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Holistic Approaches to Accessibility Briefing (DRAFT)

Holistic Approaches to Accessibility Briefing (DRAFT)

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Published by Brian Kelly
Draft briefing paper on holistic approaches to Web accessibility.
Draft briefing paper on holistic approaches to Web accessibility.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Brian Kelly on Jan 26, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike


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Figure 1: The WAI Model
Holistic Approaches to Web Accessibility
Providing Web services which are widely accessible to users with disabilities can be challenging.Web accessibility guidelines provide a useful starting point but the increasing diversity of ways in which the Web is used, differing user requirements and the variety of ways of accessing Web resources 
there is a need to avoid the simple ‘checklist’ mentality. This briefing paper describes a
holistic approach to Web accessibility developers by researchers and practitioners in the UK and describes how these approaches relate to the BS 8878 Web Accessibility Code of Practice.
Universities and colleges have an ethical responsibility toensure that their resources and services are accessible to awide user community, including users with disability. Inaddition to their ethical responsibilities, organisations havebeen required, initially by SENDA legislation and now by theEquality Act, to take reasonable measures to ensure thatpeople with disabilities are not discriminated against unfairly.This briefing document describes approaches whichinstitutions can take to ensure that they fulfill theirresponsibilities whilst acknowledging the challenges posed bythe technical complexities, differing priorities and userrequirements and available effort and resources.
The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has developedguidelines which can help enhance the accessibility of Webresources for people with disabilities. The guidelines arehighly regarded and there is an expectation across manypublic sector organisations that Web content will conform toWeb Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).As illustrated in Figure 1the WAI model is basedon the adoption of notonly the implementationof guidelines for Webcontent but on a total of three key components.WAI have developedguidelines for developersof Web browsers and otheruser agents (the UserAgent AccessibilityGuidelines or UAAG) and Web authoring tools (theAuthoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines or ATAG).If software vendors develop software which conforms withUAAG and ATAG guidelines, it will enable content authorsto create accessible content based on WCAG guidelines andreaders to configure UAAG-conformant browsers to supporttheir individual preferences and requirements.Ideally institutions would deploy browsers and authoringtools which conform with WAI guidelines. Content creatorscould then publish Web resources based on the WCAGguidelines and the content would be universally accessible toall, regardless of any disability a user may have. In practicethis is not necessarily achievable for a number of reasons:
Limitations in WCAG guidelines
: WCAG 1.0 guidelinescontained flaws. Although WCAG 2.0 has addressedmany shortcomings it can only reflect current evidence-based practice and is known to have limited scope fordisabilities such as cognitive impairments.
Failure to support UAAG
: No Web browser currentlyfully supports UUAG. It can be very costly to upgrade tobetter browsers across an institution.
Difficulties in implement ATAG
: Although authoringtools which support ATAG are available there are manyways of creating Web content (such as Web archives of email lists) for whi
ch ATAG guidelines aren’t applicable
User reluctance to implement best practices
: Evenwhen tools implement guidelines users may be unaware of them or reluctant to use them, due to familiarity withexisting tools, usability difficulties, etc.
The diverse ways the Web is used
: The Web has movedfrom being primarily an informational resource to beingused to support learning, cultural appreciation,communications, etc.
The diversity of the user environment
: Users access theWeb and create content in diverse ways using smartphones, games machines, digital cameras and otherdevices to view Web content and create content which canbe accessed on the Web.
The costs of conforming to the guidelines
: It can beexpensive to ensure full conformance with the guidelines.
Expectations of universal accessibility
: The WAI model
is based on ‘universal design principles’ which
may leadto a misunderstanding that all resources must beuniversally accessible to all. In reality this may not be anachievable goal, with approa
ches based on ‘widening participation’ providing a more appropriate
Briefing Paper
Holistic Approaches to Web Accessibility 
Although the WAI work has been valuable in encouragingorganisations to address accessibility issues there is now anawareness of possible risks in mandating strict conformanceto WCAG guidelines based on a one-size fits all approach.This could result in services failing to be deployed, causing aloss of services to all, or significant effort being expendedwhich fails to deliver significant accessibility benefits.Accessibility researchers and practitioners in the UKdeveloped a pragmatic approach to the implementation of Web accessibility guidelines. Early work focused in an e-learning context and emphasises the importance of theaccessibility of the
learning outcomes
rather than accessibilityof the
e-learning resources
. This approach, which wasinitially developed by developed by staff at UKOLN and JISCTechDis has been described as
holistic accessibility
(see [1].As illustrated in Figure 2 the important aspect is ensuring theaccessibility of the learning objectives. The implementationof accessibility guidelines needs to be taken alongside otherconsiderations including the usability of the service (whichcan be neglected if an emphasis is placed on usability issues);the desired learning outcomes (accessibility features shouldnot provide simple access to, for example, answers to multiplechoice questions!); and other contextual aspects such asavailable resources and expertise and the institutionaltechnical and learning support infrastructure. The holisticmodel needs to include quality assurance approaches whichcan help to ensure that best practices are documented andimplemented in a systematic and consistent fashion.
Figure 2: Holistic Model for E-Learning Accessibility
A Stakeholder Model 
A stakeholder framework has been developed which isillustrated in Figure 2. As described in [2] this contextualisedmodel of accessible e-learning practice in higher educationtakes into account:All stakeholders of accessibility within a higher educationinstitution.The context in which these stakeholders have to operate:drivers and mediators.How the relationship between the stakeholders and thecontext influences the responses they make and theaccessible e-learning practices that develop (see Figure 3).The extent to which e-learning resources are accessible willbe influenced by how the stakeholders in the institutionrespond to external drivers such as legislation, guidelines andstandards. In addition, however, this response will bemediated by stakeholders views and understandings of arange of issues including: disability, accessibility andinclusion; the extent to which they view themselves to have aduty and responsibility to respond; the extent to which theyfeel their personal autonomy is threatened and the extent towhich they feel it is necessary or beneficial to respond as acommunity or team. The accessible e-learning practices thatdevelop out of these responses will therefore vary dependingon the stakeholders and the context in which they areoperating but essentially centres on taking ownership andcontrol as well as developing personal meaning (i.e. personalinterpretations of the drivers of accessibility, depending onpersonal experiences and understandings).
Figure 3: Stakeholder Framework
The work on developing approaches to enhancingaccessibility of Web resources and services which has beencarried out by accessibility researchers and practitioners in theUK higher education sector has taken place in the context of related activities including the recent release of the British
Standard’s BS 8878
Web Accessibility. Code of practice
[3].This document, which has been published following recentchanges in UK legislation in which the DisabilityDiscrimination Act (DDA) has been replaced by the EqualityAct, takes a user-focussed approach to Web accessibility and,significantly, signals a move away from the checklistapproach which was prevalent when WCAG was the keyelement in Web accessibility policies.
The heart of the BS 8878 document is a 16 step plan:1
Define the purpose.2
Define the target audience.3
Analyse the needs of the target audience.4
Note any platform or technology preferences.5
Define the relationship the product will have with itstarget audience.6
Define the user goals and tasks.7
Consider the degree of user experience the web productwill aim to provide.8
Consider inclusive design & user-personalisedapproaches to accessibility.9
Choose the delivery platform to support.10
Choose the target browsers, operating systems &assistive technologies to support.11
Choose whether to create or procure the Web product.12
Define the Web technologies to be used in the Webproduct.13
Use Web guidelines to direct accessibility Webproduction14
Assure the Web products accessibility throughproduction (i.e. at all stages).15
Communicate the W
eb product’s accessibility decisions
at launch.16
Plan to assure accessibility in all post-launch updates tothe product.In step 13 BS 8878 places the WCAG guidelines in context;these are no longer the main driver for accessibility.
Two case studies are provided which illustrate application of the holistic approach to Web accessibility.
Case Study 1: The Institutional Repository 
The requirements, for example, to provide structural markupor meaningful alternative text for images in PDF files ininstitutional repositories can be difficult to achieve, especiallyif author are not available to ensure the correct meaning isprovided. However rather than prohibiting the deposit of papers which infringe accessibility guidelines (and lose thebenefits of open access repositories) the holistic approachwould adopt a strategy based on training (so that researchersare made aware of relevant issues and techniques forenhancing accessibility of their papers); workflow processes(so that deposited papers maintain their structure and relevantaccessibility metadata), the development of more accessibletemplates, etc.Examples of engagement with the key stakeholders include:
: Training provided (a) for researchers toensure they are made aware of importance of accessibilitypractices (including SEO benefits) and of techniques forimplementing best practices and (b) for repositorymanagers and policy makers to ensure that accessibilityenhancements can be procured in new systems.
Feedback to developers
: Ensure that suppliers anddevelopers are aware of importance of accessibility issuesand enhancements featured in development plans.
Feedback to publishers
: Ensure that publishers whoprovide templates are aware of importance of provision of accessible templates.
: Systematic auditing of repository item tomonitor extent of accessibility concerns and trends.A summary of how such approaches may relate to BS 8878 isgiven in Table 1 (see [4] for further information).
Step Case Study: Institutional RepositoriesRequirements Gathering
 1 The purposes will be to enhance access to research papers.2 Target audiences will include the research community.3 Researchers may need to use assistive technologies to read PDFs.4 PDFs deposited by authors might not include accessibility support for people with disabilities.5 The paper will be provided at a stable URI.6 Users will use various search tools to find resource. Paper with then be read on screen or printed.
Strategic Decisions
Usability of the PDF document will be constrained by publisher’s template. Technical accessibility will be constrained
by workflow processes.8 Not generally applicable. However RSS feeds will; be provided for new papers and to allow limited syndication of repository content.9 Aims to be available on devices with PDF support including mobile devices.10 Aims to be available to all browsers and platforms which support PDFs11 The service is provided by repository team.
 12 HTML interface to PDF resources.13 HTML pages will seek to conform with WCAG 2.0 AA. PDF resources might not conform with PDF accessibilityguidelines.
Other Factors
 14 Periodic audits of PDF accessibility are planned.15 Accessibility statement will be published.16 Periodic reviews of technical developments will take place.
Table 1: Application of BS 8878 to Document Policies on Accessibility of an Institutional Repository

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