Saturday, September 26, 2009

Recommendations to Improve Web Accessibility

In July, I completed my MA thesis researching diffusion issues for web accessibility. I'm hoping to get the full thesis published, so any journal suggestions would be appreciated. In the meantime, below are the recommendations that developed out of consultations with 21 web practitioners (designers, managers, producers, consultants, & developers).

Recommendation #1: Make WCAG More Accessible
The W3C should consult web practitioners to uncover their specific difficulties using and understanding the guidelines. The guidelines and support material should then be rewritten to address deficiencies. Possible improvements include using better organization schemes, clearer language, alternate access points, and simplified checklists.

Recommendation #2: Support Material Is Needed
Adequate support material is difficult to find and often insufficient. Therefore, a prominent free website should be set up to provide detailed, clear instruction. This may include a code library and design tips. As the W3C is already a central resource and education is already in their mandate, it follows that they should consider assuming this role in a more effective manner that reflected by their current offerings.

Recommendation #3: Education Should Address Accessibility
Both academic and training organizations must start or continue to cover disability and accessibility. Not only is training in the specific techniques required, but also an appreciation of the needs of disabled people. As some small businesses and non-profits have minimal training budgets, ideally education costs should be affordable or free. This may be a suitable role for local advocacy or industry associations to assume.

Recommendation #4: A Canadian Web Accessibility Champion is Needed
No disability organization in Canada is currently effectively leading the charge for web accessibility, leading to inattention and missed opportunities. A Canadian government or advocacy organization is required to take the lead to initiate and maintain momentum on this issue. Duties may include instigating awareness campaigns, appearing at events, promoting education, and acting as an informational resource.

Recommendation #5: Media and Industry Should Cover This Topic
For web practitioners to gain awareness of web accessibility, learn specifics, and appreciate its social importance, media and industry must not ignore this issue. Industry should make a point of addressing this topic in events and newsletters and ensure the topic is raised at conferences. Media, particularly trade reporting, should cover the topic through individual articles on the topic and raising it within the context of other topics as applicable.

Recommendation #6: Authoring and Testing Tools Should Better Facilitate Accessibility
While some authoring tools are increasing accessibility support, continued work is required both to make producing accessible content easier and to render accessibility features transparent.

Recommendation #7: Financial Incentives Should Be Offered
Cost was raised as an issue by all participants, yet the Canadian government offers no specific financial incentives to mitigate the cost of web accessibility work. Although full funding for all organizations to implement accessibility would likely be unattainable, Canadian government should, at the least, allow special tax deductions for accessibility initiatives.

Recommendation #8: Web Practitioners Need to Feel Individually Responsible
Some web practitioners felt unable to implement accessibility without supervisory permission. These practitioners should be encouraged to understand both that their actions can improve the quality of life of disabled people and that not complying contributes to disabled people’s exclusion from full participation in society.

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