Evolving Standards in Accessibility 2011 – Part 2

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This is part 2 of my write-up from the Evolving Standards in Accessibility 2011 event held at BCS (Chartered Institute for IT) in London on 25th May 2011. Part 1 can be found here and covers presentations from Nigel Lewis, Jonathan Hassell, Robert Wemyss and Shawn Henry.

Accessibility- the legal perspective

Equality and Human Rights Commission LogoClive Holdsworth from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) spoke about regulating digital accessibility and encouraging compliance.

Equality Act

In the UK (apart from Northern Ireland) the Equality Act 2010 has superseded the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). In the Equality Act there is no specific mention of digital or web accessibility but there is an implied imperative for service providers to provide accessible services.

Discrimination can be direct or indirect and “Disabled users should not be put at substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled users.” The act does not take intention into account so service providers are covered by the act even if they do not intend to discriminate.

Providers have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ but these ‘reasonable adjustments’ may vary depending on the size or type of organisation.

Public sector organisation are expected to set an example to others in adhering to the Equality Act.

Some codes of practice have legal status and can be used in court. Providers of services have an obligation to comply and users have rights. Non-statutory guidance has no legal status and guidance on digital accessibility is due this summer (2011). More information is available on the EHRC website.

Principles and application

  • Poor web accessibility can lead to prosecution of organisations or individuals.
  • The EHRC can take action – including helping bringing cases and closing sites down. This action has not been taken yet but it is not ruled out.
  • UK law does not specifically reference WCAG (or any other set of guidelines) – only a court can decide if a site is accessible.
  • Key factor is whether disabled users can access sites without reasonable difficulty.
  • There was a legal example from Canada (judgement in 2010) which has similar legislation – a blind person could not apply for a job as the government’s recruitment agency only accepted applications online and it was not accessible. Some see this as a landmark ruling.

Web Essentials

An eLearning course is being developed by BCS and AbilityNet. It’s due to be launched at eAccess ’11 and will be available free or at low cost. It’s targeted at web owners, designers, developers, trainers, etc and cover many aspects of website accessibility. It may cost as there is hoped to be some form of accreditation.

Achieving compliance should be via:

  • Adopting a user centered process
  • Automated tools and expert reviews
  • Testing with users
  • Professional accessibility audits
  • Taking the web essentials course

Clive also recommended the following book: “Rocket Surgery Made Easy” by Steve Krug

A Practical Look at Accessibility

AbilityNet LogoRobin Christopherson of AbilityNet gave a demonstration of his everyday experience of browsing the web as a blind person using his laptop with JAWS and with his iPhone.

He started by pointing to research which suggests that the amount of data consumed by mobile devices is estimated to grow by 400% between 2011 and 2015. And he also highlighted the huge overlap in catering for the mobile space and catering for accessibility.

To summarise the experiences he showed us with some recommendations:

  • Highlight focus when tabbing around the screen – not everyone uses a mouse.
  • Start your content immediately after the headings – many blogs/sites don’t and screen reader users often use headings as in-page navigational tools.
  • Make sure your site caters for keyboard users – the TechCrunch site (for example) isn’t with Robin’s setup.
  • Mobile versions can be good for accessibility too – eg eBay
  • Some people use magnifiers like Zoom Text (not cheap by the way) and zooming in can make some sites very hard.
  • Flash can be a huge barrier for accessibility eg Sprint – also, flash not available in iPhones.
  • Robin uses the Dragon Dictate app on his iPhone, and he demonstrated sending a dictated tweet with it.
  • YouTube is a pain for those with screen readers as the videos self start and potentially mask the voicing from the screen reader
  • He mentioned the YouView project – an accessible interface for set top boxes.
  • GPII can/will store your personal preferences in the cloud.
  • Ajax sites and applications can be accessible – Google mail is not bad, and a screen reader friendly version is available too.

Robin is on Twitter (@USA2DAY).

Something to say?

Did I miss something out? If you’ve got any comments on the event or my write-up please leave a comment below.

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