I have previously described the limitations of basing an institutional Web accessibility policy purely on conformance with WAI WCAG guidelines. Such an approach, whilst appearing very laudable, fails to address the more challenging areas of enhancing access to Web resources and services for people with disabilities, including the challenges of key institutional activities such as the provision of e-learning for students and of institutional repositories for researchers.
The BS 8878 Code of Practice provides a valuable framework for addressing such challenges and, as suggested previously, could be used to provide a policy framework for enhancing access to institutional repositories.
However although BS 8878 seems to provide a policy framework which is appropriate for use in the UK, there is still a need for a mechanism for users with disabilities to be able to report access problems and for such concerns to be addressed. The Fix the Web initiative has been set up to enable end users to report problems and for such problems to be evaluated by Web experts and, where appropriate, for such problems to be reported to service providers.
As described on the JISC CETIS Accessibility blog, provided by Sharon Parry, this can be described as “Crowdsourcing to Fix the Web“. Sharon summarises this initiative:
Fix The Web is a site which encourages people with disabilities to report any accessibility problems they have with a website. Volunteers then take these problems up with the website owners. …
Using a middleman (or woman) to act as an interface between people with disabilities, who experience problems with inaccessible websites, and the web developers themselves could help make the web a better place for everyone and act as an informal means of educating developers about the importance of accessibility.
A post on the JISC TechDis blog reports on how development work funded by the JISC is being used by the Fix the Web team:
Fix the Web and Southampton University have successfully incorporated a Fix the Web reporting button into the Accessibility Toolbar that Southampton evolved from the original JISC TechDis project. …
If you want to find the new plugin and use it for you or your learners to report any inaccessible sites please download it from http://www.fixtheweb.net/toolbar. You can find out more about making a difference by volunteering your web accessibility awareness and expertise at http://www.fixtheweb.net/being-volunteer.
What are the implications of recent developments such as BS 8878 and Fix the Web for those involved in the provision of Web services, whether institutional Web services or the use of the Web to support teaching and learning or research work. I think it is clear that BS 8878 provide a Web accessibility policy framework which is appropriate for use across the sector. In addition to this those with particular interests and expertise in Web accessibility may find it beneficial to volunteer to support this initiative. This will involve:
- Ensuring the information from the disabled person, though very brief (some of this will come through tweets!) is reproduced in a polite and comprehensible form.
- Finding the web owner via their website and send the information to them through email or contact form.
I know many people involved in institutional Web activities have strong interests in accessibility issues. Here is an opportunity to make such interests and expertise available in a wider context and help to enhance online experiences for people with disabilities.