By: Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at disability and e-Accessibility charity, AbilityNet
Published: Thursday, July 11, 2013
Building in awareness is the only way to ensure web accessibility continues to go, writes Robin Christopherson of charity, AbilityNet, which promotes the inclusion of disabled people on the web.
For most web developers it seems any consideration of accessibility is still a peripheral issue despite worthy initiatives like Global Accessibility Awareness Day (9th May), which this year celebrated its second anniversary.
As part of a community-driven effort to raise awareness of digital accessibility and irrespective of the platform or channel be it web, software, mobile app or the device itself – GAAD participants are urged to educate their colleagues, using creative tactics to maximise their impact.
There is no more graphic a way to convey the difficulties that motor or sight impaired people experience online, than to unplug the mouse of everyone in your office or turn off their monitors – even if it’s just for a matter of minutes. Until you confront the problem first hand it’s easy to forget it exists at all.
Imparting accessibility awareness can be challenging, but once developers are put out of their comfort zones, they quickly understand why it’s important. Once you’ve attempted to navigate a site ‘blind’ or to use only keystroke alternatives, the epiphany is almost instantaneous.
Fewer than five per cent of websites are accessible, a fact which is clearly illustrated and explained by an online survey suggesting that less than twenty per cent of developers thought about it at all when commencing a new project.
As accessibility is rarely on the agenda when people are being taught IT skills, it’s clearly a matter of education (or in some instances, re-education) for developers to adopt a more inclusive approach.
The news may not be quite as bleak as it first appears. Some sectors are infinitely more attuned to a diverse user base than others. According to Socitm’s latest review of council websites, 42% of the total 433 local authorities sampled achieved three or four stars (compared with 32% in 2011). Stars are awarded on the basis of various common local government interactions or tasks. However, should you want to either ‘Renew my library book’ or ‘Object to a planning application,’ all too often, you’ll struggle. It seems that in these areas, far too many sites rely on third party software that is difficult to manipulate or just poorly integrated.
With such stubbornly persistent problems, it appears that most council websites are still insufficiently focused on accessibility issues to yield either the savings and efficiencies associated with the digital channel shift, or meet customers’ growing expectations of what service delivery online should look like.
There is a solution to the awareness problem howeve; a simple but unique remedy and one which may, we hope, provide the key to a future that is indeed ‘accessible by default’.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in partnership with AbilityNet and BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, have developed the UK’s first online course designed to bridge the awareness gap and improve digital access for everyone.
‘Digital Accessibility: Web Essentials’ equips individuals and businesses with the tools they need to enhance the usability of their website and other digital content across all platforms.
In only 90 minutes, the course covers basic legal compliance with the Equality Act (2010), introduces the most commonly encountered assistive technologies and explains the fundamentals of accessibility best practice. Employees who complete the course can take a short test leading to an official certificate of completion.
Dr Jean Irvine OBE, Commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, anticipates councils incorporating the course into their staff induction programmes:
“We hope that employees will cascade this invaluable information throughout their organisations by sharing their newfound skills with their colleagues and have the confidence to test accessibility at all stages of website development, identify usability problems and find appropriate solutions as they arise.”
Information, in the words of Kofi Annan, is liberating and education is the premise of progress. By fully appreciating the need for accessibility and the potential that it offers to so many people, we will begin to see accessibility as a point of departure, rather than a remote destination, on the journey to fundamentally inclusive services.