Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Today is the first Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). As described on the Global Accessibility Awareness Day Web site:

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is a community-driven effort whose goal is to dedicate one day to raising the profile of and introducing the topic of digital (web, software, mobile app/device etc.) accessibility and people with different disabilities to the broadest audience possible.

Today’s event therefore provides a valuable opportunity to highlight important work in the area of Web accessibility which has been developed in the UK and is relevant to a worldwide audience.

Revisiting WAI and WCAG

There will be little need to raise the profile of the work of WAI, the Web Accessibility Initiative and the guidelines they have developed to help enhance the accessibility of Web resources: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which describe how web content, including native W3C formats such as HTML as well as formats such as Flash and PDF which may be included on Web sites, should be defined in order to enhance access by people with disabilities who may be using standard Web browsers or assistive technologies which should support the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) Creators of Web content should be using authoring tools which are based on ATAG, the Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines, which will help to ensure that the content is WCAG-conformant.

Unfortunately experience has shown that this simple model is insufficient for developing Web products which reflect the diverse ways in which the Web is used today. As summarised in a paper on “Reflections on the Development of a Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility” the reasons for this include limitations in the guidelines themselves, limitations of the three-part model, the inappropriateness of an approaches based on universal accessibility for services which may be targetted at specific groups of users or even an individual user and the lack of guidance in the WAI approach on ways of providing ‘good enough’ accessibility as opposed to WAI’s ‘just-in-case’ approach. To give an example of the need to be able to develop ‘good enough’ solutions, if an institution’s institutional repository contains many thousands of research papers in PDF format and the PDFs, which may be deposited by the author, do not conform with accessibility guidelines, should the repository service be discontinued?

It should also be noted that the limitations of WCAG aren’t restricted to limitations of WCAG 1.0. As described in a paper on “Guidelines are only half of the story: accessibility problems encountered by blind users on the web” recently published in the Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems:

This paper describes an empirical study of the problems encountered by 32 blind users on the Web. Task-based user evaluations were undertaken on 16 websites, yielding 1383 instances of user problems. The results showed that only 50.4% of the problems encountered by users were covered by Success Criteria in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0). For user problems that were covered by WCAG 2.0, 16.7% of websites implemented techniques recommended in WCAG 2.0 but the techniques did not solve the problems. These results show that few developers are implementing the current version of WCAG, and even when the guidelines are implemented on websites there is little indication that people with disabilities will encounter fewer problems. The paper closes by discussing the implications of this study for future research and practice. In particular, it discusses the need to move away from a problem-based approach towards a design principle approach for web accessibility.

But if WCAG has failed to live up to its expectations, is it no longer relevant? We disagree with this view – rather there is a need for a higher level standard which provides a context for use of WCAG and other accessibility standards.

BS 8878: Web Accessibility Code of Practice

As described in a post entitled BS 8878: “Accessibility has been stuck in a rut of technical guidelines” the BS 8878 Web Accessibility Code of Practice has been developed in order to address limitations of WAI’s approaches. As described in a paper on “A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First” BS 8878 “makes recommendations for accessibility being addressed across a 16 Step Model of the web product development and maintenance process“. The paper goes on to describe BS 8878 in more detail:

These steps span: initial conception and requirements analysis (steps 1 to 6); strategic choices based on that research (steps 7 to 11); the decision to procure or develop the web product either in-house or contracted out (step 11); production of the web product (steps 12 and 13); evaluation of the product (step14); the launch (step 15); and post-launch maintenance (step 16).

Step 1: define the purpose of the web product
Step 2: define the target audiences for the web product
Step 3: analyse the needs of the target audiences for the web product
Step 4: note any platform or technology preferences and restrictions of the web product’s target audiences
Step 5: define the relationship the product will have with its target audiences
Step 6: define the user goals and tasks the web product needs to provide
Step 7: consider the degree of user-experience the web product will aim to provide
Step 8: consider inclusive design and user-personalized approaches to accessibility
Step 9: choose the delivery platforms to support
Step 10: choose the target browsers, operating systems and assistive technologies to support
Step 11: choose whether to create or procure the web product in-house or contract out externally
Step 12: define the web technologies to be used in the web product
Step 13: use web guidelines to direct accessible web production
Step 14: assure the web product’s accessibility through production
Step 15: communicate the web product’s accessibility decisions at launch
Step 16: plan to assure accessibility in all post-launch updates to the product
Figure 1: 16 Step Model of BS 8878

This model has been drawn up based on real-world experience in companies and organisations that have effectively addressed accessibility. BS 8878 addresses accessibility both at the organisational level and the individual product level. It needs to be adapted to any situation it is applied.

The official slides on BS 8878 from its launch, together with other free information including, case studies of organisations using BS 8878, detailed blogs on its use by SMEs, tools and training for applying the Standard, and news on its progress towards an International Standard, can be found at

BS 8878 was published by the British Standards Institute and has not been adopted by standards body outside the UK. However on Global Accessibility Awareness Day it would appear particularly appropriate to highlight the valuable work which has taken place in the UK. Perhaps Web accessibility practitioners, developers and policy-makers outside the UK should be asking “How can we learn from the approaches which have been taken in the UK?“; “Shouldn’t we be looking to implement a similar code of practice within our national standards body?” and even “Shouldn’t BS 8878 form the basis of an international standard?

About the Author and his Previous Work

Brian Kelly attended the launch meeting for WAI in April 1997 and has been active in promoting best practices for Web accessibility ever since. Initially the focus of his work was in promoting take-up of WCAG guidelines across the UK’s higher and further education sectors. However following feedback from those involved in developing of web-based elearning services, it became apparent that use of WCAG guidelines was not always appropriate in the context of e-learning development work. A paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” published in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology in 2004 introduced the idea of ‘holistic approaches’ to web accessibility.

The limitations of WAI’s approaches were described in a paper on “Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World” which described how “the context of the Web resource in question and other factors surrounding its use are used to shape an approach to accessible design” was published in 2005.

A paper on “Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility” was awarded a prize for Best Research Paper at the ALT-C 2005 conference.

The importance of context was described in a paper on “Contextual Web Accessibility – Maximizing the Benefit of Accessibility Guidelines” which was presented at the W4A 2006 conference.

The importance of development of policies and accompanying processes to support user-focussed approaches to Web accessibility were described in a paper on “Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes” presented at the W4A 2007 conference.

A review of work to date was given in a paper on “Reflections on the Development of a Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility” presented at the ADDW08 conference.

The need to adopt alternative approaches to Web accessibility was described in papers on “Accessibility 2.0: Next Steps For Web Accessibility” published in the Journal of Access Services and “From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability” published in the Disability and Rehability: Assistive Technology journal, both published in 2009.

Insights from disability studies were included in a paper on “Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World” presented at the W4A 2010 conference.

The limitation of accessibility metrics were addressed in a paper “Web Accessibility Metrics For A Post Digital World” presented at a W3C WAI online symposium in 2011.

These ideas were further developed in a post on “A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First” presented at the W4A 2012 conference.

These, and other peer-reviewed papers on Web accessibility can be accessed from the UKOLN Web site.

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