility’ rather than ‘Web Accessibility’: The benefits of Web/IT solutions to real world accessibility difficulties needs to be considered. As described above, amplified events can address difficulties in travel and access, even though the technologies used may not conform with accessibility guidelines.

When time permits it would be interesting to see how the holistic approaches to Web accessibility which we have developed (and described in our papers) maps to the approaches described in the BS 8878 Code of Practice.

To conclude, I’d like to give my thanks to the contributors to the BS 8878 Code of Practice who are helping to ensure that Accessibility is no longer “stuck in a rut of technical guidelines“.

Note (added on 2 April 2012). I have been informed that 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 on the Hassell Inclusion web site.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 10 Comments »

Automated Accessibility Analysis of PDFs in Repositories

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 30 July 2010

Back in December 2006 I wrote a post on Accessibility and Institutional Repositories in which I suggested that it might be “unreasonable to expect hundreds in not thousands of legacy [PDF] resources to have accessibility metadata and document structures applied to them, if this could be demonstrated to be an expensive exercise of only very limited potential benefit“. I went on to suggest that there is a need to “explore what may be regarded as ‘unreasonable’ we then need to define ‘reasonable’ actions which institutions providing institutional repositories would be expected to take“.

A discussion on the costs and complexities of implementing various best practices for depositing resources in repositories continued as I described in a post on Institutional Repositories and the Costs Of Doing It Right in September 2008, with Les Carr suggesting that “If accessibility is currently out of reach for journal articles, then it is another potential hindrance for OA“. Les was arguing that the costs of providing accessibility resources in institutional repositories is too great and can act as a barrier to maximising open access to institutional research activities.

I agreed with this view, but also felt there was a need to gain evidence on possible accessibility barriers. Such evidence should help to inform practice, user education and policies. These ideas were developed in a paper published last year on “From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability” (available in PDF and HTML formats) in which I suggested that institutions should “run automated audits on the content of [PDF resources in] the repositories. Such audits can produce valuable metadata with respect to resources and resource components and, for example, evaluate the level of use of best practices, such as the provision of structured headings, tagged images, tagged languages, conformance with the PDF standard, etc. Such evidence could be valuable in identifying problems which may need to be addressed in training or in fixing broken workflow processes.”

I discussed these ideas with my colleagues Emma Tonkin and Andy Hewson who are working on the JISC-funded FixRep project which “aims to examine existing techniques and implementations for automated formal metadata extraction, within the framework of existing toolsets and services provided by the JISC Information Environment and elsewhere“. Since this project is analysing the metadata for repository items including “title, author and resource creation date, temporal and geographical metadata, file format, extension and compatibility information, image captions and so forth” it occurred to me that this work could also include automated analyses of the accessibility aspects of PDF resources in repositories.

Emma and Andy have developed such software which they have used to analyse records in the University of Bath Opus repository.  Their initial findings were published in a paper on “Supporting PDF accessibility evaluation: Early results from the FixRep project“. This paper was accepted by the “2nd Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries International Conference (QQML2010)” which was held in Greece on 25-28 May 2010. Due to the volcanic ash Emma and Andy were unable to attend the conference. Emma did, however, produce a Slidecast of the presentation which she used as she wasn’t able to physically attend the conference. This has the advantage of being able to be embedded in this blog:

The prototype software they developed was used to analyse PDF resources by extracting information about the document in a number of ways including header and formatting analysis; information from the body of the document and information from the originating filesystem.  The initial pilot analyse PDFs held in the University of Bath repository and was successful in analysing 80% of the PDFs,with 20% being unable to be analysed due to a lack of metadata available for extraction of the file format of file was not supported by the analysis tools.

In my discussions with Emma and Andy we discussed how knowledge of the tools used to create the PDF would be useful in understanding the origins of possible accessibility limitations, with such knowledge being used to inform both user education and the workflow processes used to create PDFs which are deposited in repositories. However rather than the diversity of PDF tools which were expected to be found, there appeared to be only two main tools used. It appears that this reflects the software used to create the PDF cover page (which I have written about recently) rather than the tools used to create the main PDF resource. If you are unfamiliar with such cover pages one is illustrated – the page aims to provide key information about the paper and also provides institutional branding, as can be seen.

As Emma concluded in the presentation “We may be ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’ with additions like after-the-fact cover sheets. This may remove original metadata that could have been utilised for machine learning.

Absolutely! As well as acting as a barrier to Search Engine Optimisation (which is discussed in the paper)  the current approaches taken to the production of such cover pages act as a barrier to research, such as the analysis of the accessibility of such resources.

It does strike me that this is nothing new. When the Web first came to the attention of University marketing departments there was a tendency to put large logos on the home page, images of the vice-chancellor and even splash screens to provide even more marketing, despite Web professions pointing out the dangers associated with such approaches.

So whilst I understand that there may be a need for cover pages, can they be produced in a more sophisticated fashion so that they are friendly to those who are developing new and better ways of accessing resources in institutional repositories? Please!

Posted in Accessibility, Repositories | 8 Comments »

Twitter Captioned Videos Gets Even Better

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 28 July 2010

A recent post described the Captioned Videos of IWMW 2010 Talks which made use of Martin Hawksey’s iTitle service to synchonise a video with an accompanying Twitter stream.

I was not along in being impressed by this service – but since it made use of HTML 5 and the videos were encoded in MP4 format the video display would only work in a limited number of browsers, including Google Chrome.  Many users who do not have access to such browsers will not be able to see how this service works and try out for themselves features such as searching the Twitter stream and having the video jump directly to the appropriate point.

Captioned video of Paul Boag's talk at IWMW 2010However Martin has updated the service to provide a Flash-based solution for viewing the captioned video, thus enhancing access  to a much wider audience.

So if you use Opera or Internet Explorer you can, for example, visit the page about Paul Boag’s talk and search for what he had to say about ‘legacy’ Web sites.

The rapid development we have seen with Martin’s service illustrates the benefits of  a ‘just-in-time’ approach to accessibility which myself, Sarah Lewthwaite and David Sloan described in a paper on “Developing countries; developing experiences: approaches to accessibility for the Real World“.  If the videos had not been made available due to concerns regarding the costs of providing captioning in order to conform with WCAG accessibility guidelines we would not have been in a position to exploit the rapid developments we are currently seeing across the Web development community, including this example of exploiting the Twitter stream – which, again, we needed to archive in order to provide the content for this just-in-time solution.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 9 Comments »

Paper on “From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability” now available

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 1 July 2010

A paper  on “From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability” is now available from the University of Bath Opus repository (in HTML and PDF formats). This paper, which was co-authored by Liddy Nevile, David Sloan, Sotiris Fanou, Ruth Ellison and Lisa Herrod, was published in Disability and Rehability: Assistive Technology (Vol. 4, Issue 4).

As I described last yearUnfortunately, due to copyright restriction, access to this version is embargoed until next year“. I’m pleased to announce that the paper is, at last, available.

As described by David Sloan:

This paper focuses on ways to strike a balance between a policy that limits the chances of unjustified accessibility barriers being introduced in web design while also providing enough flexibility to allow the web in a way that provides the best possible user experience for disabled people by acknowledging and supporting the diversity of and the occasional conflicts between the needs of different groups.

As described in a recent post such considerations have been accepted in the draft Web Accessibility – Code of Practice. I would like to be able to say that our paper had been influential in the development of the BSI Code of Practice. However since the paper has been embargoed the influence of the ideas described in the paper will be limited and as is it costs £33 to order a copy of the paper from the publisher this will have provided an additional barrier – although the post on “From Web Accessibility To Web Adaptability”: A Summary” at least provided a publicly-available review of the ideas described in the paper.

I would conclude that the strict copyright embargo which the publishers placed on this paper has acted as a barrier which to the take-up of the ideas in the paper. I normally try to avoid submitting papers to publishers which have such restrictions but in this case it was an invited paper based on a paper on “Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes” which was presented at the W4A 2007 conference – the opportunity to build on our ideas and have additional input from two new co-authors to the paper was really something I felt would be foolish to turn down. But although I am willing to accept such real-world compromises this doesn’t mean that I agree with the publisher’s approaches – and I will try and avoid such restrictions in the future.

Posted in Accessibility, Papers | 1 Comment »

Web Accessibility – Code of Practice (BS 8878:2010)

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 28 June 2010

Over the past six years I have worked with a group of accessibility researchers and practitioners in the UK and, in the past couple of years in Australia, in writing papers for a number of peer-reviewed journals which have described the limitations of traditional approaches to Web accessibility, which is based on an uncritical acceptance of the WAI approach to Web accessibility and the emphasis placed on WCAG guidelines.

In our paper on “Reflections on the Development of a Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility” (see HTML or PDF version) presented at the ADDW08 conference myself and David Sloan reviewed the ideas we had described up to 2008.  The paper described the holistic approach to e-learning accessibility which myself, Lawrie Phipps and Elaine Swift described in our initial paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” (see HTML or PDF version) published in 2004. The paper then described the stakeholder model of accessibility which was developed by Jane Seale and featured in our paper on “Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes” (see HTML or PDF version). As can be gathered from the title of that paper, we also highlighted the importance of policies covering the approaches taken to Web accessibility within organisations.

Having been involved in this work over the years I was very interested to see the recent draft version of the BS 8878:2010 Code of Practice on Web Accessibility.  I have to admit I was very pleased to read the approaches taken in this document. It was good to see the emphasis on documentation and the escape mechanism given in the second bullet point below which allows for deviations from requirements described in the document if, for example, technological developments supercede the requirements stated in the document:

Organizations wishing to claim conformity with BS 8878 should:

  • address all of the provisions of this British Standard
  • be able to justify any course of action that deviates from this British Standard’s recommendations; and
  • document their decision processes (in hard copy or electronic media) to provide evidence of following the recommendations and guidance in this British Standard

It is good to see, at last, a document about Web accessibility explicitly acknowledging the need to address the resource implications in providing accessible services:

Where organizations do not choose the option which would result in a product which is the most accessible it can be, organizations should be able to justify their decisions for choosing a lesser option based on the reasonableness of this decision, defined as a cost-benefits balance between:

  • the reasonableness of the cost: the financial or time costs of choosing more accessible options, balanced against whether the organization has the resources to meet those costs
  • the reasonableness of the benefit: the number of disabled and elderly users who would benefit from those more accessible options, and the size of the impact on each of these users if the web product excluded them

The document also recognises the importance of context and personalisation and explicitly addresses a learning context in the following example:

Educational establishments, eLearning websites, staff intranets, and any website where users become a member by creating a login (such as social networking sites) are more likely to regard their users as individuals that they have entered into a relationship with. This might set up an expectation of an individualized user experience in the mind of their users. These user expectations, once set up, might extend beyond general personalization facilities like rating or the creation of member pages, to include an individualized approach to dealing with their accessibility needs.

The document recognises that organisations may legitimately address the requirements of individuals or groups:

The organization should choose whether they will aim to regard their users as:

    • individuals; or
    • user groups, each with a set of common needs.


    • More traditional public internet sites are more likely to consider their users as user groups, and not raise user expectations beyond this lower level.

    This choice, which should be documented in the product’s accessibility policy, will fundamentally impact the approach to accessibility for the web product (see 4.4.9).

The document is quite long and may disappoint those who may have been hoping for a simple description of a code of practice for Web accessibility.  However I feel that the Code of Practice correctly acknowledges the complexities in seeking to enhance accessibility of Web products for people with disabilities.  It was also good to see the references to ‘inclusive design’ rather than the ‘universal design’ which, I feel, leads people to believe that a single universal solution is possible or, indeed desirable.

Many thanks to the people who have produced this document which gets my support.

Posted in Accessibility | 6 Comments »

Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 10 May 2010

The Paper

I described previously how our paper on “Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World” received the John M Slatin award for the Best Communications Paper at the W4A 2010 conference. Although the paper, which was written by myself, Sarah Lewthwaite and David Sloan, has not yet been published by the ACM my author’s copy of the paper is now available on the UKOLN Web site in MS Word and HTML formats.

Although the full paper is available on the UKOLN Web site (and should also be accessible via the W4A 2010 conference Web site shortly)  it is not possible to provide comments or discuss the ideas outlined in the paper using these services. Last year I provided a summary on this blog of a paper entitled “From Web accessibility to Web adaptability”. My reason for the blog post was to provide a summary of the paper for interested readers who were understandably reluctant to pay the $50 to purchase the paper from the publishers (although published last July access to the paper via the University of Bath institutional repository is still embargoed).

Although the publishers of papers presented at the W4A 2010 conference have a more lenient approach to access I still feel that it can be beneficial to provide a summary of newly published papers on this blog, in order to provide an open feedback mechanism and to encourage discussion.

Summary of the Paper

The paper begins by summarising the limitations of the WAI model for enhancing the accessibility of Web resources, which was first described in our paper on “Forcing standardization or accommodating diversity? A framework for applying the WCAG in the real world” (also available in HTML). We describe the lack of political will to mandate use of browsers which conform with UAAG, with recent advice for government organisations in France and Germany  to migrate from Internet Explorer 6 to modern versions of browsers being provided for security and not accessibility reasons.

The paper then provides two examples from Disability Studies which illustrate the value of applying critical theories to support more holistic approaches to Web accessibility: Aversive Disablism and Hierarchies of Impairment. Aversive disablism is illustrated using M. Deal’s comparison with race theory: aversive racists are not anti-black, but pro-white. There is a need to understand how approaches to accessibility might be based on pro-non-disabled assumptions.  Such considerations should be understood from the context of Hierarchies of Impairment. We further cite M Deal who argued the need to be “focusing attention on impairment groups that face the most discrimination in society (i.e. those ranked lowest in the hierarchy of impairments), rather than viewing disabled people as a homogenous group“.  In the context of Web accessibility the focus of attention is often the needs of the visually-impaired, with the needs of users with learning difficulties having been seemingly marginalised in the development of accessibility guidelines. We conclude that “Critical research into accessibility for such groups is therefore recommended before standards can be invested“.

There is a danger that having an understanding of the technical flaws in the WAI model and the implicit assumptions which have been made in the developments of the guidelines will leave those involved in the commissioning and development of Web services feeling confused and uncertain as to what they should be doing. When thinking about digital inclusion in developing countries, there is a danger that implementing a flawed accessibility policy derived from developed world assumptions (for example a text-dominated communication system) may lead to a colonial imposition of accessibility that has the opposite effect on inclusion to what is intended. Our paper argues that rather than attempting to arrive at ‘standards’ we should now be observing patterns of effective approaches to the delivery of the service. We provides two brief case studies: one on the use of multimedia resources and the second on the provision of ‘amplified events’.

The paper summarises the difficult challenges which need to be faced when planning the development of Web services and which tend not to be addressed at a guideline-driven definition of accessibility. The paper concludes by describing a framework which can be used by practitioners around the world, in developing solutions when a simple application of WCAG guidelines is not feasible.  We also “argue for a reappraisal of mainstream approaches to Web accessibility policy work to ensure a more effective and workable approach to promoting technology as a way of globally reducing social exclusion for disabled people“.

Next Steps

Our critique of the approaches which led to the development of WAI model are intended for those involved in WAI activities and policy-makers who may have a responsibility for deciding whether to use WCAG guidelines as valuable guidelines or standards whose use should be mandated in all contexts.  However the framework we have begun to develop is intended for use by Web practitioners. We will be further developing this approach, especially for use in the provision of amplified events, which is an area of  particular interest to UKOLN.

We’d welcome your comments on the ideas described in this paper.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Winner of John M Slatin Award at W4A 2010

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 29 April 2010

I’m pleased to report that our paper on “Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World” which was presented at the W4A 2010 conference on Monday received the John M Slatin award for Best Communications Paper. My co-authors for this paper were Sarah Lewthwaite and David Sloan.

This is the latest in a series of papers which have been presented at the W4A conferences in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010 (the theme of the W4A 2009 conference was “Web Accessibility for Older Users” and we thought it would be difficult to relate this theme to our area of work).

In a post entitled “It Started With A Tweet” I described how I first got to know the second co-author, Sarah Lewthwaite, whom I have not yet met. Sarah provided the holistic approach to Web accessibility (which David Sloan, myself and other accessibility researchers and practitioners have developed over the past 6 years) with a grounding in disability research theories, in particular aversive disablism.

Our paper is not yet available online. The paper is now available on the University of Bath institutional repository. Once it has been uploaded (and we have permission to make available version of the paper on the UKOLN Web site) I will provide a summary of the ideas described in the paper and invite feedback. But for now I need to track down David Sloan and get to see the “engraved plinth and silver plate”.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

It Started With A Tweet

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 26 March 2010

I’m pleased to say that a paper by myself, David Sloan and Sarah Lewthwaite has been accepted for the W4A 2010 conference, the 7th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility. The theme of this year’s conference is “Developing Regions: Common Goals, Common Problems.

Our paper is entitled “Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World“. The paper builds on previous papers which have been presented at the W4A conference (papers have been accepted in 4 of the past 5 years – I didn’t submit a paper at least year’s event). The paper argues that it would be a mistake for developing countries to simply require use of technical guidelines for addressing Web accessibility guidelines, as increasing evidence across developed countries is demonstrating the limitations of such an approach.  Sarah Lewthwaite has contributed a new insight to previous work, based on her thoughts on ‘adverse disablism‘ which she has described previously on her blog.

I will describe the ideas from our paper at a later date, after the paper has been presented at the conference. In this post, however, I’d like to describe how I first met Sarah and how our initial contact led to our successful collaboration on a paper which has been accepted at an international conference.

As you’ll have guessed from the title of this post, it started with a tweet. Sarah tell me that she started following me on Twitter in July 2009. Sarah then spotted a tweet I posted on 21 July in which I mentioned UKOLN was looking for Web 2.0 case studies, especially from Arts/Humanities sector & research students.  Having thus being alerted to a researcher with an interest in Web 2.0 and a willingness to write a case study (which was subsequently published on our JISC SIS Landscape Study blog) I looked at Sarah’s Twitter feed and profile before deciding to follower Sarah (@slewth) on Twitter.  Sarah’s profile had a link to her blog and it was here that I noticed Sarah had an interest in Web accessibility in addition to her Web 2.0 interests.

As we were now following each other on Twitter I was able to send Sarah a DM (direct message) in which I said “BTW was interested in your short paper on Aversive Disablism and the Internet. We’ve similar interests. See“.

That initial exchange led to a couple of email messages and phone calls, which led to an agreement to collaborate on a paper which built on our complementary ideas on Web accessibility. And that paper was accepted and will be presented at the W4A conference next month.

So if anyone  asks you for examples of the tangible benefits which Twitter can provide, feel free to give this example of how Twitter brought together two researchers who were previously unaware of each others interests and resulted in this successful  collaboration.

Posted in Accessibility, Twitter | 4 Comments »

Earlier Today I Gave A Talk In Australia

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 24 November 2009

This morning, as normal, I switched on my iPod Touch just after getting out of bed and downloaded tweets posted overnight. And via a tweet from Jonathan O’Donnell I discovered that during the night I had given the opening keynote talk of the day at the OzeWAI at OZCHI 2009 conference. Yes, I had given a talk at a conference held in Australia before breakfast!

As I pointed out after spotting this: “A few hours ago I gave a keynote talk at the OzeWAI conf in Australia. I was asleep at the time! #a11y“. Of course this provided the opportunity for the responseso were the audience! :-)

Later on in the day, after returning from a meeting in Birmingham I came across a tweet from Joss Winn: “42% of US data centres expect to run out of electricity by 2012. 39% will exceed cooling capacity within that period” which highlighted a comment from a newly-published report on “Low carbon computing: a view to 2050 and beyond” by Paul Anderson, Gaynor Backhouse, Daniel Curtis, Simon Redding, David Wallom which is available from the JISC Web site.

At the recent CETIS 2009 conference Joss told me of his interests in environmental issues and his heartfelt concerns of the needs to reduce energy usage. On his blog Joss recently asked “What will Higher Education look like in a 2050 -80% +2c 450ppm world?“.

I wonder if sometime in the near future travelling to another country to deliver a talk at a conference will be regarded in the same way that lighting a cigarette in the lecture theatre would be – something that is just not done.

And as well as recycling paper will we recycle our talks? The talk which was used at today’s OzeWAI conference was a slidecast (PowerPoint slides with audio hosted on Slideshare) of a rehearsal of a talk entitled “From Web Accessibility To Web Adaptability” which I presented recently at the RNIB’s Techshare conference (and is embedded below).

Is this approach likely to become more prevalent, I wonder? And if so, what are the best practices which should be adopted – and what are the mistakes to be avoided?

Posted in Accessibility | 1 Comment »

Developing Regions: Common Goals, Common Problems?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 11 November 2009

The W4A 2010 conference has announced its call for papers. The theme for next year’s event, which will be held in Raleigh, USA on 26-27 May, is “Developing Regions: Common Goals, Common Problems?“.

The context to the conference is described by the organisers:

However, this expansion [the revolution in the information society]  faces unprecedented accessibility challenges. Even the word “accessibility” needs a new definition for people in the developing regions. How can someone who is illiterate or barely literate access the Web? In some cases, a language may not even have a written form. The affordability of the technology is also a challenge, while access is constrained by low computational power, limited bandwidth, compact keyboards, tiny screens, and even by the lack of electric power. All of these constraints compound the problems of access and inclusion.

How will the research community respond to the theme: Developing Regions: Common Goals, Common Problems? My fear is that we will see papers which describe either a failure of WCAG guidelines to be implemented to any significant approach (with a call for greater advocacy) or research-based solutions which are unlikely to have any significant impact. I’m basing these speculations on my involvement in previous W4A conferences – indeed I can recall asking one presenter who described  an assistive technology solution which had been developed for the FireFox browser whether he felt the tool was likely to be used to any significant extent.   Afterwards I was approached by two participants who worked for public sector organisation in New Zealand who felt that I raised a very pertinent question – especially as access to their service (I think it was the tax office) by FireFox users was close to zero.

Now it may be felt that deployment issues aren’t relevant for a research conference. But if the topic is “Developing Regions: Common Goals, Common Problems?” then surely it is imperative that achievable solutions to the (possibly) common problems are addressed.

I would also hope that the WAI model is not unquestionably accepted as a solution to what problems are being identified.  As I’ve described in several papers (and discussed in several blog posts)  although the WAI approach based on guidelines for Web Content. Authoring Tools and User Agents may provide a useful managerial tool for organising WAI work activities, this approach does not necessarily provide a suitable solution for the deployment of richly accessible services in many use cases.  Previously myself and my co-authors have described approaches for enhancing accessibility in areas such as accessing to e-learning and cultural resources and addressing accessibility when limited budgets are available (the WAI guidelines seem to provide no advice on how to approach this challenge which is likely to affect many organisations – with the default approach being taken in public sector organisations being one should not provide a Web-based service if it can’t be made accessible to everyone).

What new challenges will be faced  by people in developing countries, I wonder? As well as the expected resourcing issues I suspect there will be differing priorities given as well as differing definitions of disabilities.   Will the Web adaptability framework we described in our most recent paper provide the flexible needed to encompass the needs of developing countries? I don’t know – but I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has an interest in this area who might be willing to contribute to a paper for W4A 2010.


Posted in Accessibility | Leave a Comment »

Reflections on Web Adaptability and Techshare 2009

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 23 September 2009

Last week I gave a talk entitled “From Web Accessibility To Web Adaptability” at the RNIB’s Techshare 2009 conference. I have already posted about this talk and described how I had created a slidecast of a rehearsal of the talk (containing an audio track synched with the slides) in order to (a) check the timings for the talk and (b) allow the co-authors of the paper on which the talk is based to see how I intend to present our work. An additional benefit is that the talk is more accessible to people who attended one of the parallel sessions at the conference or who couldn’t attend the conference. In addition people who could attend the talk will be able to revisit the ideas and share them with colleagues.

Video of talk at Techshare 2009In addition to the slidecast of the rehearsal I also brought a Flip video recorder with me, together with a tripod and recorded my live talk. This 30 minute talk is now available on (and a master copy is also held on the UKOLN Web site).

It should be noted that there are some differences between the rehearsal and the live talk. In part this is due to the delayed start of the talk (due to technical difficulties) which meant I had to skip a couple of my slides. But in addition on the evening before the conference I met up with a number of conference participants, including Lisa Herrod (one of the co-authors of the paper) and Joshue O Connor, who is a member of the W3C WAI Protocol and Formats WCAG 2.0 and WAI-ARIA Working Group.

The chat I had with Joshue provided me with a fresh insight of my criticisms of the WAI model. I’ve argued previously (initially in a paper on “Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World” published in 2005) that expecting a combination of best practices for accessible Web content (WCAG), Web authoring tools (ATAG) and Web user agents (UAAG) to provide rich accessibility is naive. And, in addition, focussing on this model fails to provide any assistance on what content creators should be doing in a world of flawed browsers and a rich diversity of ways of creating Web content.

The valuable discussion I had made me realise that the flaws aren’t in the model itself. Rather it’s with the user community’s acceptance of the model as the approach which should be accepted in the real world. The WAI model is valuable in managing WAI’s development activities and clarifying different areas of responsibilities (how the content can be described; how tools can be used to create and manage that content and how user agents – browsers, automated agents; aggregators, etc. can then access and render such information). But this isn’t a model which we need to use ourselves when we are developing institutional policies for our approaches to enhancing the accessibility and usability of our services or when legislators are writing laws describing the legal responsibilities organisations have in providing accessible services.

Following my talk, Joshue and I had a brief chat. Despite the concerns I’d raised it seems that we had similar views. The difficulties, I feel, is in how the WAI approach is being adopted in the real world. So whilst I appreciate WAI’s advocacy in promoting take-up of their guidelines, I now have a better appreciation that their hands are tied when it comes to real world deployment challenges. WAI aren’t in a position to advise on how we should prioritise our (increasingly scarce) resources – such as the example I gave in my final slide on how higher educational institutions should go about enhancing the accessibility of PDFs in institutional repositories.

But perhaps WAI could help by openly stating that decisions on how WAI guidelines should be deployed is up to individual organisations to decide. We do need to remember that there are ‘accessibility fundamentalists’ who bought wholesale into the WCAG 1.0 vision and who may now be finding it difficult to come to terms with a more flexible approach. Let’s use the release of WCAG 2.0 to promote a more flexible approach to accessibility in the real world. And let’s also not forget that the UK Government’s blunt approach of “The minimum standard of accessibility for all public sector websites is Level Double-A Websites owned by central government departments must be Double-A conformant by December 2009” . This policy fails to recognise the low penetration of UAAG-conformant browsers in the Government sector, the resources needed to implement this policy, the reduced level of funding which government departments will be faced with and the likelihood that risk-averse decisions-makers in government departments will use the policy as an excuse to deploy innovative Web-based services.

The slidecast and video of my talk at Techshare 2009 gives another illustration of how providing a diversity of resources might enhance the accessibility of a resource (my talk and the related ideas) which is, to my mind, preferable to not making these resources available as they aren’t universally accessible. And this view appeared to be shared by a number of people at the conference who couldn’t attend my talk but were interested in listening to what I had said.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

“From Web Accessibility To Web Adaptability” Talk at Techshare 2009

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 2 September 2009

A proposal for a talk I submitted to the RNIB’s Techshare 2009 conference has been accepted. The talk on “From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability” will be given on 17 September 2009.

The talk is based on the paper of the same name which was published recently in the Disability and Rehability: Assistive Technology journal. The talk at the Techshare conference will provide an opportunity for the ideas in the paper (which I have also outlined in a recent blog post and in an article published in the e-Access Bulletin) to be described to those in the disability community who may not read academic journals or blogs.

There is an expectation that presentations at the conference will be accessible to those with visual impairments. An approach I have taken to enhancing the accessibility of the slides (and the ideas which will be described in the talk)  has been to create a slidecast of the talk, by synching the audio of a rehearsal of the talk with the slides. This slidecast is available on Slideshare and is embedded below.

The rehearsal also provided an opportunity for me to time the talk – and I found that at 34 minutes it was slightly too long, so the version I will give at the conference will be slightly shorter.

As well as helping me with the timings and allowing me to spot where the material can be improved, creating the slidecast prior to the talk has some additional benefits:

  • It provides a back-up in case I lose my voice or am ill at the conference or fail to arrive at the conference venue due to travel difficulties.
  • Conference delegates can listen to the talk after the event.
  • The talk can be shared with others.
  • The slidecast is a richer resources than the slides on their own

In addition there are parallels with open source software development – this early release of a talk and exposing it to many eyes ears can potentially allow my peers, including co-authors of the original paper, to listen to what I intend to say and provide comments and suggestions as to how the talk can be improved. The talk isn’t trapped in my head until the live delivery!

If you have a particular interest in Web accessibility your comments and questions are welcomed.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

The Science Online 2009 Unconference Video

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 27 August 2009

As described on the On The Roof blog a video clip of the Fringe Frivolous Unconference is now available. The Fringe Frivolous Unconference took place on the evening of Friday 21 August 2009 on the roof terrace of the Mendeley offices. About 40-50 people attended this event, which provided an opportunity for science bloggers and other interested parties to talk about and discuss science blogging.

The video clip (which lasts for 7 minutes 47 seconds) is available on YouTube and is embedded below.

As you can see the video contains brief interviews with many of the participants who attended the unconference in which they explain why the blog or mention other topics of interest to them.

In a blog post about the event Richard Grant described how he “stalk[ed] the rooftops with a Flip camera (kindly loaned by Alom Shaha)” and subsequently “edited the clips into a short film that I think captures the essence of the evening perfectly“. And I think Richard is to be applauded for so quickly taking so many video clips and editing them to produce the short film.

But is this YouTube video accessible? Where are the captions which are needed to ensure that the resource complies with the Web Accessibility Initiative’s (WAI’s) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)? After all the WCAG 2.0 guidelines state that:

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)

But do the unconference organisers (unorganisers?)  have to follow these guidelines? Legislation requires organisations to take reasonable measures to ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against unfairly. And is it reasonable to expect a light-weight approach to recording a video of an event to require captioning? I think not – and recall a suggestion that ‘reasonable measures’ meant an addition 10-15% of effort. I suspect the time it would take to caption this video would probably be significantly greater than this.

In addition perhaps as this event wasn’t ‘official’ and the video wasn’t a deliverable of a public sector organisation, conformance with WCAG guidelines is not needed. But might there not be a moral responsibility to enhance the accessibility of this resources – after all, discussions of the ethical as well as legal aspects of blogging cropped up during the unconference as well in the opening talk at the Science Online 2009 conference the following day?

But how might one go about enhancing the accessibility of the video, in light of the limited effort to do this – and the difficulties of doing this on a sustainable basis?

One approach might be to crowd-source the captioning to share the effort. If, for example, everyone who was interviewed in the video provided a textual summary of what they said, could that be used to caption the video? I’m not sure – but I am willing to provide a summary of my contribution:

4 minutes 45 seconds: Brian Kelly introduces himself. Brian is based at UKOLN, a national centre of expertise in digital information management, located at the University of Bath. He blogs about Web and Web 2.0 issues on the UK Web Focus blog, which is available at

5 minutes 7 seconds: end of Brian Kelly’s clip.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

“From Web Accessibility To Web Adaptability”: A Summary

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 20 July 2009

I recently announced that a paper on “From Web accessibility to Web adaptability” by myself, Liddy Nevile, Sotiris Fanou, Ruth Ellison, Lisa Herrod and David Sloan has been published. I also said that, due to copyright restrictions, access to this article will not be publicly available until next year, when it will be released from the embargo on the University of Bath institutional repository.

David Sloan, who also edited the special issue of the Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology journal which published the paper, has written a brief summary of the paper:

A review of web accessibility from an organisational and policymaker’s perspective. This paper focuses on ways to strike a balance between a policy that limits the chances of unjustified accessibility barriers being introduced in web design while also providing enough flexibility to allow the web in a way that provides the best possible user experience for disabled people by acknowledging and supporting the diversity of and the occasional conflicts between the needs of different groups.

In this post I will give a extended summary of the ideas and approaches outlined in our paper.

The paper begins by adopting the UN Convention’s view that “disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others“. Disability is therefore a social construct and not an attribute of an individual. In particular, resource accessibility is the matching of a resource to an individual’s needs an preferences – and is not an attribute of a resource.

From this perspective we see the limitations of the WAI‘s approach to  accessibility, which regards accessibility as a characteristic of the resource (which should conform to WCAG guidelines) and the tools used to create the resource (which should conform to ATAG guidelines) and view the resource (which should conform to UAAG guidelines). In a previous paper we have described in more details the limitations of the WAI approach to accessibility (see Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World) and here we describe the limitations of what we call ‘Web accessibility 1.0‘  in the context of the UN Convention.

The paper reviews the holistic approach to Web accessibility which we have described in several papers previously (see Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility, Holistic Approaches to E-Learning Accessibility, Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes and Reflections on the Development of a Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility). The approach, which we refer to as ‘Web accessibility 2.0‘, explores accessibility in a number of areas which are more challenging than the simple provision of information, such as access to e-learning and cultural resources.

We then describe an approach which we call ‘Web accessibility 3.0‘ in which access to resources can be personalised to match an individual’s needs and preferences.  As described in our paper Accessibility 2.0: Next Steps For Web Accessibility instead of seeking to ensure that all resources are accessible to all potential users (an approach which the evidence suggests is not a realistic goal), this approach aims to provide resources and information about them that enables users or automated services to construct resources from components that satisfy the individual user’s accessibility needs and preferences.

The paper accepts that the labelling of these different approaches (which has parallels with the ‘Web 2.0′ and ‘Web 3.0′ terms) can be confusing: for many it would imply that Web accessibility 1.0 and 2.0 are now obsolete. This is not the case: there will still be a need for certain types of informational resources (a bus timetable, for example) to conform with WCAG guidelines and the Web accessibility 2.0 and 3.0 approaches describe different approaches which can complement each other.

We have therefore coined the term ‘Web adaptability‘ to described an approach which attempts to support the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

The paper provides four case studies which illustrate how a Web adaptability approach is being used:

Support for users with learning disabilities:  An example is provided of a project at the University of West of England of an e-learning system for people with learning disabilities. The approach taken is to engage the end users in the design and development of the system, rather than the application of WCAG guidelines. A decision was taken “not to try to create a system and content that are universally accessible, but rather to try to maximise the usefulness and usability for a specific audience of learning users with particular permanent disabilities“.

Adaptability for the deaf:  This example illustrates the inappropriateness of the medical model of disabilities which underpins the ‘Web accessibility 1.0′ approach. The deaf community itself recognises both the medical and cultural model of Deafness (and note that the capital D is used to distinguish them as an ethnic community, just as we would use a capital E for English). The case study (which is described in an article on Deafness and the User Experience published on A List Apart) reinforces the merits of the ‘Web adaptability’ approach which can apply a cultural rather than a medical definition of deafness.

Adaptability in a government context: The challenges of applying best practices when faced with limited resources and timescales form the basis of the third case study. This example considers the decisions taken in an Australian government organisation and how the challenges of addressing several constraints: government policies, budgetary measures specific deadlines to meet legislative requirements and availability of staff with the expertise to develop the accessible solutions. The ‘Web adaptability’ framework supported a holistic and pragmatic approach to the challenges by enabling both usability and accessibility issues to be addressed and appropriate solutions to be deployed on time and within the budget.

Adaptability and institutional repositories: Increasing numbers of universities are providing institutional repositories in order to enhance access to research publications and to preserve such resources for future generations. However many of the publications will be deposited as a PDF resource, which will often fail to conform with accessibility guidelines (e.g. images not being tagged for use with screen readers; text not necessarily being ‘linearised’ correctly for use with such devices, etc.). Rather than rejecting research publications which fail to conform with accessibility guidelines the Web adaptability approach would support the continued use and growth of institutional repositories, alongside an approach based on advocacy and education on ways of enhancing the accessibility of research publications, together with research into innovative ways of enhancing the accessibility of the resources.

The paper addresses some of the criticisms which may be made of the Web adaptability approach such as ‘doesn’t the Web adaptability approach allow organisations to disregard accessibility considerations?’ and ‘if WCAG conformance isn’t mandated in law, won’t organisation simply ignore accessibility issues?

How does one specify accessibility requirements in a tender document? How does an organisation audit its resources for accessibility?

We describe how we regard the WCAG 2.0 guidelines as a valuable resource for enhancing the accessibility of resources. The guidelines should be used in they can be used in a cost-effective way and if they do not detract from the core purpose of the service.

We also point out that legislation isn’t the only driver for implementing best practices – and indeed focusing on legal requirement can be counter-productive as if case law subsequently rejects WCAG conformance in a test case (after all the RNIB home page doesn’t conform with the guidelines) this would undermine WCAG as a key component for enhancing the accessibility of Web resources.

Rather than the threat of disability legislation for ensuring organisations enhance the accessibility of their Web services we describe a range of other drivers such as peer pressure, cultural pressure, user engagement, maximising business opportunities and corporate social responsibility and reputation management.

The paper concludes by describing the areas in which standardisation is beneficial. Since we have adopted the UN’s perspective on disability as a social construct and not an attribute of an individual or the resource, we feel that standardisation work should focus on the practices which facilitate the “interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others“.  The BSI PAS 78 on “Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites” provided a good example of a code of practice which documented best practices for the commissioning of accessible Web sites. The draft BSI PAS 8878 on “Web accessibility. Building accessible experiences for disabled people” has the potential to build on this, although, as I pointed out earlier this year, the initial draft provided too great an emphasis on the potential of the nearly arrived WCAG 2.0 guidelines, rather than documenting proven best practices.

I will conclude this summary of the paper by repeating the final paragraph of the paper:

[This paper] argues for the adoption of a Web adaptability approach which incorporates previous approaches and, perhaps more importantly, embraces the future, including technical innovations, differing perceptions of what is meant by accessibility and real world deployment challenges.

Your views and feedback are welcomed.

Posted in Accessibility | 24 Comments »

“From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability” Paper Published

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 17 July 2009

I’m pleased to report that a paper on From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability has been published in the Disability and Rehability: Assistive Technology journal. The full citation details are:

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.

I’ll summarise the contents of this paper in a subsequent post. For now I thought it would be worth describing how this paper came to be written.

I, along with other authors of paper published at the W4A 2009 event, was invited to submit an updated version of my paper, entitled “One World, One Web … But Great Diversity“, although there was a requirement that the requested paper would be substantially different.

I received this invitation in early January 2009, with the deadline of  early March. As I had been invited to give the opening plenary talk at the OzeWAI 2009 conference in January and was already thinking about further developments to the holistic approach to Web accessibility I had been involved in developing over the past 5 years or so, this invitation provided an ideal opportunity to put down in writing the approaches I intended to talk about at the OzeWAI conference.

As I have described previously, immediately following the talk I received tweets from two participants at the conference saying how valuable they found my talk and wished to have further discussions about the ideas I had described.

Following those further discussions I invited Ruth Ellison and Lisa Herrod to provide case studies based on their involvement in Web accessibility work in Australia as examples of the ‘Web adaptability’ approach which the paper describes.

Although I was a bit grumpy at having to submit the final edits to the paper over Easter, I’m pleased that our paper has been published. And the ideas described in the paper were strengthened by the concrete examples provided by Ruth and Lisa. A good example of how Twitter can help in bringing together people with shared interests who can then engage in publishing a paper in a peer-reviewed journal :-)

The other aspect of the process which I was pleased with was the two pages of comments we received from the anonymous reviewer of the first draft of our paper. The reviewer pointed out a number of weaknesses in our arguments, challenged us to justify a number of our assertions and queried whether our criticisms of the traditional approaches to Web accessibility could be interpretted as suggesting that institutions could ignore accessibility considerations. Our responses to these comments helped us to submit a much-improved final version to the publisher – and we were pleased when the reviewer warmly endorsed the final version.

The paper is available on the publisher’s Web site. In addition my version of the paper is available on the University of Bath Institutional Repository.  Unfortunately, due to copyright restriction, access to this version is embargoed until next year :-(

Posted in Accessibility | 5 Comments »

The European Council Plans an Accessible Information Society

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 17 April 2009

The European Council has recently announced a set of conclusions on how to deliver an accessible information society. In the announcement the Council welcomes the European Commission’s communication on “Towards an accessible information Society” and acknowledges that ICT is “crucial in today’s society and economy and they can greatly improve personal autonomy and quality of life, particularly for people with disabilities or elderly” .

I too welcome such principles. However the document goes on to underline that “The adoption of the second version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides the necessary technical specifications“.

Hmm. So the answer to the delivery of an accessible information society is to be found in the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, is it? Well not according to Wendy Chisholm who, in a talk on “Interdependent Components of Web Accessibility” at the W4A 2005 conference described “how Web accessibility depends on several components of Web development and interaction working together” (namely ATAG and UAAG as well as WCAG). So even people who have worked on the development of WAI guidelines wouldn’t, I suspect, agree that WCAG  “provides the necessary technical specifications“.

And what evidence do we have that WCAG 2.0 by itself will “greatly improve personal autonomy and quality of life, particularly for people with disabilities or elderly” . What about accessibility issues which aren’t addressed in WCAG? What about the different definitions of accessibility (on 1st January 2009, for example, the definition of ‘disability’ was changed drastically in the Americans with Disabilities Act)? What about accessibility solutions which can be provided in ways not covered by WCAG guidelines? What about blended solutions to Web accessibility? What about the danger that the communication only covers access to Web resources and not other uses of IT by people with disabilities? What about the lack of evidence to support the positioning of WCAG guidelines as the only solution mentioned in the document?

The document could have focussed on a different part of the WAI model – it could have supported a requirement that member countries enact legislation that organisations must provide UAAG-conforming Web browsers, for example. This would be a more achievable goal, focusing on the small number of browser vendors rather than the much larger number of Web authors and Web publishing tools and work-flow systems.

Although I suspect many accessibility evangelists will welcome the publication of this document I fear that it is based on flawed underlying assumptions and will be ultimately counter-productive.  We need more open discussions about the limitations of the WAI’s approaches to Web accessibility and of ways of enhancing accessibility for people with disabilities in the complex environment in which we live. Where are the Critical Friends, I wonder?

Posted in Accessibility | 1 Comment »

Guerilla Accessibility Researchers

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 11 March 2009

The recent Dev8D Developer Happiness Days provided an environment for developers in the JISC development community (and more widely) to engage in rapid software development. As the “Dev8D produces rapid results” post described “Day three of Developer Happiness Days is only just beginning but two ideas have already been made real by the keen coders here“.

As I attended only for parts of the first two days of the event I’ll not blog about the event – if you’d like to hear more about what happened I suggest you look at some of the search results for the ‘dev8d’ tag. However the enthusiasm I came across from developers who could see tangible outputs being produced over a period of a few days (although the more significant outputs will probably have been finalised over the following week) I’ve recently seen echoed in another context.

David Sloan, a researcher based at the University of Dundee (and co-author of several of our joint papers on Web accessibility)  recently announced, on Twitter, the launch of his blog. And in a post entitled “Sad Professors” David described his frustration with “the slow process of peer reviewing” and went on to add that “If I find accessing the research I need can be challenging what about the people who are making day to day decisions that might affect the accessibility of the resources they produce, and who could benefit from the results of research?” This is a heart-felt plea from someone who sees clearly the tangible benefits that his accessibility research can have for people with disabilities.

Coincidentally a few days after reading David’s blog post in which he criticised slow peer-reviewing processes, I received an email saying that  a paper on “Accessibility 2.0: Next Steps For Web Accessibility” authored by myself, David and several others had been published in the Journal of Access Services, Vol.6 Issues 1 & 2, 2009, pp. 265-294. That was the good news – the bad news was that the deadline for submissions was 30 September 2007:-(

However rather than simply complaining about the seemingly glacial processes of engaging in publishing research findings in peer-reviewed publications David has decided to engage in  guerilla accessibility research. This is “work typically done in a short period of time, to answer a very specific question, or target a very particular group of web users and published online in a (usually) easy to find place, such as a blog“.

David goes on to add that:

As a bonus … research written for the web is generally easier to read than an academic paper, and easy to extract the key points. It will be peer-reviewed, but after publication. If the work is good, people talk about it; if it’s of poor quality, reaction in the blogosphere will be swift. And more and more often, the results of this work are referenced in academic literature, yet I’ll bet is of more direct impact to the people it aims to inform – web designers and developers, assistive technologists, policy makers and anyone else who needs accessibility information quickly.

In David’s first post on his blog he admitted: “I succumbed! After resisting a blog for years, joining Twitter made me realise that I do actually have things to say on a fairly regular basis, things that other people just might be interested in reading” He went on to confess that “Yep, I work in a university, where there is a culture of publishing information at conferences and peer-reviewed journal papers – not always the easiest (or quickest) way to share information. This means we sometimes neglect more direct (and to be honest, probably more effective) routes – such as blogs like this“.

Perhaps we could say, to paraphrase a recent post, that in the research community “slowly, one by one, the lights are switching on“. David’s “The 58 Sound” blog should be a must read for anyone with interests in Web accessibility and usability.

Posted in Accessibility, Blog | Leave a Comment »

Rethinking Web Accessibility for E-Learning

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 2 March 2009

Online College Edu Blogger Scholarship ContestWhy would we want to rethink Web accessibility in an elearning context? Surely application of WAI‘s WCAG guidelines will provide universal accessibility? And the recently released WCAG 2.0 guidelines should improve things further.

As described in a paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” the WAI approach is flawed when applied in an elearning context. The WCAG guidelines seek to ensure that information can be processed by people with disabilities using a variety of assistive technologies. But learning isn’t about the simple processing of information (effective learning isn’t provided by encylopedia!).

Figure 1: The Holistic Approach to E-Leaning Accessibility (which emphasises the importance of the learners needs and acknowledges that factors including accessibility, usability, local factors, organisational infrastructure and the learning outcomes all need to be consideredThis was the core of our initial work. Further research described flaws in WAI guidelines and provided evidence that, although a political success, WCAG guidelines aren’t being implemented to any significant extent. The reason for this isn’t that educational institutions aren’t aware of the guidelines or don’t care about enhancing the quality of learning for students with disabilities. And although there are instances in which accessibility could be enhanced relatively simply, there is a need for an alternative approach which recognises the complexities of user needs and requirements, the rapidly changing technical environment, our understandings of what is meant by ‘accessibility’ and ‘disability’ and our ability to implement desirable solutions (and not just policies) within our institutions.

Figure 2: Stakeholder model of accessibilityOur proposed approach (solution would be too bold a term) describes a Web Adaptability framework which builds on our holistic framework and focusses on the accessibility of learning outcomes rather than e-learning resources and the involvement of a broad spectrum of stakeholders.

And rather than a simplistic legal framework, institutions should deploy such approaches due to peer pressure, involvement of learners with disabilities in the design process, corporate reputation management, peer group pressure and sharing of solutions and failures.

Please join in the debate on how this goal can be realised!

Please note that this post was submitted to the Edu Blogger Scholarship contest and has been shortlisted in the 20 finalists. For details on why I am entering this contest see my previous post.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Revisiting Web Accessibility Metadata

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 27 February 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?

Posted in Accessibility | Leave a Comment »

Are You Able?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 17 February 2009

There were two invited keynote speakers who travelled from Europe to speak at the OzeWAI 2009 conference. As well as my talk (which I described recently ) Dr. Eva M. Méndez (an Associate Professor in the Library and Information Science Department at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and not the American actor!) gave a talk entitled “I say accessibility when I want to say availability: misunderstandings of the accessibility in the other part of the world (EU and Spain)“.

Eva’s research focuses on metadata and web standards, digital information systems and services, accessibility and Semantic Web. She has also served as an independent expert in the evaluation and review of European projects since 2006, both for the eContentPlus program and the ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) program and her talk was informed by her knowledge of the inner working of such development programmes funded by the EU.

Her talk explored the ways in which well-meaning policies may be agreed with the EU, although such policies may be misinterpreted or misunderstand and fail to be implemented, even by the EU itself.

I don’t have access to Eva’s slides, so I will give my own interpretation of Eva’s talk.

We might expect the EU to support the development of a networked environment across EU countries across a range of areas. These areas might include:

Available: Have resources been digitised? Are they available via the Web?

Reusable: Are the resources available for use by others?  Or they it trapped within a Web environment which makes reuse by others difficult?

Findable: Can the resources be easily found? Have SEO techniques been applied to allow the resource to be indexed by search engines such Google?

Exploitable: Are the resources available for others to reuse through, for example, use of Creative Commons licences?

Usable: Are the resources available in a usable environment?

Accessible: Are the resources accessible to people with disabilities?

Preservable: Can the resources be preserved for use by future generations?

Since the acronym ARFEUAP isn’t particularly memorable (and ARE-U-API would be too contrived) we might describe this as the Able approach to digitisation. But there is 0ne additional concept which I feel also needs to be included:

Feasible: Are the policies which are proposed (or perhaps mandated) feasible (or achievable)? We might ask are they actually possible (can we make all resources universally accessible to all?)  and can they be achieved with available budgets and with the standards and technologies which are currently available?

There is, of course, a question which tends to be forgotten question: is the proposed service of interest to people and will it be used?

The worrying aspect of Eva’s talk was that the EU don’t appear to be asking such questions – or even used the same vocabulary.  We need to have the bigger picture in order to address tensions between these different areas and the question (and power struggles) of how we prioritise achieving best practices – for example, should we be digitizing resources, even if we can’t make them accessible; should we regard access by people with disabilities as being of  importance than ensuring the resources can be preserved?  And let’s not fudge the issue by suggested that each is equally important and all can be achieved by use of open standards. That simply isn’t the case – and if you doubt this, ask managers of institutional repositories. They will probably say that they are addressing the available, reusable, findable, preservable and, perhaps, exploitable issues, but I suspect that the repository managers would probably admit that many of the PDFs in the repositories will not be accessible.

Posted in Accessibility, preservation, standards | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Web Accessibility Framework in 3 Words

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 6 February 2009

Since 2005 I, in conjunction with a number of other accessibility researchers and practitioners in the UK and Australia, have sought to develop a framework for Web accessibility which addresses the shortcomings of the WAI model (which suggests that universal accessibility will be provided by a combination of guidelines for Web content, authoring tools and user agents).

This work began with a paper on “A Holistic Approach to E-Learning Accessibility” by myself, Lawrie Phipps and Elaine Swift published in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Research in 2005.  Ten further papers were subsequently published which furter developed these ideas.

A fair amount of thinking and discussions have taken place in the past 5 years. However at the recent OzeWAI 2009 conference Lisa Herrod summarised our work in a Twitter post:

massive thanks and kudos to @briankelly for adding context & purpose to my accessibility methodology i.e. Accessibility isn’t binary.

Yes, that’s a great summary: “Accessibility isn’t binary“.  It’s not about following a set of rules to achieve universal accessibility.  It’s about shades of grey, differing interpretations, differing user requirements, differing scenarios, etc. And the advocacy, the policies and the appropriate areas for standardisation all arise from those three words.

Thanks to Lisa for spotting the key aspect – and for perhaps coming up with an appropriate title for my next talk on this topic.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

From Web Accessibility 2.0 to Web Adaptability

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 27 January 2009

OzeWAI 2009

The opportunity to escape the depths of a cold January in the UK to give the opening talk at the OzeWAI 2009 conference was too good to miss. So last week’s trip to La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia provided me with the opportunity to go into the mountains for a barbecue, go to the beach, take a ride along the Great Ocean Road, see the koalas and kangaroos and try the local Cooper’s IPA (which needs to be rolled before drinking, I discovered).

From Web Accessibility 2.0 to Web Adaptability (1.0)

But I had to earn my supper (the goat at the barbie)  and so as well as giving the presentation on  “From Web Accessibility 2.0 to Web Adaptability (1.0)” I took part actively in the conferences discussions (and drinking). I have also made the slides available on Slideshare (which is embedded below).

The talk seemed to go down well – and I was particularly pleased that when I sat down after my talk and refreshed the Twitterfon application on my iPod Touch it provided me with instant feedback on the talk from two of the participants at the conference.  RuthEllison told me that she “@briankelly enjoyed your presentation this morning about a holistic approach to accessibility #ozewai” and scenariogirl also showed some Australian warmth: “@briankelly Fantastic talk this morning, I will come up and say hi at lunch ;)“.

The talk was an update on recent papers and presentations and contains much of the material I used in a talk on “Holistic Approaches To Web Accessibility” which I blogged about recently. I therefore won’t expand on the ideas and approaches which I explained in my talk. Rather I want to discuss the accessibility of the talk itself.

Accessibility of Talks at Conferences

As I’ve been doing for a couple of years now, the slides are made available under a Creative Commons licence.  In addition, as I’ve also been doing for some time the slides are available on Slideshare. These approaches provide a number of benefits:

Creative Commons Licence:

  • The content can be reused by others by minimising legal barriers to their reuse.
  • The content can be preserved by others by minimising legal barriers to their preservation.
  • The content can be integrated with other content (e.g. ‘mashed up’)  by minimising legal barriers to their preservation.

Use of Slideshare:

  • The content can be reused by others by using a service which allows the content to be embedded in third party services.
  • The content can be commented on and annotated.
  • The content can be tagged to facilitate discovery.

Over the past few months I have also been making use of a Flip video camera to record the talks I give at conferences.  A video of the talk is now available on Blip.TV and embedded below. The video can also be accessed from the UKOLN Web site, which also provides links to a variety of resources associated with the talk, including the PowerPoint slide, a HTML version of the slides, the AVI master of the video and links related to the presentation.


But what benefits can the provision of videos of such talks provide? Using Web 2.0 video sharing services such as Blip.TV (or Google Video, Vimeo, etc.) can clearly provide similar benefits to those provided by Slideshare – and sharing a talk is often even more beneficial than simply sharing slides, I would argue. And if I reflect on the underlying purposes behind my talk I think I would suggest:

  • To describe an approach (to Web accessibility) which I think addresses some of the limitations in current approaches.
  • To seek to gain feedback on the ideas.
  • To encourage others to make use of this approach.

The video helps with all of these purposes: the video can help to provide a better understanding than would be provided by simply viewing the slides. And despite the hard work which has gone into the various peer-reviewed papers which underpins the presentation, I’d be the first to admit that papers written for scholarly publications aren’t necessarily easy to understand.

And Web 2.0 video sharing services can also facilitate feedback and reuse of the content.  So if anyone would like to embed the video in their own Web resources (to share with others; to comment on; to critique; etc.) then I would encourage this.

But, and there is a but, is the video itself accessible? In the final panel session at OzeWAI 2009 I argued that the OzeWAI 2010 conference should be an’ amplified conference’,  with the talks being recorded and made freely available for use (and reuse) by others. And in response to a question as to whether it would be affordable to provide captioning for such videos, I argued that this may not also be needed.  In UK legislation, for example, we are required to take reasonable measures to ensure that people with disabilities aren’t differentiated against unfairly.  I feel that providing slides, audio and videos at conferences can now be done reasonably easily, but captioning is an expensive process. And providing a variety of alternatives (slides, videos, links to papers, links to resources) can enrich the impact of and access to the underling ideas  of talks given at conferences, including access for people with a range of disabilities.

Lisa Herod (scenariogirl) summarised the discussions on the Twitter back-channel thus:

Is it better to have some content or no content at all if some content == partial accessibility? Discuss. #ozewai09

What’s your view?  Should I remove the embedded Slideshare and Blip.TV resources from this post as they don’t conform with accessibility guidelines? Or should my organisation request that I remove them as they could be liable?

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: , | 16 Comments »

What I Would Like From The BS8878 Accessibility Code of Practice

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 14 January 2009

I recently expressed reservations about the approaches being taken in the BS 8878 draft code of practice on Building Accessible Experiences for Disabled People. But I do feel that such a Code of Practice is desirable.  However rather than the current approach which places the main emphasis on conformance with WCAG, together with an inappropriate reliance on UAAG tools (which organisations providing Web sites have no control over) and a reliance on use of ATAG-conformant tools (which ignores the complexity of workflows, the increasing diversity of file formats and the growth in importance of user-generate content) I feel the Code of Practice should provide a framework for a user-focussed approach to accessibility, which provides a content for use of good practices for developing widely accessible Web sites, such as WCAG guidelines, usability guidelines, etc.

The BS 8878 draft code of practice already includes much valuable advice, especially on the need to engage users with disabilities in both the design and testing phases of Web site development and on the need for organisations to provide accessibility policies. These sections should be provided at the start of the document and not relegated towards the end, as they currently are.

Once the need to include people with disabilities in the planning and development stages and the need for organisations to explicitly state their accessibility policies, only then should the code of practice include implementation details. And rather than repeat the advice included in WCAG, I feel the document should require that such recommendations should only be used if they are proven to work in their intended context of use and they can be implemented and maintained with reasonable levels of expenditure of resources.

And finally I feel that the code of practice should seek to be future-proofed, and recognise that technical innovations are likely to take place which may enhance accessibility of services although infringing guidelines developed in the past.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

What Is A Web Site?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 12 January 2009

What is a Web site? Strange question, you many feel – surely everyone knows what a Web site is. Why would we want to try and define what a Web site is?

And yet if you consider last year’s announcement that all Government Web sites must comply with WCAG AA guidelines by December 2009, I think it becomes clear that a clear unambiguous and agreed definition is needed. Otherwise how will the Government know which Web sites – the ones which don’t comply with accessibility guidelines – should be closed down (as they have threatened to do).

Here are some thoughts as to may be meant by an organisation’s Web site:

The domain name:  an organisation’s Web sites refers to Web sites for which the domain name is owned by the organisation. So and are the University of Bath’s Web sites.

The Web server:  Or perhaps an organisation’s Web sites should refer to Web sites which are hosted on Web server hardware which are owned by the University.

But perhaps a organisation’s Web site may also need to be defined at a more detailed level.

The HTTP protocol: Perhaps an organisation’s Web site refers to resources which are served by the http: (and https:) protocol schemes.  If a resource is accessed via the ftp: protocol from an organisation’s FTP server, isn’t this on the FTP site rather than the Web site?  And clearly http protocol schemes such as mailto: don’t really related to Web resources. This was an argument made recently by “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” in a comment on this blog who felt that “Regarding the web as being “anything addressable with a URI” is not a reasonable definition. A URI might be used to address a file on an FTP server; do FTP servers now have to provide HTML versions of all their content? The FTP server in question may even have existed before Web!“.

The file formats: Or perhaps policies on a Web site should relate only to native Web formats, such as HTML.  This was another argument made by “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” in a comment on this blog when he argued “sticking content in a powerpoint file isn’t ‘putting it on the web’, it’s deciding not to put it on the web”.

Some further complications arise when we consider the different ways on which Web sites are now being used. Agreements on the meaning of the term ‘Web site’ might make sense if we are thinking about a Web site as an informational resource, but may break in the context of a Web site as an application (Web-based email services, for example). And what if a Web page contains resources which are embedded from third party Web sites (e.g. an embedded YouTube video or embedded RSS content). Should the resources embedded from elsewhere be regarded as part of the organisational Web site or not?

Now I intend to avoid falling into the trap of seeking to create another definition. Rather I’d point out that when standards bodies and institutions develop policies  which apply to Web sites, they need to appreciate that this term can mean different things to different people.

DO you haved a clear understanding of what you mean by a ‘Web site’?

Posted in Accessibility | 15 Comments »

BS 8878: Building Accessible Experiences for Disabled People

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 9 January 2009

The BS 8878 Draft Code of Practice on Building Accessible Experiences for Disabled People

The draft BS 8878 code of practice on “Building Accessible Experiences for Disabled People” is currently open for review, with the deadline for comments being 31 January 2009 [Note link changed as the original resource is no longer available 19 July 2009].

That’s great, you may think, we do need to have an agreed set of national guidelines which can help organisations commissioning and developing accessible Web sites. And the tight deadline seems to indicate that the code of practice will be out quickly.

Limitations of The Reviewing Process

Sadly, I feel, this isn’t the case. If you register to access the draft document (that’s right, you need to register not only to give comments but also to view the document) you’ll see that the first set of comments (29 at the time of writing) are very critical of the usability of the processes for accessing, reading and commenting on the document:

Given that this is a draft code of practice for web accessibility, it’s astounding the lengths to which BSI has gone to make this document inaccessible and difficult to follow.

it is appaling that the BSI should even think of publishing this information in a non-accessible format. Clearly the BSI has no moral authority to recommend accessibility standards to anyone else

Accessing this document was the hardest web related task i had to do today. Comical when the goal was reaching a web accessibility document.

Is this supposed to be a demonstration of how NOT to make web documents accessible?

I had similar difficulties accessing the draft document – and I am an experienced Web user :-). But eventually I discovered that there were MS Word and PDF versions of the document available which I printed out for reading at home.

Flaws in the Content

Despite this draft Code of Practice supposedly being intended, I understand, to document agreed industry achievable best practices the document simply requires use of the WAI model (WCAG, ATAG and UAAG) despite the fact that, for example, the document itself acknowledging that “At the time of publication, no single authoring tool that supports all ATAG priority 1 checkpoints is known“.

The document also seems to have a view of the Web as it was in the late 1990s – there is no recognition of the diversity ways in which the Web is being used, the complex workflows, the importance of user generated content, etc. There is also a failure to take into account the work of the research community in gathering evidence and using such evidence to develop more achievable approaches to Web accessibility.

The latter part of the document is better, requiring organisations to develop and publicise accessibility policies and involve people with disabilities in the planning and testing processes.

Dangers in its Implementation

There’s a danger, I feel, that this document will end up being published with the expectations that public sector organisations, in particular, will be forced to implement such recommendations. And I am concerned that this will be counter-productive – if there’s one thing that is worse that a lack of standards or codes of practice it’s severly flawed standards and codes or practice, in my opinion.

The document states that “Organizations wishing to claim conformance with BS 8878 should do so in hard copy, electronic media or any other medium“. Now although I don’t understand the structure of this sentence (organisations must claim conformance in any medium – how could they not do so?) it is clear that there is an expectation that organisations will state that they conform with the code of practice. Indeed the document goes on to mandate that “In making such a claim, a business or organization should address all of the provisions of BS 8878“. OK, so organisations can’t simply choose parts of the specification which they conform to (such as the reasonable and achievable parts of the document!)

What Next?

Now you may disagree with me. And whilst I would welcome further discussion on this topic, I would encourage you to read the document first, and give your feedback to the BSI.  You should bear in mind that the code of practice will be updated before publication to refer to the newly published WCAG 2.0 guidelines. And as that document makes it clear that the guidelines are format-independent, the principles will apply to, for example, MS Word and PDF documents on Web sites as well as HTML resources.  If you don’t feel it is likely that you’ll be providing accessible PDF and MS Word resources on your institutional Web sites (including institutional repositories) surely you should ask the BSI to revisit this document in order to describe more achievable goals.

Or to put it another way, is this code of practice intended to describe best practices which are achievable in the complex Web environment in which we now live or a set of well-meaning aspirations which are unlikely to be achievable in practice? And remember, if the code of practice is accepted in its current form the danger is that institutional conformance with the code of practice (in its entirety, remember) will be required.  And what will then happen if existing services fail to conform?  Will we see institutional repositories containing inaccessible PDF documents being removed from service in other that institutions can claim conformance?

Posted in Accessibility | 3 Comments »

WCAG 2.0 is Now An Official W3C Recommendation

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 12 December 2008

The WCAG 2.0 guidelines for Web content accessibility were officially launched yesterday (11 December 2009).  Hurrah – the very dated and flawed WCAG 1.0 guidelines are no more!  And organisations which require Web resources to conform to WCAG 1.0 should be quickly updating their policies, their training course, their workflow process, etc.  Although as the WCAG 2.0 guidelines have been under development for several years (the first draft was published in January 2001!) with a number of iterations of towards the published version having been released over the past couple of years this should have given organisations plenty of time to plan their migration strategy.

The guidelines are much improved, with an emphasis on conformance with four key POUR principles (resources should be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust). And although it should be remembered that the guidelines have not yet been proven to demonstrably enhance accessibility and there is little experience in how the guidelines will be implemented in a real world context it should also be pointed out that the WCAG 1.0 guidelines have been shown to be flawed. So there is no excuse not to move on.

The challenge will be knowing how to apply WCAG 2.0, based on the experiences we’ve had in the past.  And as I learnt from the Designing For Disability event I spoke at last week, the Deaf together with those with learning disabilities do seem to find visually rich content more accessible – although I should hasten to add that these findings were described as feedback from particular case studies and should not be regarded as universal truths.  Indeed I would suggest that it is a truth which should be universally acknowledged that universal accessibility is a pipe dream, and that we should be seeking to enhance access and widening participation.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Designing for Disability Seminar

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 8 December 2008

The Designing for Disability

A recent blog post by Neil Witt on The VC’s New VLE inspired me to provide a new introduction to a talk I gave at the “Designing for Disability” seminar held on  Friday 5th December 2008 at the British Museum.

I was an invited speaker at this event was organised by the Museums Association and the Jodi Awards. The title of my talk, the final talk of the day, was “Holistic Approaches To Web Accessibility“.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Let me tell you the tale, I began, of the benevolent emperor. He was kind and wished to do his best for his subjects.  So when he was told of a secret formulae produced by a wizard from a far-off land which would ensure that all of the subjects of his empire would be able to access all of his edicts, he wanted to know more. He was told that the secret formulae would ensure that the blind, the handicapped and the crippled of his land (this story, I should add, took place long ago, when,sadly, such politically incorrect words were the norm) were would all be able to read his edicts. “This sounds truly wonderful” the emperor announced (thinking that it would also be good if they could also read about the new taxes he intended to implement – for even in fairy tales, there is a need for financial prudence and long term sustainability).

And so the emperor announced that henceforth all official pronouncements, all new laws, all new taxes must comply with the WAI way (as the magic new approach became known. And so the lord chief justice issued the proclamation and the Knights of the Accessible Table rode through the kingdom to ensure that the magic was being used everywhere.  “Anyone for fails to comply with the magic will be banished“, it was announced.

Life was good, in the land. And when one of the knights who was made blind in a battle complained that he could read the edicts but couldn’t understand them, he was ignored. And when rumours appeared that there were places in the far-flung regions of the empire where the magic wasn’t being used, but people could still read the emperor’s edicts, this was dismissed.

“But it’s true!” said a little boy.  “There’s a new magic, that’s even better. It’s not the WAI way magic, it’s called ‘Inclusive design“.

And in my talk I described the story which the little boy told.

And this story is true, dear friends. For I was that little boy – and so, too, were David Sloan, Liddy Nevile, Jane Seale, EA Draffan, Helen Petrie, Caro Howell, Lawrie Phipps, Andy Heath, Hamilton Fraser, Elaine Swift and many others. For that little boy was a member of the Knights Who Gathered Evidence. And here is the tale I told, which is available on Google Video and Zentation and is also embedded below (note video was added on 9th December 2008, after the post was originally published).

Holistic Approaches To Web Accessibility
Talk on ‘Holistic Approaches To Web Accessibility’

The Evidence From The Day

This tale introduced the talk I gave, in which I summarised the various peer0reviewed papers I’ve contributed to since 2004. I described the limitation of the WAI model and the WCAG guidelines, the evidence from a number of Web accessibility surveys which demonstrates that conforming with the guidelines does not necessarily provide accessible Web services and Web services which do not conform to the guidelines have been found to be very accessible.   I went on to describe some of the challenges to be faced in understanding what accessibility means in the context of learning and cultural appreciation.

I was particularly pleased that the holistic approach to Web accessibility which I described seemed to apply so closely to the various case studies which were described during the day.This included:

  • Andy Minnion’s talk on “New Media for Access and Participation by People with Learning Disabilities“. He concluded that universal access with a single interface and minor changes of style and appearance do not meet the needs of this group. Content itself needs to be adapted and technical compliance, while important for other groups, is not in itserlf and accessibility solution.
  • Linda Ellis’s talk on the use of  British Sign Language video guides to improve access for deaf visitors to Bantock House and Park. She argued that content aimed specifically for Deaf visitors was needed and that, as BSL is a language in its own right, information provided in BSL is needed, since Deaf visitors may find it difficult to understand information provided in English.
  • Andrew Payne, The National Archives, on a project to maximise access to the Prisoner 4099 archives. Andrew mentioned how “Flash can be accessible, but you need to be careful”. Based on experiences such as this Andrew concluded by suggest that we “Don’t believe the box tickers”.

I very much agree with Andrew – don’t believe the box tickers. And don’t believe anyone who suggests there’s a simple solution to difficult and complex challenges – whether they be wicked elves or government policy makers!

Posted in Accessibility, Events | 2 Comments »

Differences Between the WAI Standards Developer and User Perspectives

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 20 November 2008

Back in September I presented a paper on “Web Accessibility 3.0: Learning From The Past, Planning For The Future” at the ADDW08 conference in which I described my criticisms of the WAI approach to Web accessibility and argued the need to explore alternative approaches. Shadi Abou-Zhara, who works for W3C WAI was in the audience and after I gave my talk he said that he didn’t disagree with many of the points I had made in my talk, but didn’t see what relevance they had to the WAI approach to Web accessibility. Shadi had made a similar point after I presented a paper on “Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes” at the W4A 2007 conference.

But if Shadi has no fundamental disagreements with the holistic approach to Web accessibility that myself, David Sloan, Lawrie Phipps and other have been developing over the years how does this relate to the ongoing work of Shadi, his colleagues in W3C WAI and those involved in WAI working group activities over the years?

Reflecting on the comments Shadi made and the discussions I had at the ADDW 2008 conference with David MacDonald, an invited expert to the WCAG 2.0 group it seems to my that there is a mismatch between the work being carried out by WAI and the expectations of users of the WAI guidelines.

In response to a question about the relationships between usability and accessibility it seems that WAI’s interest is in usability only as far as it affects users with disabilities significantly more than most users. And I think this view which focusses purely on the needs of users with disabilities results in an approach which is blind to real world complexities and to the actual take-up and effectiveness of their solutions.

The developers of WAI accessibility guidelines seem to have a narrowly defined scope for their work. This seems to cover the development of technical guidelines which will enhance accessibility for users with various types of disabilities. In is not in scope for people at WAI to address the resource implications of conforming with their guidelines, the complexities of implementing the guidelines or to consider alternatives ways in which accessibility challenges can be addressed.

If these issues are out-of-scope for WAI, then there’s a need for the issues to be addressed by the user community.  And this will include addressing these difficult issues. It is the user community to decide when the WAI guidelines may be the best way of providing accessible services, when other solutions may be relevant and to ensure that cost-effective and sustainable solutions are provided.

The WAI guidelines have an important role to play in helping to enhance the accessibility of networked services – but the user organisations have to make the more challenging decisions of deciding when to make use of WAI guidelines and when other solutions may be relevant.

Posted in Accessibility | Leave a Comment »

Videoing Talks As A Means Of Providing Equivalent Experiences

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 8 October 2008

As I recently posted, a paper by myself and Liddy Nevile was accepted by the ADDW08 conference. In the paper we argued that the conventional wisdom regarding Web accessibility (just follow the WCAG guidelines and the Web environment will be universally accessible to all) has been shown to be flawed.  We argued that in a world of mass creation of digital objects, the hand-crafted approach which underpins the WCAG model doesn’t scale. We argued the need to embrace a diversity of approaches, including an exploration of the potential for exploiting the links between related resources in order to find equivalent resources.

Our paper is available (in MS Word, PDF and HTML formats) and our slides are also available (in MS PowerPoint and in (dodgy) HTML formats).  But in addition a video of the talk (which I took using a Flip video camera) is available on Google Video (and is embedded below).

And I’ve synched the video with the PowerPoint slides to provide an even richer experience. This is available on Zentation and a screen image is illustrated below.

Now although the HTML version of the paper should comply with WCAG guidelines (although as a peer-reviewed paper the language and writing style may mean that is is not necessarily  understandable by all), the MS Word, PDF, MS PowerPoint, HTML version of the slides and the .AVI video files will not.  Now I could make the resources conform to WCAG guidelines if I removed all but the HTML version of the paper.  But I would argue that this would diminish the impact of and accessibility of the underlying ideas I wish to communicate.  And seeking to make the various versions of the resources conform to the various checklists would be very time-consuming and would not, I would argue, provide an effective return on the tax-payers money.  And such consideration are, I suspect, informing policy decisions related to the provision of institutional repositories – although perhaps without the provision of links to related resources.

Now as devices such as a Flip can be purchased for less than £100 pounds, and uploading videos on Google Video can be done for free a question I would ask is “if conference organisers fail to make such alternatives for papers presented at conferences, could this be regarded as a failure to take reasonable measures to provide access to services for people with disabilities?”  Isn’t it unreasonable to fail to invest £100 to enhance the effectiveness of conferences along the lines I’ve suggested and demonstrated? And, indeed, doesn’t the informality used in talks provide a valuable alternative to people who may be put off by the nature of the language which is found in research publications.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 16 Comments »

Institutional Repositories and the Costs Of Doing It Right

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 29 September 2008

There’s an interesting discussion taking place on the JISC-Repositories JISCMail list, following a post from Jenny Delasalle who asked:

Do any of you know how long it takes you to process a single item, before it is available as a live record in your repository? Please can you share that information with the list? 

Jenny provided details of her experiences:

Here at Warwick it takes at least 2 hours to process a single item. We are adding to our repository at a rate of about 15 items per week. I’m desperate to try to speed this up as we are receiving items faster than we can process them.

My colleague Pete Cliff somewhat tentatively suggestedwhy not put the items in the repository with minimal metadata“.

Pete and others seemed to feel that such compromises may be needed “in the current climate where quantity seems to have more impact than quality“. But this is where I would disagree.  This argument seems to be simply a cry for more resources in an area of interest to those making such a plea. But people will always be asking for more resources for their areas of interest – and, as there will always be limited resources, others will argue that their areas are more worthy of being allocated more resources.  And it strikes me as being somewhat disingenuous to have developed an approach which is known to be resource-intensive and then to make a plea for additional resources in order for the particular approach to be effective. A more honest approach would have been to develop a solution which was better suited for the available resources.

This was an argument I made last week in my talk on “Web Accessibility 3.0: Learning From The Past, Planning For The Future“. As I described in my talk (and note a 30 minute video of the talk is available). I pointed out that evidence suggests that Web accessibility policies based on conformance with WCAG AA have clearly failed, except in a small number of cases. And rather than calling for additional resources to be allocated to changing this we need to acknowledge that this won’t happen, and to explore alternative approaches.

And it is interesting to note that apprarent lack of interest on the JISC-Repositiories list in discussing the accessibility of resources in the repositories rather than the metadata requirements for aiding resource discover. Indeed when this topic was discussed a couple of year’s ago Les Carr, with a openness which I appreciated, argued that:

If accessibility is currently out of reach for journal articles, then it is another potential hindrance for OA. I think that if you go for OA first (get the literature online, change researchers’ working practices and expectations so that maximum dissemination is the normal state of affairs) THEN people will find they have a good reason to start to adapt their information dissemination behaviours towards better accessibility.

Here Les is arguing that the costs of providing accessibility resources in Institutional Repositories is too great, and can act as a barrier to maximising open access to institutional research activities. I would very much agree with Les that we need to argue priorities – as opposed to simply asking that someone (our institutions, the government – it’s never clear who) should give us more money to do the many good things we would like to do in our institutions.  

In the case of Institutional Repositories we then have competing pressures for resources for metadata creation and management and for enhancing the accessibility of the resources. In this context It should be noted that the WCAG 2.0 guidelines have reached the status of Candidate Recommendation, and that WAI Web site states quite clearlyWe encourage you to start using WCAG 2.0 now“. And note that, unlike the WCAG 1.0 guidelines, WCAG 2.0 is format neutral. So you can provide resources on your Web site in a variety of formats, but such resources need to conform with the guidelines if it is your institutional policy to do so.

So shouldn’t institutions who have made public commitment to comply with WCAG guidelines ensure that this applies to content in their institutional repositories, even if this will require a redeployment of effort from other activities, such as metadata creation?

Or, alternatively, you may feel that complying with a set of rules, such as WCAG, without doing the cost-benefit analysis or exploring other approaches to achieving the intended goals is mis-guided. In which case perhaps Pete’s suggestion that you might wish to consider “put[ting] the items in the repository with minimal metadata” might actually be a sensible approach rather than an unfortunate compromise? And in response to Philip Hunter’s comment that “achieving interoperability through dumbing-down the metadata has a strange attractiveness in a world not overly crazy for quality” perhaps we should be arguing that “achieving interoperability and accessibility through labour-intensive manual efforts is a perverse solution in a public sector environment in which should be demonstrating that we can provide cost effective solutions“?

Posted in Accessibility, Repositories | 3 Comments »

Web Accessibility 3.0

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 19 September 2008

I previously mentioned a joint paper on “Redefining Accessibility for a Web 2.0 World” which has been accepted for the ADDW08 conference to be held at the University of York on 22-24th September 2008. David Sloan, the lead author for the paper, will present this paper.

In addition to this paper Liddy Nevile and myself have had a paper on “Web Accessibility 3.0: Learning From The Past, Planning For The Future” also accepted at the ADDW08 conference. This paper describes three scenarios: it explores the limitations of a vision for Web accessibility based on use of the WAI approach to provide “universal accessibility” and then describes the limitations of the “holistic approach to Web accessibility” developed initially by myself, Lawrie Phipps and David Sloan. The paper describes how these approaches focus on, in the first scenario, on the accessibility of individual resources and, in the second scenario, on institutional approaches to enhancing the accessibility of the purposes of the Web services. However neither of these approaches seems to have much relevance to the accessibility of the globally popular Web 2.0 services. And if we are serious about Web accessibility we should be looking at the accessibility of the global World Wide Web, and not just individual resources or the resources managed within our institutions.

But how should be go about addressing such large-scale challenges? In the paper we suggest that we should be exploring how the relationships between resources might help to provide users with access to related resources and how personalisation approaches might provide users with access to resources which are accessible to the individual user, rather than being universally accessible. The vision, Liddy and I feel, can be regarded as an implementation of the W3C’s vision for the Semantic Web. But we also argue the need to have the scepticism which failed to be applied to WAI’s model for Web accessibility.  

The slides which will be presented at the conference are available on Slideshare and are embedded below.

And as we argued the need for a critical approach to proposals for Web accessibility (which we have taken in the past to the limitations of the WAI model and the WCAG guidelines) we invite your comments on our paper and this presentation.

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 5 Comments »