Last night I attended talk on “ & Accessibility – How Can it Help?” which was organised by Accessible Bristol.  This was the first time I’ve attended an event organised by Accessible Bristol but looking at their programme of recent monthly events I should try and get to a future event.

I was pleased to meet up with Chaals McCathie Nevile (@chaals) again, whom I first met many years ago probably at a W3A WAI event. The last time I recall spending some time with Chaals was back in January 2009, at a barbecue Chaals organised after I spoke at the OzeWAI 2009 conference.

As well as catching up with Chaals, at last night’s event I also  caught up with Dan Brickley (@danbri) and Libby Miller (@libbymiller), who used to work at ILRT, University of Bristol and whom I met at events in the southwest as well as at a number of Web conferences in the US, Hungary and elsewhere.

When I realised that I’d be meeting Dan and Libby at an event about accessibility and metadata I remembered that I had given a talk on the subject many years ago. Looking at my record of my presentations I discovered that I had given a talk on “Accessibility, Automation and Metadata” at a WAI meeting held in Toronto in May 1999. Although the slides are no longer available on the UKOLN web site I found a copy of the slides which are available on Slideshare and embedded below.

The ideas I presented which, as the title slide shows, were influenced by discussions I had with Dan Brickley, seem to reflect the talk given last night about the accessibility vocabulary. It seems we can now flag, in a machine-understandable format, accessibility ‘hazards’ which are defined as “a characteristic of the described resource that is physiologically dangerous to some users” – such as flashing content. It would then be possible for third-party services to identify such resources. This was the idea I presented back in 1999 – and the ideas caused consternation at the time. Perhaps it was my suggestion that “Is ‘universal design’ a false goal? Shouldn’t we be aiming for personalised services based on individual preferences?” which was controversial at the time.

There now seems to be a wider acceptance of the value of personalised access to resources, and that trying to ensure that all web resources are universally accessible is not a realistic or achievable goal.

But why has the vision from 1999 taken so long to come about? Chaas acknowledged that the accessibility vocabulary is still not ready for mainstream deployment. But should we start to describe our resources which may be accessibility hazards or provide significant barriers? The BBC announces if video clips contain flashing images so that viewers who may be affected can avoid watching the clip. Should we do likewise for videos we use on our web sites? And should we flag videos which don’t provide captions? However if we only use videos which are captions, perhaps this is not necessary?

These are questions I intend to raise in the workshop session on “BS 8878: Systematic Approaches to Documenting Web Accessibility Policies and Practices” which I’ll be facilitating at the IWMW 2015 event in a few weeks time. I’d welcome questions or comments on the relevance of the accessibility vocabulary.

Note also that a Storify summary of the tweets from last night’s event are available.

My slides from the WAI meting in May 1999 are available on Slideshare and embedded below.

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