Article: Why Accessibility Standards Need to Be Contextually Sensitive


Screenshot of Kelly, Hassell, Sloan, Lukeš, Draffan, and Lewthwaite, (July 2013) 'Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to be Contextually Aware' Ariadne Issue 71.
Screenshot of Kelly, Hassell, Sloan, Lukeš, Draffan, and Lewthwaite, (July 2013) ‘Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to be Contextually Aware’ Ariadne Issue 71.

Earlier this summer, a paper co-authored by Brian Kelly (@briankelly) David Sloan (@sloandr) Dominique Lukeš (@techczech) EA Draffan (@EADraffan) and myself (@slewth!) was published in issue 71 of Ariadne, the online quarterly publication for Information Professionals. ‘Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to be Contextually Aware’ is open access.

In our paper, we argue that rather than having a universal standard for Web accessibility, Web accessibility practices and policies need to be sufficiently flexible to cater for the local context. The issue’s editorial describes the paper as follows:

Brian Kelly, Jonathan Hassell, David Sloan, Dominik Lukeš, E.A. Draffan and Sarah Lewthwaite advise Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to Be Contextually Sensitive and argue that, rather than having a universal standard for Web accessibility, Web accessibility practices and policies need to be sufficiently flexible to cater for the local context. The authors explain that despite the increased pressures on conformance with Web accessibility guidelines, large-scale surveys have shown that they have had relatively little impact. Having reviewed previous critiques, they examine the code of practice BS 8878. They argue for a wider application than just to Web content, and that an alternative strategy could be adopted which would employ measures that are more context-sensitive. The authors point out that little attention has been paid to the principles underlying Global Accessibility Standards and that in non-Western environments may even prove to be counter-productive. They highlight the alternative of more evidence-based standards and examine their disadvantages. Having used the example of simple language to illustrate the difficulties, the authors offer another example in the provision of accessibility support to publicly available video material. They argue that standardisation of the deployment of Web products is more important that the conformance of the products themselves. The authors summarise the aims of BS 8878. They explain the scope of the framework that it adds to WCAG 2.0 and how it encourages Web site designers to think more strategically about all accessibility decisions surrounding their product. They conclude that globalisation is not limited to users: owners of sites do not wish to be constrained in their choice of international suppliers and products, but the latter are by no means standardised globally – but the benefits of an international standard are enormous.

If you’d like more information, Brian Kelly supplies a thorough overview of the paper and its genealogy on the UK Web Focus blog, highlighting the peer-reviewed papers that led to this publication and outlining each author’s contribution. I’m continuing to focus on this area (see forthcoming publications), so any thoughts on the article are very welcome. Comment below, or email me directly.

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