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.
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).
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!