On Monday 16 April 2012 David Sloan presented our paper on A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First at the W4A 2012 conference.
The slides David used were uploaded to Slideshare in advance of his talk, so that the remote audience watching the live video stream would be able to have a better view of the slides that would be the case if only the video stream was available. Such an approach can clearly help to enhance access to the resource by those who were not present at the conference. In addition this can mean that the slides can also be viewed on a mobile device by conference attendees who might have difficulties in viewing the screen display.
Use of Slideshare would therefore appear to be very relevant for a conference such as W4A 2012, the 9th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility, which seeks to understand innovative ways of enhancing access to web resources for people with disabilities. However in my experience such process-driven solutions tend not to be overlooked, especially by those who regard conformance with WAI’s WCAG guidelines as the definitive solution for enhancing web accessibility.
Our paper challenged such views by arguing 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.” In addition to legislation and metrics we could well have added policies, not only for institutions but also for event organisers.
The paper (which is available in MS Word, PDF and HTML formats) proposed that BS 8878 provides an relevant standard for ensuring that appropriate processes are being addressed and provided a case study from the Open University which illustrated how learning analytics can be used to help identify problems being experienced by students with learning difficulties (which might include difficulties experienced which are due to problems beyond conformance with WCAG guidelines) and suggest appropriate interventions.
How might such approaches be applied in the context of conferences and other events which seek to minimise barriers for people with disabilities? Might not a reasonable policy for event organisers be:
We will seek to ensure that slides used by speakers in presentations will be made available on Slideshare (or equivalent service) so that the slides can be viewed by delegates on popular mobile devices (including Apple iPhone/iPad and Android devices) . This will help participants who may have difficulties in viewing the screen display provided at the event.
This suggestion, which focusses on the processes needed which can provide clear benefits to an identified user community, is itself an example of the ideas described in the paper which argue that WCAG conformance is simply one part of a much wider set of issues which need to be considered when addressing accessibility issues. Unfortunately, as we mention in the presentation “If organisational policy focuses exclusively on technical guideline conformance, there [is] a risk accessibility efforts can be mis-focused“.
It should be noted that the “seek to ensure” wording is used as it is appreciated that this may not also be possible: speakers may not use a desktop presentation software such as PowerPoint or may be presenting confidential or sensitive information which would not be appropriate t0 publish openly.
The slides are available in Slideshare and embedded below.
I should also add that by the end of the third day of the conference there had been over 2,000 views of the slides. Note bad for a presentation given to an audience of about 60 and an example of how the potential benefits provided to remote users and local users may also help in raising awareness of the ideas outlined in the paper. These figures also illustrate the benefits of uploading the slides in advance with, at the time of writing, only two other slideshows have been uploaded (although two additional slideshow have been tagged with the w4a2012 tag). These were uploaded after David’s and have been viewed 5 and 316 times, perhaps because the buzz generated by the #w4a12 tweets had dissipated after delegates went home after the event.