Last week I attended the first day of the Techshare 2007 conference.

I gave a talk on Beyond Compliance – A Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility, which reviewed the work on Web accessibility policies which has been published at the W4A 2005, W4A 2006 and W4A 2007 conferences. This work has described the limitations of the WAI approach to Web accessibility, with the flaws in the WCAG 1.0 guidelines becoming increasingly apparent over the years. In addition we (my co-authors have included Professors Helen Petrie and Stephen Brown, Lawrie Phipps, David Sloan, Patrick Lauke and Simon Ball) have argued that there’s a need to address the context of use – and that the approaches taken to ensure accessibility of informational resources are not necessarily relevant in cases in which the Web is used to deliver learning, provide access to a cultural experience, enable a user to assert their identity or simply, to have fun. Examples I’ve used to illustrate this include include surrealist paintings (how do you make a Salvador Dali painting understandable, for example) and my favourite sports headline “Super Cali Go Ballistic, Celtic were Atrocious’ – which brings a smile to many people’s faces, but not if Mary Poppins hasn’t been part of your cultural upbringing – in short, it’s not universally accessible.

At the conference I described such ‘edge cases’ and explained why these needed to be considered (to avoid, as I’ve heard has happened, resources being removed from Web sites as they can’t be made accessible to everyone). I described the approaches we’ve developed, based on a holistic approach to accessibility, a stakeholder model and a tangram metaphor for describing the approaches.

I was pleased at the response I received to the talk: despite it being the final talk of the day, several people came up to me afterwards and thanked me for the talk and described how useful they felt this user-focussed (as opposed to a checklist) approach was. I was especially pleased that a couple of people from the RNIB felt that this approach echoes their thinking.