Monthly Archives: August 2009

Accessible software and applications

Ever since I worked as an equal employment opportunity specialist I have felt conflicted about IT in the workplace as both an enabler and a barrier for disabled people.

My concerns at that time, which was a while ago, were centred on the development of new stereotypes. A person who uses a wheelchair can be given a job where they sit at a computer and voila! ‘Problem’ solved. The other stereotype is a blind or partially sighted person just needs a computer with a screen reader and/or magnification and voila! That ‘problem’ is solved. Of course life is not that simple. A piece of technology is not an excuse to opt out of any other workplace considerations.

As time went on another barrier began to appear, and this was largely before emails and the Internet became everyday tools. Accessibility of software and applications became a more urgent consideration as they became more sophisticated, especially when the graphical user interface became the default option. It also took assistive technology a while to catch up.

Today most large organisations have their own intranets. There is an increasing amount of specialist software and applications for particular industries and sectors, contributing to a whole set of new barriers presented to a disabled job seeker.

While attention has been given to making web sites more accessible, at least in the public service where adherence to government web standards is mandatory, there is no compulsion to make internal applications and systems such as intranets more accessible.

It was interesting therefore to find a UK survey of attitudes to accessibility in both the public and private sectors

The Survey of attitudes to accessible ICT was conducted by Bloor Research in conjunction with HeadStar and Ability Magazine.  Researchers investigated current and future attitudes to ICT accessibility and the drivers and barriers to improvement.

They found that

“There appears to be a significant variation in attitudes with the bottom fifth of organisations having little or no accessibility at present and no plans to improve in the future whilst, at the top end, about 50% of organisations claim that more than 70% of their systems are accessible, and this number increases through the end of 2010. Variation was also found between internal and externally facing systems with external systems, in general, being more accessible.”

Our experience at AccEase within New Zealand would certainly support this finding.

“The survey also compared the public and private sector and found some variation. The public sector external systems were more accessible than the private sector but the opposite was true for internal systems. These differences are probably caused by the e-gov pressure for citizen access on the one side and inaccessible internal legacy systems in the public sector on the other.”

I wonder what would be the situation here. I suspect it might be similar.

It went on to say

“When looking at the drivers for accessibility improvements the clear leaders were legal directives and corporate social responsibility. On the other hand, increased revenue or cost savings were not seen as drivers. The biggest single barrier to accessibility was legacy systems; this was particular true of the public sector. This was followed, not surprisingly, by budget constraints. These were followed by lack of management support, inadequate tools and lack of training.”

Perhaps simple ignorance is part of the equation. It always surprises me that people are very reluctant to accept that 20% of the population, plus the 14% or so of people who are over sixty five might actually need access, and that the community generally might benefit from their having it!

Readers of the paper, (which is freely downloadable) are invited to please login and post a review.

It would be interesting to see similar research conducted in New Zealand.

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Filed under Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Information Accessibility, Web Accessibility

Cognitive accessibility Survey

There are a fair few myths around concerning web accessibility. One of them is that it is all about blindness. But people with partial sight, Deaf, physically disabled people and people with cognitive and learning disabilities also experience barriers to web accessibility, and to other forms of information for that matter.

In particular little attention has been paid to the large group of people with cognitive and learning impairments by the web world. So I was particularly pleased some time ago to learn that WebAIM, one of my favourite accessibility sites, and one that is highly respected one internationally, was planning some research in this neglected area of accessibility.

This is an area of accessibility which has few standards or recommendations and about which very little research has been done.  As WebAIM says the area of cognitive and learning impairment is complex and accessibility considerations are difficult to identify.

WebAIM has undertaken a project to assist web developers to create web sites that are highly accessible to users with cognitive and learning disabilities. They set out to research recommendations and expert opinion on cognitive web accessibility, test the impact of selected recommendations, implement a set of best practice rules into evaluation tools, and report on findings. They want to implement and report on real strategies that web developers could implement to increase the accessibility of their web pages.

WebAIM conducted a thorough literature review and then used their findings to identify key aspects of design which would be useful to web developers and machine testable. They tested the selected items on a group of users with cognitive and learning impairments.

While they have not yet produced a final report their overview of findings will be useful.

The following observations should be read with the overview of findings

  • Make your page appear easy to use.
  • Simplicity, error recovery, and intuitiveness can increase efficiency and confidence.
  • Keep visual aids clean.
  • A text alternative, a prominent pause feature, and an ability to quickly rewind or replay the video allow users to use multimedia to go at their own pace and take in all of the information.
  • Sometimes making something more visually obvious also makes it so much different that it can be difficult to find.
  • While organizational elements (headings, lists, etc.) can help accessibility, they should be clearly differentiable from other elements.

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Filed under Information Accessibility, Web Accessibility