UKOLN AHDS Approaches to Accessibility at MIMAS


MIMAS [1] is a JISC-funded service [2] which provides the UK higher education, further education and research community with networked access to key data and information resources to support teaching, learning and research across a wide range of disciplines. Services supported by MIMAS include the ISI Web of Science Service for UK Education, CrossFire, UK Census aggregate statistics, COPAC, the Archives Hub, JSTOR, a Spatial Data service which includes satellite data, and a new International Data Service (part of the Economic and Social Data Service) [3].

Problem Being Addressed

This document describes the approaches which have been taken by MIMAS to ensure that its services provide levels of accessibility which are compatible with MIMAS's available resources and the services it provides.

The work was carried out in order to ensure that MIMAS services are compliant with the SENDA legislation wherever possible.

The Approach Taken

A MIMAS Project Management Team called ACE (Accessibility Compliance Exercise) was set up with the remit of making recommendations on accessibility work. We were set the task of making the MIMAS Web site compliant at least with Priority 1 WAI guidelines [4] by 1 September 2002.

The ACE Team consisted of a coordinator and four members of MIMAS staff with a range of skills, and chosen so that each section manager (of which there are three) had at least one person on the team. We knew that it would take a great deal of effort from many members of staff and that it was crucial to have the support of all managers.

The coordinator reported to the MIMAS and Manchester Computing management team and left technical issues to the rest of the team.

The team went about identifying the services, projects, areas of the MIMAS Web sites and other items which are supported and/or hosted by MIMAS.

Usually the creator or maintainer, but in some cases the section manager was identified as the person responsible for each area and a member of the ACE team (the "ACE contact") was assigned to assist and monitor progress.

We drew a distinction between Web pages (information), data and applications. It took some time to get the message through to all staff that ACE (and SENDA) was concerned with all aspects of the services and that we needed to check applications as well as Web pages. We could all have some informed opinion about Web pages, but applications often required an expert in the area to think about the accessibility of a package. Managers were asked to request and gather statements from suppliers on the accessibility of their products.

A Web page was set up on the staff intranet to document the progress each service was making, who the main players were, and to summarise areas of concern that we needed to follow up. This helped the ACE Team to estimate the scope of any work which was needed, and managers to allocate time for staff to train up in HTML and accessibility awareness. We also provide notes on how to get started, templates, training courses etc., and we continue to add information that we think will help staff to make their pages more accessible.

The ACE team met fortnightly to discuss progress. Members of the team recorded progress on the staff intranet, and the coordinator reported to the management team and to others in the Department (Manchester Computing) engaged in similar work.


The ACE team recommended that MIMAS Web resources should aim to comply with at least WAI Priority 1 guidelines. The ACE team had the following aims:

Implementing The Solution

Software (Macromedia's LIFT) was purchased to assist staff evaluate their pages, and extra effort was brought in to assist in reworking some areas accessible.

The ACE team set up an area on the staff intranet. As well as the ongoing progress report, and information about the project and the ACE team this contained hints and tips on how to go about evaluating the accessibility of Web pages, validating the (X)HTML, how to produce an implementation plan, examples of good practice etc.

Other information on the Staff intranet included:

Problems Experienced

The ACE team had their own pages to make accessible, whilst also being available o help staff who needed guidance with their own Web sites. We all had our usual day jobs to do, and time was short.

Some Web sites needed a lot of work. We brought in external help to rework two large sites and encouraged the systematic use of Dreamweaver in order to maintain the new standards. Using the Dreamweaver templates prepared by the ACE team helped those staff who were not that familiar with HTML coding.

Although Manchester computing and JISC put on Accessibility courses, not all staff were able to attend. Group meetings were used to get the message across, and personal invitations to attend the ACE workshops were successful in engaging HTML experts, managers, programmers and user support staff.

There was still a lot to do after September 2002. Not all sites could reach Priority 1 by September 2002. For these, and all services, we are recommending an accessibility statement which can be reached form the MIMAS home page. We continue to monitor the accessibility of Web pages and are putting effort into making Web sites conform to the local conventions that we have now set out in the MIMAS Accessibility Policy. This Policy is for staff use, rather than a public statement, and is updated from time to time. Accessibility statements [7] are specific to each service.

Phase 2

In January and February 2003, the ACE team ran a couple of workshops to demonstrate key elements of the ACE policy - e.g. how to validate your pages, and to encourage the use of style sheets, Dreamweaver, and to discuss ways of making our Web sites more accessible generally.

We still have to ensure that all new staff are sent on the appropriate Accessibility courses, and that they are aware of the standards we have set and aim to maintain.

Things We Would Do Differently

Workshops help everyone to be more aware of the issues and benefited the ACE team as well as staff. Because of time constraints we were unable to prepare our won ACE workshops until January 2003, by which time most sites were up to Level 1. Other people's workshops (eg. the JISC workshop) helped those attending to understand the issues relating to their own sites, those maintained by others at MIMAS, and elsewhere.

Talking to staff individually, in small groups, and larger groups, was essential to keep the momentum going.

It would have been helpful to be more specific about the accessibility features we want built in to the Web sites. For example, we encourage "skip to main content" (Priority 3), and the inclusion of Dublin Core metadata.


  1. MIMAS
  2. JISC
  3. ESDS
  4. WAI Guidelines
  5. Manchester Computing
  6. Netskills
  7. MIMAS Accessibility Statements

Contact details

Anne McCombe
University of Manchester

QA Focus Comments

For QA Focus use.