My new paper ‘Web accessibility standards and disability: developing critical perspectives on accessibility’ is now available as an ‘early online’ publication via the Journal of Disability and Rehabilitation. If you would like to read the article, but do not have access to the journal please get in touch with me directly, via selewthwate [at] gmail .com, as I have 15 eprints to give away.
The paper will be published as part of a forthcoming Disability and Rehabilitation special issue focussed on universalism in design, edited by Rob Imrie. I will post the full details of the Special Issue when they become available. If you are interested this area, be sure to check out the Universalising Design project website, for events, research and news convened by Prof. Imrie and his team.
Abstract: Web accessibility standards and disability: developing critical perspectives on accessibility.
Purpose: Currently, dominant web accessibility standards do not respect disability as a complex and culturally contingent interaction; recognizing that disability is a variable, contrary and political power relation, rather than a biological limit. Against this background there is clear scope to broaden the ways in which accessibility standards are understood, developed and applied.
Results: The values that shape and are shaped by legislation promote universal, statistical and automated approaches to web accessibility. This results in web accessibility standards conveying powerful norms fixing the relationship between technology and disability, irrespective of geographical, social, technological or cultural diversity.
Conclusions: Web accessibility standards are designed to enact universal principles; however, they express partial and biopolitical understandings of the relation between disability and technology. These values can be limiting, and potentially counter-productive, for example, for the majority of disabled people in the “Global South” where different contexts constitute different disabilities and different experiences of web access. To create more robust, accessible outcomes for disabled people, research and standards practice should diversify to embrace more interactional accounts of disability in different settings.
Implications for Rehabilitation
- Creating accessible experiences is an essential aspect of rehabilitation.
- Web standards promote universal accessibility as a property of an online resource or service. This undervalues the importance of the user’s intentions, expertize, their context, and the complex social and cultural nature of disability.
- Standardized, universal approaches to web accessibility may lead to counterproductive outcomes for disabled people whose impairments and circumstances do not meet Western disability and accessibility norms.
- Accessible experiences for rehabilitation can be enhanced through an additional focus on holistic approaches to accessibility blending digital and physical solutions, the use of BS 8878 and mixed-method approaches to accessibility benchmarking.
- Web standards and accessibility conformance should be considered together with user input and the recognition and development of local accessibility and rehabilitation expertize.
Keywords: accessibility, cultural norms, disability theory, WCAG, web standards.