UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

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Posts Tagged ‘BS8878’

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

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 Jul 2013

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

As described in the editorial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

UKOLN’s DevCSI Accessibility Hackdays: #A11y Hackspace

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 May 2011

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

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

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

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

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

BS 8878: Applying a Level of Redirection to Web Accessibility

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 Mar 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

A Grammatical View of Web Accessibility

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 Feb 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Accessibility | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Web Accessibility, Institutional Repositories and BS 8878

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 Jan 2011

Review of Work on Accessibility and Institutional Repositories

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 in September 2008 as I described in a post on Institutional Repositories and the Costs Of Doing It Right, 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 agree – but that doesn’t mean that we should abandon any thoughts of exploring ways of enhancing accessibility. A paper on “From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability” (available in PDF and HTML formats) described an approach called “Web Adaptability” which has the flexibility to account for a variety of contextual factors which is not possible with an approach based purely on conformance with WCAG guidelines. An accompanying blog post which summarised the paper described how the adaptability approach could be applied to institutional repositories”:

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 stakeholder approach to Web accessibility, originally developed by Jane Seale for use in an elearning context and described in a joint paper on Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes (available in PDF, MS Word and HTML formats) has been extended for use in a repository context. The approaches to engagement with some of the key stakeholders is given below:

Education: Training provided (a) for researchers to ensure they are made aware of importance of accessibility practices (including SEO benefits) and of techniques for implementing best practices and (b) for repository managers and policy makers to ensure that accessibility enhancements can be procured in new systems.

Feedback to developers: Ensure that suppliers and developers are aware of importance of accessibility issues  and enhancements featured in development plans.

Feedback to publishers: Ensure that publishers who provide templates are aware of importance of provision of accessible templates.

Auditing: Systematic auditing of papers in repositories to monitor extent of accessibility concerns and trends.

But is this approach valid?  Surely SENDA accessibility legislation requires conformance with WCAG guidelines? And if it is difficult to conform with such guidelines, surely the best approach is to keep a low profile?

BS 8878 Web Accessibility Code of Practice

The BS 8878 Web accessibility Code of practice was launched in December 2010.  A summary of an accompanying Webinar about the Code of Practice was described in a post on BS 8878: “Accessibility has been stuck in a rut of technical guidelines” – and it was interesting to hear how the code of practice has been written in the context of the Equal Act which has replaced the DDA.  I was also very pleased to hear of the user-focus which is at the heart of the code of practice, and how mainstream approaches on best practices have moved away from what was described as a “rut of technical guidelines“.

Although the Code of Practice is not available online and costs £100 to purchase an accompanying set of guidelines was produced by Abilitynet which I have used in the following summary. Note I had to request a copy of these guidelines and I can no longer find the link to contact details to request copies. However AbilityNet’s complete set of guidelines can be purchased for £4,740!

It seems that there is a clear financial barrier to the implementation of new accessibility guidelines. In order to minimise the costs to higher education (which would approach a quarter of a million pounds if all UK Universities were to purchase a copy at the list price!)  I’ll give my interpretation of how the code of practice could be applied in the context of institutional repositories. But please note that this is very much an initial set of suggestions and should not be considered to be legal advice!

The heart of the BS 8878 document is a 16 step plan:

  1. Define the purpose.
  2. Define the target audience.
  3. Analyse the needs of the target audience.
  4. Note any platform or technology preferences.
  5. Define the relationship the product will have with its target audience.
  6. Define the user goals and tasks.
  7. Consider the degree of user experience the web product will aim to provide.
  8. Consider inclusive design & user-personalised approaches to accessibility.
  9. Choose the delivery platform to support.
  10. Choose the target browsers, operating systems & assistive technologies to support.
  11. Choose whether to create or procure the Web product.
  12. Define the Web technologies to be used in the Web product.
  13. Use Web guidelines to direct accessibility Web production
  14. Assure the Web products accessibility through production (i.e. at all stages).
  15. Communicate the Web product’s accessibility decisions at launch.
  16. Plan to assure accessibility in all post-launch updates to the product.

Note that Step 13, which covers use of WCAG guidelines, may previously have been regarded as the only or the most significant policy item. BS 8878 places these guidelines in a more appropriate context.

Using BS 8878 for Institutional Repositories

A summary of how I feel each of these steps might be applied to institutional repositories is given below.

  1. Define the purpose:
    The purposes of the repository service will be to enhance access to research papers and to support the long term preservation of the papers.
  2. Define the target audience:
    The main target audience will be a global research community.
  3. Analyse the needs of the target audience:
    Researchers may need to use assistive technologies to read PDFs.
  4. Note any platform or technology preferences:
    PDFs may not include accessibility support.
  5. Define the relationship the product will have with its target audience:
    The paper will be provided at a stable URI.
  6. Define the user goals and tasks:
    Users will use various search tools to find resource. Paper with then be read on screen or printed.
  7. Consider the degree of user experience the web product will aim to provide:
    Usability of the PDF document will be constrained by publisher’s template. Technical accessibility will be constrained by workflow processes.
  8. Consider inclusive design & user-personalised approaches to accessibility:
    Usability of the PDF document will be constrained by publisher’s template. Technical accessibility will be constrained by workflow processes.
  9. Choose the delivery platform to support:
    Aims to be available on devices with PDF support including mobile devices
  10. Choose the target browsers, operating systems & assistive technologies to support:
  11. Choose whether to create or procure the Web product:
    The service is provided by repository team.
  12. Define the Web technologies to be used in the Web product:
    HTML interface to PDF resources.
  13. Use Web guidelines to direct accessibility web production:
    HTML pages will seek to conform with WCAG 2.0 AA. PDF resources may not conform with PDF accessibility guidelines.
  14. Assure the Web products accessibility through production (i.e. at all stages):
    Periodic audits of PDF accessibility planned.
  15. Communicate the Web product’s accessibility decisions at launch:
    Accessibility statement to be published.
  16. Plan to assure accessibility in all post-launch updates to the product:
    Periodic reviews of technical developments.

Step 15 requires the publication of an accessibility statement, which “states in an easy to understand and non-technical way the accessibility features of the site and any known limitations“. This will be the aspect of the accessibility work which will be visible to users of the service. But what might such an accessibility statement cover?

Current Approaches to Accessibility Statements for Repositories

The first step to answering this question was to see what accessibility statements are currently provided for institutional repositories.  An analysis of the first page of results for a Google search for “repository accessibility statement” provided only a single example of an accessibility statement for an institutional repository. This was provided by UBIR, the University of Bolton Institutional Repository and appears to be a description of WCAG conformance for the repository Web pages rather than the contents of the Web site :

Standards Compliance

  1. All static pages follow U.S. Federal Government Section 508 Guidelines.
  2. All static pages follow priorities 1 & 2 guidelines of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
  3. All static pages validate as HTML 4.01 Transitional.
  4. All static pages on this site use structured semantic markup. H2 tags are used for main titles, H3 and H4 tags for subtitles.

The Google results for other institutional repositories, including UEA and the University of Salford Informatics Research Institute Repository (USIR) were based on links to standard accessibility statements for the institutional Web site, with the statement for the University of Salford, for example, stating that:

The University of Salford strives to ensure that this website is accessible to everyone. If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the accessibility of this site, or if you come across a page or resource that does not meet your access needs, please contact the, as we are continually striving to improve the experience for all of our visitors.

It seems that the contents of an institutional repository, the core purpose, after all,  of a repository, do not appear to have statements regarding the accessibility of such contents.  I will admit that I have only had a cursory exploration for such statements and would love to be proved wrong.  But for now let’s assume that the accessibility statement required for step 15 of BS 8878 will have to be produced from scratch.

A Possible Accessibility Statement For An Institutional Repository

Might the following be an appropriate statement for inclusion on an institutional repository?  Please note that I am not a repository manager so I don’t know if such a statement is realistic.  However I should also add that I have deposited 46 of my papers and related articles in the University of Bath repository and am aware of some of the difficulties in ensuring such items will conform with accessibility guidelines for PDFs, MS Word and HTML, the main formats used for depositing items.   Since it is likely to be difficult for the motivated individual author to address accessibility concerns for their own items, we cannot expect best practices to be applied for the 1,568 items deposited in 2010, never mind items deposited before then.

It is therefore not realistic to suggest that authors or repository managers should simply implement the advice on producing accessible PDFs provided by organisations such as JISC TechDis.  Rather the accessibility statement needs to be honest about the limitations of the service and difficulties which people with disabilities may have in accessing items hosted in institutional repositories.

The following draft accessibility statement is therefore suggested as providing a realistic summary regarding the accessibility of a typical repository service.

Statement Comments
The University’s repository service is an open-access information storage & retrieval system containing the university’s research findings and papers, openly and freely accessible to the research community and public. 

A full description of each item is provided, and where copyright regulations permit, the full-text of the research output is stored in the repository and fully accessible.

Items are deposited in the repository via a number of resources, including author self-deposit, deposit by authorised staff in departments and deposits by repository staff.

Note this has taken this definition of the purpose of the service from the UEA Digital Repository
Items are normally provided in PDF format although other formats such as MS Word or HTML may also be used. An audit of file formats may inform this statement.
Items are normally deposited in the format required by the publisher. Popular formats should be accessible using standard viewing tools. However some formats may require specialist browsers to be installed. An audit of file formats may inform this statement an provide information on how to install any specialist viewers.
Items may not conform to appropriate accessibility guidelines due to the devolved responsibilities for depositing items and the complexities of implementing the guidelines across the large number of items housed in the repository. If this is the case, it should be stated.
Future developments to the service will include an “Accessibility problem” button which will enable repository staff to be alerted to the scale of accessibility problems. This should only be included if it is intended to implement such a service.
Repository staff will work with the University Staff Development Unit to ensure that training is provided on ways of creating accessible documents which will be open to all staff and research students. This should only be included if it is intended to implement such training.
Repository staff will carry out periodic audits on the accessibility of repository items, monitor trends and act accordingly. This should only be included if it is intended to implement such a service. Note UKOLN have developed a trial application which could implement such a service which was described in a paper on Automated Accessibility Analysis of PDFs in Repositories.
The Web interface to repository content will conform with University Web site accessibility guidelines. This statement should taken form the policy for the main University’s Web site accessibility statement.

I hope this has provided something to initiative a discussion on ways in which institutional repositories can address accessibility issues which can provide barriers to researchers with disabilities and build on the successes repositories are having in addressing access barriers providing by copyright issues, complex business models and fragmented resources which may be difficult to find and retrieve.

Posted in Accessibility, Repositories | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

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

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 Dec 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.

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What I Would Like From The BS8878 Accessibility Code of Practice

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 Jan 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.

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