Web accessibility, just like open standards may be regarded (like motherhood and apple pie) as concepts which one could not possibly argue against. But what if the traditional approach to Web accessibility, based on ensuring Web resources comply with WCAG 1.0 guidelines, doesn’t work? And perhaps one interpretation of the poor levels of conformance is the case with the SiteMorse automated survey of compliance with accessibility guidelines for various disability support bodies in the UK. SiteMorse’s news article, entitled How can everyone else be expected to achieve website accessibility, if the experts can’t?, focusses on the findings of an automated test and fails to acknowledge that accessibility may be more complex than that. As myself and colleagues at the JISC TechDis service pointed out in a response to SiteMorse’s news item, a more holistic approach to accessibility is needed which focusses on the importance of satisfying user needs rather than simply following a checklist.
In November 2006 UKOLN and TechDis organised the Accessibility Summit II meeting (which followed on from the first Accessibility Summit held in 2005). As described in a report on the meeting the participants called for the development of a holistic approach to the development of Web services which addresses the broad set of issues which need to be addressed in order to provide quality Web services, including factors such as usability, the purpose of the Web site, interoperability, cultural and resource issues, as well as accessibility. The meeting also called for an evidence-based approach to demonstrating viable approaches for providing accessible Web services and for a clear recognition of the need to take into account various contextual factors.
Our work in this area continues and on 13th April 2007 myself and Professor Stephen Brown from De Montfort University will be 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. The abstract for this session, a briefing document and the slides to be used in this forum are available online.