Accessibility 2.0: A Holistic And User-Centred Approach To Web Accessibility


Brian Kelly is a co-facilitator of the professional forum on "Accessibility 2.0: A Holistic And User-Centred Approach To Web Accessibility" which was given at the Museums and the Web 2007 which will be held in San Francisco on 11-13th April 2007.


The importance of accessibility of museum Web sites is well-understood. The W3C WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) guidelines provide a well-recognized and widely accepted approach which can help to ensure that Web resources can be accessed by people with disabilities.

However experiences in use of WAI guidelines since they were released in 1999 is leading organisations to question their effectiveness. It has been argued that the low level of conformance with WAI guidelines is due not to a lack of willingness to provide accessible Web sites but to a realisation that the guidelines have their limitations and the WAI model has its flaws.

Such limitations are becoming even more apparent in a Web 2.0 environment which is providing a range of applications and uses of Web technologies which were not envisaged when the WAI guidelines were first released.

A new set of guidelines are being developed (WCAG 2.0) which seek to address some of the limitations of the existing guidelines. However, as has been pointed out by Joe Clarke in his "To Hell With WCAG 2.0" article, these guidelines themselves fail to address many of the concerns which have been raised, and have failed to acknowledge that other approaches to accessibility may provide legitimate ways of addressing the challenges of providing accessible solutions. Such limitations, however, do not mean that the guidelines need to be abandoned. Rather there is a need to make use of those guidelines which have been proven to be effective. In addition there is a need to recognize that different contexts may require different solutions.

The concerns which have been expressed over the approach taken by WAI do not, however, necessarily mean that the guidelines need to be abandoned. Rather, we would argue there is a need to make use of those guidelines which have been proven to be effective. In addition there is a need to recognize that different contexts may require different solutions. Such contexts may include:

Organisation's Environment
The approaches taken in addressing the accessibility of a multimedia resource in a small museum with limited technical expertise may be different to that taken in a national museum with a large IT development team, due to the different levels of resources and technical expertise, for example.
The National Context
There will be a variety of legal systems which will affect the expectations which may be set - and the threats associated with non-compliance. there will also be a variety of cultural-specific perceptions and definitions of terms such as 'accessibility' and 'disability'.
Context of Use
The approaches taken to address the accessibility of informational resources may be different to that taken in the provision of educational, cultural or entertainment services.

In this professional forum the facilitators will review the limitations of the WAI approach to accessibility and describe a model for accessibility which emphasizes the importance of addressing user needs holistically rather than simply applying a checklist. An example of a how this approach can be used in a specific context will be given.

The key aspect of the professional forum will be the engagement with the audience. Members of the audience will be invited to:

  1. Contribute their experiences in providing accessible Web sites and difficulties which may have been experienced.
  2. Provide feedback on the holistic model.
  3. Generate the basis of a roadmap to take forward an approach to accessibility which is suited for the requirements of the museum's community.
  4. Form a working group that takes these issues forward in their respective organisations and countries.


Position Paper

Position paper (held remotely)


Accessibility 2.0: A Holistic And User-Centred Approach To Web Accessibility
[MS PowerPoint] - [HTML]



The professional forum will begin by asking delegates to describe their approaches to providing accessible Web services, including detail of their policies. This will be followed by delegates describing difficulties they may have experienced in implementing their policies.

Following this a summary will be provided of some of the areas of innovation we have seen over recent years including technologies such as blogs. wikis, podcasting and the growth in importance in user generated content.

In addition to technological innovation, the forum will address the changing role of museum web sites, from initially providing primarily informational services (opening houses, location details and information on collections, etc.) to their role in providing educational and cultural experiences.

We will outline the concept of 'universal accessibility' and discuss how realistic this is likely to be. We will then discuss other underlying principals, such as 'widening participation' and user-centred rather than universal design approaches. This will lead on to the notion of an approach based on providing an accessible museum experience, rather than accessible museum digital resources. We will explore alternative accessible experiences based on the role of the service (such as informational experiences, cultural experiences, entertainment experiences, etc.). We will explore the variety of alternative experiences which may be provided, including text, audio, tactile alternative resources and possible support infrastructures.