Over Ten Years Of Accessibility Work

David Sloan and myself have had a paper on  “Reflections on the Development of a Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility” (initially entitled “Redefining Accessibility for a Web 2.0 World“) accepted for the ADDW08 (Accessible Design in the Digital World) conference which will be held at the University of York on 23-24th September 2008. The paper reviews our work in Web accessibility from the early days of promoting the WAI model and use of WCAG guidelines  through to our realisation of the limitations of this approach, initially in the content of e-learning  accessibility and then more wider concerns. This work led to the development of alternative approaches to enhancing the accessibility of Web resources which were published in eight peer-reviewed papers (not included the two papers which have been accepted for the ADDW08 conference).

I order to collate the historical data for the paper I created a Dipity time line of my involvement in accessibility work since attending the WAI launch meeting in July 1997.  This is illustrated below.

I found the timeline very useful in giving me a bigger picture of my work in this area and provides me with fresh insights which I was unaware of from just looking at my lists of papers and presentations. In particular I can spot several different phases in my work which are summarised in the table below.

Date Phase Comments
1997-1999 Naivity The first few year were based on learning more about the WAI approach to Web accessibility, including the WCAG, ATAG and UAAG guidelines. Advice was provided based of this approach. During this time I was also a member of the DISinHE Steering Group.
2000-2001 Silence The timeline indicates little activity in this period. Perhaps there was little new to say, as the view then was that WCAG  conformance was all that  Web developers need concern themselves with. In this case, best practices would primarily be a training issue to be carried out by bodies such as Netskills, rather than a development/innovative activity which is a key aspect of UKOLN’s work.
2002 Evidence-gathering During 2002 a number of automated accessibility surveys were carried out in order to gather evidence of institutional adoption of WCAG guidelines. The findings showed low levels of conformance, and as further manual testing would be needed in order to provide proof of conformance with the WCAG guidelines, it was starting to become clear that the WCAG approach was failing to have impact amongst practitioners, despite its clear political success.
2003 Debating alternative approaches Panel sessions on “Web Site Accessibility: Too Difficult To Implement?” at the ILI 2003 conference and “Web Accessibility: Will WCAG 2.0 Better Meet Today’s Challenges?” at the WWW 2003 conference and a debate on “Web accessibility is difficult to implement” provide opportunities to raise doubts over the effectiveness of the WAI approach.
2004- Alternative approaches for e-learning accessibility published Lawrie Phipps (then at TechDis) and I discuss alternative approaches for e-learning accessibility and, together with Elaine Swift (then an e-learning developer at the University of Bath) have a paper on Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility published in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology. These ideas are further developed for a prize-winning paper on “Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility” presented at the ALT-C 2005 conference and a paper on “Holistic Approaches to E-Learning Accessibility” published in the ALT-J journal in 2006.
2006- Alternative approaches to Web accessibility framework published A paper on “Forcing Standardization or AccommodatingDiversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World” was presented at the W4A 2005 conference. This paper was co-authored by myself, Lawrie Phipps and David Sloan, who have been the main driving force behind this work. Further papers which further developed our holistic framework for accessibility and applied the approach beyond e-learning accessibility were published at the W4A 2006 (“Contextual Web Accessibility – Maximizing the Benefit of Accessibility Guidelines“), W4A 2007 (“Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes“) and W4A 2008 (“One World, One Web … But Great Diversity“) conferences.
2006- Alternative approaches to Web accessibility disseminated From 2006 to date the alternative approaches to Web accessibility have been disseminated to UKOLN’s core communities, including the UK’s higher and further education communities, the library, museum and the public sector organisations. This work has included taking part in a panel session on “Web and Access” at the “e-Access’06 Conference“, chairing a Public Sector Conference on Accessibility, helping to organise the Accessibility Summit II, giving a talk on “The Accessible Web” at the “Web Adept: Museums and the Web 2007 conference”, facilitating a session on “What Does Accessibility Mean To The Blogging Community?” at the blogs.ac.uk conference, facilitating a professional forum on “Accessibility 2.0: A Holistic And User-Centred Approach To Web Accessibility” at the Museums and the Web 2007 conference, giving an online interview on “Web Accessibility” in an Access to Experts interview organised by CHIN, contributing a chapter on “Accessibility in the Future for book on “Web Accessibility: Practical Advice for the Library and Information Professional” as well as writing a series of posts on accessibility on this blog.

The timeline has helped me to gain a better understanding of my work in Web accessibility over the past decade and how this work, led initially by myself and Lawrie Phipps and later supported by David Sloan) has been furthered developed and refined by ever-growing numbers of accessibility practitioners and researchers in the UK and Australia.  So I would like to take this opportunity to thank the co-authors of my peer-reviewed papers for their contribution to this work: in order of date of publication these are: Lawrie Phipps, Elaine Swift, David Sloan, Helen Petrie, Fraser Hamilton, Caro Howell, Liddy Nevile, Ann Chapman, Andy Heath, Stephen Brown, Jane Seale, Patrick Lauke, Simon Ball, EA Draffan and Sotiris Fanou, not forgetting Stuart Smith, although the publication of that paper has been delayed.

What lies ahead, I wonder? The release of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines should provide an opportunity for institutions to rethink their approaches to Web accessibility as these guidelines remove some of the more flawed of the WCAG1.0 checkpoints and are, I’m pleased to say, format-agnostic.  But what of the implications of the popularity of many Social Web and Web 2.0 services?  And can the Semantic Web finally start to provide useful benefits to the user community, including accessibility benefits?  These are some of the questions which Liddy Nevile and myself will be raising in our paper on “Web Accessibility 3.0: Learning From The Past, Planning For The Future” which will also be presented at the ADDW08 conference. More of that work in a later post.


  1. Web Accessibility 3.0 « UK Web Focus - [...] by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 19 September 2008 I previously mentioned a joint paper on “Redefining …

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