A Grammatical View of Web Accessibility

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.


  1. BS 8878: Applying a Level of Redirection to Web Accessibility « UK Web Focus - [...] A Grammatical View of Web Accessibility [...]

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