This document describes a user-focussed approach to Web accessibility in which
the conventional approach to Web accessibility (based on use of WAI WCAG guidelines)
can be applied within a wider context.
Traditional Approach To Web Accessibility
The conventional approach to Web accessibility is normally assumed to be
provided by implementation of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
which have been developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).
In fact the WCAG guidelines are part of a set of three guidelines developed
by WAI, the other guidelines being the Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG)
and the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG). The WAI approach is reliant
on full implementation of these three sets of guidelines.
Limitations Of The WAI Approach
Although WAI has been a political success, with an appreciation of the importance
of Web accessibility now widely acknowledged, and has provided a useful set of
guidelines which can help Web developers produce more accessible Web sites,
the WAI model and the individual guidelines have their flaws, as described by
Kelly et al :
- Flaws in WAI model: The WAI approach relies not only on
WCAG-compliant content, but also on the availability and use of browsers which
comply with UAAG guidelines and authoring tools which comply with ATAG guidelines.
In practice, software which complies with these guidelines is not widely available.
- WCAG Limitations: The WCAG 1.0 guidelines were published in 1999.
Since then limitations and ambiguities in the guidelines have become apparent.
- Alternative approaches: The WAI approach is based on universal
accessibility of Web resources. However there will be circumstances in which
this approach may not be applicable. For example in e-learning, the important factor
is not necessarily the accessibility of e-learning resources but the accessibility
of learning outcomes (see ). Such an approach encourages
a diversity of solutions (including other IT solutions as well as real world alternatives).
The Tangram Model
Although the WAI approach has its flaws (which is understandable as this was
an initial attempt to address a very difficult area) it needs to be recognised
that WCAG guidelines are valuable. The challenge is to develop an approach which
makes use of useful WCAG guidelines in a way which can be integrated with others
areas of best practices (e.g. including usability, interoperability, etc.) and
provides a richer and more usable and accessible experience to the target user community.
In the tangram model for Web accessibility (developed by Sloan,
Kelly et al ) each piece in the tangram (see below left)
represents guidelines in areas such as accessibility, usability, interoperability, etc.
The challenge for the Web developer is to develop a solution which is 'pleasing'
to the target user community (see below right).
The tangram model provides several benefits:
- User-focussed: The aim is explicitly on provided appropriate
solutions for the user, rather than compliance with guidelines.
- Holistic: The approach explicitly covers several areas.
- Technology-neutral: approach is not reliant on an individual technology.
- Automated testing given context: : Individual pieces can
represent best practices which can be tested by automated tools (e.g. present of
ALT attributes). However the model makes it clear that a single 'piece' cannot
provide the ideal solution.
- Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity?
A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World, Kelly, Sloan et al,
Proceedings of the 2005 International Cross-Disciplinary Workshop on Web Accessibility (W4A),
- Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility,
Kelly, Phipps and Swift, CJLT 2004, 3(1),
- Contextual Web Accessibility - Maximizing the Benefit of Accessibility Guidelines,
Sloan, et al, Proceedings of the 2006 International Cross-Disciplinary Workshop on Web Accessibility (W4A),