UKOLN Internet Librarian International 2003 Conference - 25-27 March 2003

Web Site Accessibility: Too Difficult To Implement?

The following panel session was given at the Internet Librarian International 2003 Conference held at the NEC, Birmingham on 25-27th March 2003.

Web Site Accessibility: Too Difficult To Implement? (B105)

A 45 minute panel session on "Web Site Accessibility: Too Difficult To Implement?"
Abstract (up to 100 words)
Previous ILI conferences have featured several talks on Web site accessibility. Delegates are likely to be familiar with W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and legislation such as SENDA and DDA in the UK and 508 in the US. But although the desirability of Web site accessibility is widely acknowledged the difficulties and costs of measuring and implementing accessibility are often ignored. It can be difficult to raise such concerns without appearing to be 'politically incorrect'.
In this panel session Dr. Neil Witt (University of Plymouth and an associate of the TechDis service) will argue Web site accessibility can, and should, be implemented. Brian Kelly, UKOLN, will argue that although accessibility is desirable, organisations cannot sign a blank cheque for ensuring widespread accessibility, and that there is a need for more open debate on what can and what can't be achieved. David Sloan (University of Dundee) will argue that one should not address the accessibility of a Web site without also address its usability.
Objectives Of The Session
By the end of the session audience members will be aware of some of the difficulties which need to be faced when ensuring the Web sites comply with accessibility guidelines and will be aware of the approaches which are being taken within the UK Higher Education community.
Brian Kelly (UKOLN), Dr. Neil Witt (University of Plymouth) and David Sloan (University of Dundee)
Biographical Details
Brian Kelly is UK Web Focus - a JISC-funded post which advises the UK's higher and further education communities on Web developments. Brian is also a project managers for the QA Focus post - another JISC-funded post which seeks to ensure that JISC-funded digital library projects comply with standards and best practices. Brian works at UKOLN, a national centre of expertise in digital information management, which is based at the University of Bath.
David Sloan is Project Lead of the Digital Media Access Group, a Web accessibility research and consultancy group based in the Division of Applied Computing at the University of Dundee. The group have provided Web accessibility audits and advice to a number of clients in the HE, commercial and public sectors. David previously worked with the Disability and Information Systems in Higher Education project (DISinHE), the predecessor to TechDIS. David was originally a cartographer, having graduated BSc in Topographic Science, before an MSc in Applied Computing led him to an interest in Web design and content, and specifically usability and accessibility issues.
Dr Neil Witt is coordinator of the Communications and Learning Technologies Research (CoLT) group at the University of Plymouth. Neil is currently seconded to the Institute for Science Education (ISE) and is a TechDis Associate. CoLT and the ISE have been involved in eLearning and eTraining initiatives at a national and European level. Neil currently leads a number of web accessibility projects aimed at developing strategies to assist with the institutional requirements of the recently introduced Special Education Needs and Disabilities Act. Neil is also a founder and director of, a University spin out company where he manages a portfolio of accessible Web sites for a range of clients.


[PowerPoint format] - [HTML format] - [Accessible HTML format]
The Problems: Brian Kelly
[PowerPoint format] - [HTML format] - [Accessible HTML format]
Usability, Legal and Policy Issues: David Sloan
[PowerPoint format] - [HTML format] - [Accessible HTML format]
Policy Issues: Neil Witt
[PowerPoint format] - [HTML format] - [Accessible HTML format]


Time Topic Comments
16:00-16:10 Introduction Neil Witt will introduce the panel session and gives an introduction to WAI.
Slides: [PowerPoint format] - [HTML format] - [Accessible HTML format]
16:10-16:25 The problems found in the UK HE community Brian Kelly will give summary of a survey of UK HE Web sites and discuss some of the difficulties institutions have experienced in WAI compliances and the challenges in implementing WAI compliance across a large Web site.
Slides: [PowerPoint format] - [HTML format] - [Accessible HTML format]
16:25-16:40 Usability, legal and policy issues David Sloan will address usability and policy issues.
Slides: [PowerPoint format] - [HTML format] - [Accessible HTML format]
16:40-16:50 Web accessibility and policy Neil Witt will give the concluding presentation on Web accessibility and policy issues.
[PowerPoint format] - [HTML format] - [Accessible HTML format]
16:55-17:00 Discussion Opportunity for general discussion

Web Site Accessibility: Too Difficult To Implement?

In this panel session three speakers will give their views on the implementation of accessible Web sites. This session aims to provide a forum for discussion. Participants will be encouraged to join in the debate.

Position Statements

Neil Witt

Are we in a position where we need to convince institutional policy makers, information providers and Web developers the need for inclusivity, not marginalisation of users with a disability?

Inclusivity and access for all starts at the beginning of design process and should not be considered as a bolt-on afterthought. The inclusive Web site needs to be usable by people with a wide variety of capabilities and users with a disability need to be involved in the design process.

Developers cannot rely on accessibility evaluation and repair tools to provide the answers or rely on Web authoring software to create an accessible site for them. There is a requirement for awareness of accessibility issues and developers need to know how to use evaluation and repair tools correctly.

There are barriers to be overcome such as the idea that the text only site is a solution. There needs to be a process of necessary reskilling and the unwillingness to accept inclusivity needs to be overcome.

Perhaps the solution is to raise the awareness of access issues. If a feature cannot be made accessible then the developer must think hard as to whether to include it. After all, it would not be acceptable either morally or legally to construct a public building which was not wheelchair accessible.

Brian Kelly

The importance of Web accessibility is widely acknowledged, especially in public sectors such as libraries, education, etc. However, despite the advice and guidelines provided by W3C's Web ACcessibility Initiative (WAI), many Web developers find that implementation of WAI guidelines can be difficult to achieve, may conflict with Web site usability or are felt to be of theoretical interest.

A survey of the accessibility of UK University home pages appeared to confirm this belief. The Bobby accessibility checking tool was used to analyse over 160 entry points: only three appeared to comply with WAI AA guidelines.

Implementation of WAI guidelines on large Web site will have resource implications. There will be costs in auditing Web sites for accessibility compliance, in fixing problems, in deploying new tools with better support for developing accessible pages and in providing support and training.

How much should organisations be willing to pay to address accessibility problem? Should a blank cheque be signed - or would the money be better spent on, say, installing wheelchair ramps?

There is a clear need for organisations to develop accessibility policies which document their approaches to Web accessibility. In this panel session I hope we will have the opportunity to explore the requirements of a workable accessibility policy.

David Sloan

As awareness of the need to consider accessibility grows amongst the Web development communities, there is a danger that 'accessibility' is pursued without thought given to its role as a component of a successful Web site.

Whilst very useful, validation of sites by tools such as Bobby - or even against the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines themselves - will not in itself ensure a Web site that is not only technically accessible to a disabled person, but is usable to that person (i.e. it allows rapid task completion with minimal error and dissatisfaction).

And what about the many design issues not explicitly covered by accessibility guidelines but which may adversely affect usability for users with disabilities - issues such as logical flow of information, search facility design and audio usability?

While much legislation relating to accessibility is unclear in terms of specific directives to Web authors, the UK's Disability Discrimination Act states that examples of discrimination occur if someone is denied access to goods facilities or services - or given a poorer service - on account of a disability. This second clause suggests that Web authors in the UK must not only strive for technical access, but must also attempt to make a Web site as easy to use as possible for disabled users.

So blinkered following of for example the results of a Bobby analysis, or automatic text-only page generation, may allow a cosy definition of 'accessibility' to be met, but the experience of the disabled user is unlikely to be significantly enhanced. In this session I hope the opportunity will arise to debate how 'disability usability' should play a role in any accessibility policy or strategy.