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Re: Web Accessibility Evaluation and Testing

From: Shawn Henry <shawn@w3.org>
Date: Thu, 14 Jul 2011 11:21:48 -0500
Message-ID: <4E1F179C.8060805@w3.org>
To: Ian Sharpe <isforums@manx.net>
CC: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
  Hi Ian,

Please read the WAI documents in our previous replies to this thread:
* Involving Users in Web Projects for Better, Easier Accessibility at http://www.w3.org/WAI/users/involving.html
* Involving Users in Evaluating Web Accessibility at http://www.w3.org/WAI/eval/users.html

I think that they are based on the ideas that you are expounding. The primary goal of these documents is to get developers to include real people with disabilities early and throughout their projects to understand how to make their websites (and browsers, authoring tools, etc.) really work well for people with disabilities.

Please let us know if you disagree with anything in these documents or have suggestions for improvements.

Ian Sharpe wrote: You hope that testing would highlight the kind of issues I'm thinking about but by that time, it may be too far down the line to do much about it.<end quote>

Agree. WAI's document "Involving Users in Evaluating Web Accessibility" says it "is the second of two pages on including users in web projects; please read 'Including Users in Web Projects for Better, Easier Accessibility', which covers broader issues of including users early in website design, tool development, standards, and other web projects."

Ian Sharpe wrote: perhaps encouragement to read through the guidelines in their entirety to help designers get a better feel for the issues might also improve understanding.<end quote>

I agree that understanding the bigger picture is important, rather than focusing only on one discrete issue at a time. However, I think the guidelines themselves are not a good place to start for generally understanding how people with disabilities use the web. They provide an excellent tool during development and for testing, but they are not a good introduction. Instead I think people should get a better understanding by:
* Reading How People with Disabilities Use the Web starting from http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/people-use-web/Overview.html
* Watching videos of how people with disabilities use the Web, such as those listed at http://www.uiaccess.com/accessucd/resources_videos.html
* Watching real people with disabilities using the web and asking lots of questions, as described in the other documents linked in this e-mail message

Ian Sharpe wrote: I don't feel this particular message is being communicated as well as it could be.<end quote>

Ah, yes, so many designers and developers and so little good communication.<grin> I think that WAI's communications have addressed this (and welcome specific suggestions for improving it), and it would be good if more people communicated the message to reach more designers, developers, and managers.

Although I am but one person but I have been communicating this message for over 10 years. For example, in a 2002 conference paper I wrote: "Section 508...the motivation for accessibility is often limited to meeting standards and guidelines for accessibility. Many times this puts the focus on the technical aspects of accessibility, and the human interaction aspect is lost. This problem can be avoided by adopting the broader definition of accessibility as a guiding principle. Instead of focusing only on the technical aspects of accessibility, it is important to recognize that usability is also an important aspect of accessibility. Consciously addressing 'usable accessibility' helps clarify the difference between what meets minimum accessibility standards and what is usable by people with disabilities."[1] I wrote an entire book and made it available online free to help designers, developers, and managers include people with disabilities throughout design and create usable 
accessibility. <http://uiaccess.com/JustAsk/>

The primary message of many of my recent presentations has been that accessibility is about *people using the web*, not about just meeting standards - and that the first step to accessibility is learning how people with disabilities use the web. These presentations have been in my role as W3C WAI outreach.

Ian, do you have specific suggestions on what WAI and others can do to better communicate this message?

(side note: I'm afraid that the main problem is that people don't care enough to make their websites highly accessible and usable. And even when some people care, they aren't given the time to do it well.)


[1] http://uiaccess.com/upa2002a.html "Another –ability: Accessibility Primer for Usability Specialists" - note that that paper is old and I might not agree with everything I said in there now. <grin>


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: Web Accessibility Evaluation and Testing
Resent-Date: Thu, 14 Jul 2011 11:31:23 +0000
Resent-From: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Date: Thu, 14 Jul 2011 12:30:11 +0100
From: Ian Sharpe <isforums@manx.net>
To: 'Gregg Vanderheiden' <gv@trace.wisc.edu>, 'Emmanuelle Gutiérrez y Restrepo' <coordina@sidar.org>
CC: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>, "'Phill Jenkins'" <pjenkins@us.ibm.com>

Thanks all for the very constructive feedback.
I do appreciate that many factors, including AT, OS, device, environment,browser, experience, etc, as well as conformance to any standards, all affect how easy someone finds it to use a particular site. But my point ismore about the approach that I feel web designers and developers are nowtending to adopt in order to improve the accessibility of a site. That is, I feel that they are looking at conformance to the various standards rather than taking a step back and asking themselves how they can make thesite as easy to use for people with disabilities and using the standardsand guidelines to help them achieve this goal.
To give an example, consider a blog or web forum. I am registered blind myself , and use the NVDA screen reader to access web content on the whole, although I can still see enough to use a computer with very strong glasses and / or screen magnification and a high contrast colour scheme. I haven't ever had too many problems reading blogs or online forums but know that it takes me much longer to read through posts than it would a sighted person. I have to continually arrow down through what is to me superfluous information such as the person's alias, date, avatar image, links to social networking or bookmark sites, ratings, number of postsetc in orderto read what is often a one word or line answer such as I agree. And so have to go through the same process again to get to a hopefully more helpful comment.
I don't want to get into a debate about whether all of this information is important or helpful as I'm sure it is but a sighted person can easily pick out the comment from amongst all of the other noise and then use thenoise when they want to.
Some blogs or forums are better than others and I suspect some screen readers may behave differently when confronted with such content, but for the most part, these sort of sites are far more awkward, cumbersom, difficult to use for me than for sighted people.
I know that there are many ways to resolve this issue using techniques inWCAG and ARIA has the role="article" attribute which once implemented by browsers/AT may help to address this particular issue, but my point isthat many of these sites will conform to WCAG1.0/2.0 to some level, and yet are still not particularly easy to use for somebody using a screen reader. However, if web designers and developers of these type of platformswere aware of the issues people like me have when using the web and focussed on thinking how they could address these issues while maintaining the usability and convenience their sighted users experience, and using thestandards and guidelines to this end, I believe they could create more "accessible" sites.
This is obviously related to whether sites consider accessibility from the outset or try to bolt it on retrospectively and know that much of what I am saying is covered by the various guidelines and standards. But I don't feel this particular message is being communicated as well as it couldbe.
I genuinely feel that it would be helpful if designers / developers try to take a step back to look at what they are trying to do, who the users are and how best to meat all of their needs and used the standards and guidelines to this end, rather than using them to simply ensure that the content is conformant, and hence satisfies any legal obligation.
As I said previously though, how this could be achieved is another matter. You hope that testing would highlight the kind of issues I'm thinkingabout but by that time, it may be too far down the line to do much aboutit. More examples of good practice in common usage scenarios would obviously be helpful and perhaps encouragement to read through the guidelines in their entirety to help designers get a better feel for the issues might also improve understanding.
But in the main, unless the developers or designers have a lot of experience in this area, it is just not easy. In fact, maybe even simply statingthat to ensure your site is accessible is not easy would also help.
P.S. I am obviously aware that web accessibility affects many more groupsof people than simply the visually impaired but hope that readers will understand that I simply use this as an example and in no way mean to disregard the issues that others experience when using the web and the need to address accessibility for everyone, not just the visually impaired. It is simply the area in which I have most experience and hence am hopefullyable to express more effectively.
Received on Thursday, 14 July 2011 16:21:59 UTC

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