Friday, April 18, 2008

No Shirking Responsibility for Website Accessibility


While the grant is a decent amount of money, the tuition at Royal Roads is extremely high (on par with MBA programs here). But it will help me devote myself fulltime to my studies and research. This means I'll be wrapping up my job as a web producer in a few months and instead focusing on my new career as an Internet researcher.

SSHRC, which stands for Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, gives research grants to students and universities. I submitted my proposal to them to study website accessibility.

Here's is some background material on the issue of website accessibility and what I hope to research:

Website accessibility encompasses many groups in Canada, the visually impaired, including those with low to no vision, are particularly limited by existing barriers, due to website code that either prevents or causes problems using adaptive technology. The needs of the visually impaired can often be accommodated easily through adjustments to the website code, such as by providing options for different font sizes or alternative text for images.

Even though the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the governing body for web standards, published website accessibility standards as far back as 1999, many websites in Canada are still not accessible to the visually impaired. The standards set forth by the W3C form the basis of defining website accessibility, as they are the most widely accepted standards by both the Web and visually-impaired communities. The ramifications of website accessibility affect both the website owners, whether a business owner or shareholders, as well as the website users, in this case those with visual disabilities.

My study will focus on the people who have the authority and the access to enact and maintain the changes for accessibility; these individuals range from programmers and developers to business managers and leads. I have not found any research, however, focusing on why many Canadian website managers, that is those who have the authority over websites, have not made their websites accessible.

I have previously blogged about some of the difficulties in making a website accessible that I have encountered, not least of which are the confusing and at times impossible criteria set forth by the W3C and a lack of fully adequate educational material for website developers on this issue. This spurred me on to research the topic more and I have found this is an area in definite need of further investigation.

If you know of some good information on this topic or are a website producer/manager/developer or have any thoughts on the issue, please help me out.

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