I attended an “Enterprise 2.0” event last week where Ian Lloyd gave a very thought provoking presentation on the impact of Web 2.0 on accessibility. Ian is a web developer working for the Nationwide Building Society, and clearly knows his stuff when it comes to designing websites that will accommodate assistive technologies – such as screen readers, voice to text and screen magnifiers.
This was particularly relevant to the work I’m presently doing in building on-line environments for support of Communities of Practice in the public sector, where accessibility standards and guidelines for websites is far more rigorously enforced than in the private sector. Conforming to standards such as W3C Web Accessibility Initiative is a given, but websites must also conform to guidance such as Delivering Inclusive Websites, issued by the COI.
Personally, I have some sympathy with developers of ‘social media-rich’ websites (which I’ll categorise as being ‘Web 2.0’) in that it’s quite difficult to find the right balance between accessibility and making the site appealing to a mass audience. Clearly Facebook comes to mind here. However, I’m not sure that vendors/developers do enough to ensure that they have catered for the disabled minority. For example, the Captcha processes used on a growing number of websites are fairly difficult to negotiate even for someone with 20:20 vision.
I don’t necessarily think that Social Media has to mean poor accessibility, yet there seems to be a sort of tacit acceptance that this is the case . I’m now far more aware of my obligations in striving to make the CoP platform available to a more diverse audience and will be taking steps to in the next development phase to ensure we’re meeting the required guidelines and best practice.
Two very useful resources for anyone interested in issues around accessibility and diversity are Abilitynet and the Shaw Trust.
There’s an excellent article highlighting a number of the accessibility problems of social media sites in this month’s .NET magazine also.
Given how poorly defined Web 2.0 is – and to be honest I see it as no more than natural evolution of technology rather than something genuinely “new”, I don’t really see that accessibility should be any greater problem than it has in the past. I think part of the problem is the rush towards “new exciting flashy stuff” at the expense of genuine functionality – given that Flash is only now really achieving any kind of improved accessibility, the chances of new applications that are being integrated into a lot of ‘Web 2.0’ material having accessibility as a concern are low.
That being said, in relation to your work with government, having done a lot of work with public sector in the UK myself, both local and national, it’s amazing how often they themselves fail to adhere to even the most basic accessibiltiy guidelines. Even being wedded to W3C’s actually quite antiquated 1.0 standards in terms of their demands, its amazing how many government sites fail the most simple tests even with material that should have no difficulty being presented in an accessible way.
Thanks for the comments. I agree, and note that the Public Sector Forums have had a lots to say about this recently.
One example of my particular problem is that users are asking for support of tables in wikis – yet if I implement this feature I’m causing accessibility problems. I’ll probably go ahead with the change, but seems there will always be this dichotomy between functionality and accessibility.
What’s also interesting is the rise of sites that people with disabilities use that are anything but accessibility compliant. Take SecondLife for example – there have been a few reports over the past year about people using it to both raise awareness of their disability and also to have an avator on an equal playing field with others. Accessibility shouldn’t just be about vision-impaired…
thanks for sharing this – and you’re right, accessibility has far wider cohort than the visually impaired. In fact, I have a meeting later this month with someone who wants to set up an online community of practice for those with learning disabilities. This is breaking new ground for me, and I’m anxious to understand more about the needs of this particular group. Whether I’ll be able to meet these needs remains to be seen, but I do want to make the opportunities available through social networking/social media websites as inclusive as I possibly can.