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Re: International Web Access Guidelines “Ineffective”, PhD thesis Claims

From: Gregg Vanderheiden <gv@trace.wisc.edu>
Date: Sat, 1 Jun 2013 13:52:33 -0500
Cc: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Message-Id: <A4AEC168-58D2-4AC1-A23B-7AFACE2DCB02@trace.wisc.edu>
To: Jorge Fernandes <jorge.f@netcabo.pt>
On Jun 1, 2013, at 12:11 PM, Jorge Fernandes <jorge.f@netcabo.pt> wrote:
> A recent published PhD thesis of York University [1] wrote the follow statement in the abstract:
> "Comparisons between user problems and WCAG 1.0 and WCAG 2.0 did not show any significant relationship between user-based measures of accessibility and most measures based on technical guidelines."
> I have difficulty mostly to understand what this kind of statements means.
> - it's means that there aren't significative relationship between WCAG and user problems? or;
> - it's means that there aren't significative relationship between WCAG and the way we are trying to measure the WCAG? 
> [1]  Freire, André Pimenta. (2012). Disabled people and the Web: User-based measurement of accessibility. PhD thesis, University of York.
> http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/3873/
> Jorge Fernandes

Hi Jorge, 

Not sure - but It sounds like it says that there is not significant relationship between what users think is accessible and what WCAG (a technical guideline) says is accessible.

Of course unless you look at the study - you don't know what the data really say -- or if they were collected properly etc.  So I would read the whole thesis before drawing  any conclusions.

I find it hard to believe that there is no relationship between WCAG conformance and usability by people who are blind for example. 

On a related note...

I also read a study that showed that conforming to WCAG didn’t make a page usable by PWD (or to anyone).   What they were looking at was pages that were basically badly designed and unusable (or very poor usability) by everyone -- and WCAG didn’t fix the pages.      This is no surprise since one of the precepts in WCAG was that it only focus on things that were a problem ONLY for people with disabilities - or that affect them in greatly disproportionate wasy.    That is WCAG was restrictued to focusing on "accessibility" (discriminating against people with disabilities)  vs general usability (bad design in general for all users)  problems.        The moral here is that if pages aren't usable in general -- they will never be very usable by people with disabilities -- since they must navigate the non-usability through reduced access.     So to make pages usable by people with disabilities,  make them both usable by all and WCAG conformant. 


One that had me thinking was another study that showed that certain usability problems slowed users WITHOUT disabilities down by X seconds  but it slowed people who were blind down by (I think it was)  5x seconds.      This sounded like disproportionate - and an accessibility problem.   Then elsewhere in the paper it reported that these same subject who were blind took  5 times as long to complete all of their tasks.     So this made me think.    If it slowed regular uses down by  Y%  and it slowed blind users down by the same Y%    (the blind users taking 5 times longer in general)  then maybe it wasn’t disproportionate because is slowed everyone down by the same percent.   Now I had two different conclusions from the same data.   


At any rate - a few things seem clear to me.

Usability is critical to accessibility.   In fact Accessibility is just a dimension of Usability.   It is Usability to certain groups.   Is the page easily used, hard to use, or unusable.   Pages can be all three for people with and without disabilities.   An advanced Genetics site for example may be completely unusable by anyone without advance genetics background.   And in a way it does discriminate against all of us who do not understand advanced genetics.  But this is legal.  It is only illegal to discriminate (make pages that cannot be used - or used effectively) by people on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, and with the ADA, disability  (If you are among those that think the ADA was intended to include all public places including the Internet - even though the internet was not such a common public place when the ADA was written so was not mentioned specifically).   But whether you believe this or the opposite,  a page that is unusable can't be made usable by just fixing the parts that are a problem ONLY for people with disabilities (WCAG).  The rest of the unusable still remains. 

WCAG conformance does not make things accessible to all.  In fact is says this right in the WCAG intro.   WCAG should be thought of not as making things accessible,  but as a minimum accessibility standard.  Not the end of what one should do but the beginning.     Even doing all three levels (which can be very hard on some specific types of pages) will not make pages that everyone with every type, degree and combination of disabilities can use.   The advisory techniques are a good place to start to look for more things that can be done.  Then read books and papers on still more.  Finally, work side by side with people who have disabilities (a wide variety) and come to understand the disabilities and the impact of web design on them.   There are so many things that can be done in the design of a specific web site -- to make it more USABLE by people with disabilities;  things that cannot be boiled down to rules and are different from site to site or type of page to different type of page. 

We need to READ papers and understand them.   We can't just pull conclusions from them.  People who do research know that in all fields there is an amazing number (and percent) of papers published that state conclusions that are not supported by their data and design.  This is not done out of malice by authors -- just oversight or weak design.   Good research is very hard to do.  And doing it in areas that have direct implications on daily life I even harder (extremely difficult)  to do in a controlled and valid way.    Really good papers are actually relatively rare overall and rarer in areas of applied research.   
By the way this is no comment on this particular thesis !   I have not had the time to read it -- so make no comment on it specifically !    (though I am going to pull a copy and try to read it this summer to see what is to be learned from his work). 


Received on Saturday, 1 June 2013 18:53:09 UTC

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