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Current perceptions on accessibility - brief questionnaire results
By Lorna Gibson, published 17th May 2004.
In a recent DMAG workshop on web accessibility, we questioned the attendees on their understanding and perceptions on web accessibility, in an attempt to identify how the growing awareness of accessibility is affecting people's understanding and perceptions of the issues. This article discusses some of the results of the questionnaire.
The theme of our workshop focused on capitalising on increased awareness of the issue by outlining the current legislative situation in the UK, and, in an interactive session, discussing the nature of accessibility barriers still widespread on the web, and how they may be overcome. Interestingly, a number of people attended in order to collect more information to help them convince colleagues and clients on the needs and merits of accessible design.
An emerging theme from many of the answers was that while there is plenty of information on the web, the nature of this advice makes it is very difficult to decide what the best practice is, and what is most important for the particular circumstances of the general reader. Many people felt compelled to consider accessibility but daunted by the amount of difficult to understand information out there, and many were worried that what they are doing is not enough.
In general the understanding of what accessibility means was high and primarily centred on access for all. There were a couple of responses that focused specifically on legislation, and this was to be expected, particularly as the workshop took place shortly after the results of the DRC Formal Investigation [www.drc-gb.org/publicationsandreports/report.asp] had taken place, when the resultant media attention was particularly high. Encouragingly, though, most people felt accessibility was more that just compliance with legislation.
The perception of accessibility was generally positive. A small number felt it was both positive and restrictive, which emphasises the challenges that people face when considering accessibility. A large number of people felt it was positive but undervalued.
There was a number of main challenges identified in terms of achieving optimum web accessibility. These included:
- The wide range of disabilities to be considered - how do you encompass all?
- Resolution of ambiguity and contradictions
- Keeping up to date with techniques, tools and obligations
- Ignorance of some web developers in not producing accessible designs
- Ignorance of those commissioning web sites, in that accessibility is a key requirement
- Access to disabled evaluators to test and improve web site accessibility
The importance of accessibility to the companies and organisations that the attendees worked for was mixed. Nearly half of them said that accessibility was very important to their company, whereas the rest said it was not at all important.
The attendees were questioned again at the end of the 1 hour workshop. Most of them had an improved understanding of what accessibility is. The workshop provided them with real life examples and stories to illustrate and emphasise the information they had been reading about, and all the attendees said this was very useful.
Again, many of them indicated an improved perception about what is meant by 'accessibility', and there was evidence of a growing realisation that accessibility fits best into the design stage, rather than resolving issues at the end of development cycle.
The overall feeling from the attendees was that the main problem is still awareness. Web developers are happy to develop sites that are accessible if that is what the client requests, but don't feel suited to convincing clients that they need accessible sites. So through increased awareness amongst web site commissioners, they hope that clients will come to them with accessibility needs.
For those that commission web sites, there was an identified need for a means to validate whether the site they have commissioned has in fact met acceptable accessibility standards.
How do we use this information?
DMAG has used this information to help improve our workshops and services we provide. For example, our fortnightly articles frequently feature good practice information or articles on areas in accessibility that are contradictory.
Furthermore, we have been working with web designers to provide them with an external accessibility validation mechanism. In this, we review their work and provide them with a summary of the current state of play with respect to accessibility of their web site. They can then use this to provide external validation as part of a deliverable to their client.
If you are interested in anything discussed here - please get in touch.