Web Panel

Brian Kelly participated in an panel session on "Web Accessibility - Theory and Practice" at the e-Access06 conference which was held on 14th September 2006 in the New Connaught Rooms, 61 - 65 Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2B 5DA (see Google Map).

The session took place from 12.15-13.15 (and not 14.15-15.15 as originally scheduled.)


The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has been tremendously successful in raising awareness of the importance of accessibility of digital resources and in developing guidelines which can help to provide access to resources.

However the high profile given to WAI's guidelines (especially the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG) can lead to a danger that compliance with the guidelines is an end in itself, rather than a tool which can help to provide accessible Web resources.

In addition we are finding that the guidelines, which were originally written in 1999, are increasingly becoming out-of-date. This is leading to uncertainties as to whether the deployment of Web 2.0 technologies (such as Podcasting) are barriers to accessibility which should be prohibited or provide accessibility benefits and should be encouraged.

In this workshop session Brian Kelly will give a brief report on work which has been carried out in the UK's higher education community which aims to provide a user-centric approach to accessibility and a generic framework for the application of WCAG guidelines within a wider context of best practices. Following the brief presentation there will be the opportunity for the workshop participants to discuss the implications of this approach.



A User-Focussed Approach To Web Accessibility Guidelines
[HTML format] - [MS PowerPoint 97/2000 format]


Discussion groups Topics
[MS Word 97/2000 format]
Tangram Model For Web Accessibility, QA Focus briefing document no. 101, UKOLN
[Available in MS Word and HTML formats]

Topics for Discussion

A list of five key topics for discussion is given below:

  1. The key focus for accessibility should be the user. This may appear self-evident, but the danger is that Web developers focus only on the guidelines and complying with the guidelines and avoid having to engage with the user community.
    Challenge: How do we identify who the user is and what the user characteristics are? How do we go about the development of usable and accessible Web sites for our target audience?

  2. Accessibility guidelines, whilst valuable, should be treated as guidelines, and not as infallible rules. The DRC-sponsored survey of 1,000 Web sites demonstrated that Web sites which users with disabilities find easy-to-use are not necessarily those which comply with WAI accessibility guidelines. This mismatch between the guidelines (which were published in 1999) and user experiences with Web sites is likely to grow as increasing take-up of Web 2.0 technologies, which make use of approaches which were not envisaged in the accessibility guidelines.
    Challenge: If we can't totally rely on best practices as defined in WCAG guidelines, how do we go about developing accessible services?

  3. Automated testing is fundamentally flawed as an approach to checking accessibility. Although accessibility guidelines emphasise the importance of user testing, in practice automated tools such as Bobby are often used as evidence that Web sites are accessible. Public sector Web sites should treat automated accessibility audits with scepticism.
    Challenge: Does this mean we ignore automated testing? If not, how do we find a balance between automated and manual testing? If third parties give us a low rating based on automated testing, we are likely to criticise the methodology. On the other hand, if we get a high rating will we succumb to the temptation to use this in our marketing?

  4. Usability is as important as accessibility - and we mustn't ignore interoperability issues. Although accessibility guidelines may fail to adequately address usability issues, UK legislation addresses use of as well as the accessibility of Web site. So from the perspective of supporting the end user and addressing legislative issues there is a need to address usability issues. But that will not be enough in itself - there is also a need to ensure resources are widely interoperable and capable of being reused in various ways.
    Challenge: Since accessibility issues have a high public profile and the weight of legislation behind it, how do we ensure that we give usability issues equal weighting?

  5. Web 2.0 technologies can provide valuable user services. Applications such as such as Podcasting, Blogs, Wikis, Skype, etc. have a potentially valuable role to for public sector services. Their use should not be ignored if they fail to comply with guidelines defined in 1999. However there will be flawed Web 2.0 technologies (e.g. technology-driven; poor usability and accessibility; etc.). Let our mantra be "No Web 2.0 without responsibility".
    Challenge: How should we respond to the dichotomy between the user benefits which may be provided by technologies such as Podcasting and Skype and criticisms of potential accessibility barriers?

Biographical Details

Brian Kelly's job title is "UK Web Focus". His remit is to support the higher and further education and cultural heritage communities in making effective use of Web technologies. Brian works for UKOLN, a national cedntre of expertise for digital information management, located at the University of bath. UKOLN is funded by the JISC and the MLA.

One particular area of interest is Web accessibility. Brian has provided advice on best practices for Web accessibility to the higher and further education communities and the museum and library sectors. His work has helped to identify a number of weaknesses in the approaches developed by WAI. This work has led to the development of a user-focussed approach to accessibility, which builds on proven aspects of WAI guidelines and supports their use within a holistic framework. Brian has published several peer-reviewed papers on this work including "Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility", "Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility" (which was awarded a prize for the Best Research paper at the ALT-C 2005 conference), "Holistic Approaches to E-Learning Accessibility", "Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World" and "Contextual Web Accessibility - Maximizing the Benefit of Accessibility Guidelines".