Three key issues for the future of accessibility

As part of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) on 15 May we spoke to accessibility experts from around the world to get an idea of the key issues across the globe they see on the horizon. Each of the experts talked about current accessibility issues in their part of the world and a number of common themes emerged:

  • WCAG and the internet of things
  • harmonising accessibility legislation
  • accessible social media.

Visit the webinar archive to view a recording of the webinar and download the transcript.

The interviews included:

  • Shadi Abou-Zahra ­- World Wide Web Consortium/Web Accessibility Initiative
  • David Woodbridge ­- Vision Australia
  • Thomas Richter - Samsung Ricardo Garcia ­- Technosite
  • Dennis Lembree - Easychirp/PayPal
  • Ken Nakata at Hi Software/Compliance Sheriff

WCAG 2.0 and the internet of things

One important thread to emerge during the conversations was the emergence of the ‘Internet of Things’ and, more specifically, how the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) can be used to ensure accessibility as devices start to communicate with each other.

WCAG guidelines may provide a framework for websites being viewed on desktops and phones, but how relevant will they be when your fridge is talking to your TV? The biggest issue for WCAG 2.0 is that rapidly advancing technology means that the tools available are almost always one step behind in their evolution; having to play catch-up with new versions of software, which often don’t update in-built accessibility features as they advance.

Shadi Abou-Zahra of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) explained that, unlike the first iteration of WCAG, WCAG 2.0 is intended to be “technologically agnostic”. It is not tied to a specific technology but is a flexible set of principles which prioritise the idea of accessibility being at the core of new technology, rather than an afterthought.

illustration showing how components relate, detailed description at http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/components-desc.html#relateHe pointed to resources on the WAI website that show how Web accessibility depends on several components working together and that the guidelines can be used ensure accessibility across different components.

Accessibility is a global issue

Another theme to emerge was a desire to see accessibility legislation harmonised on a global basis.

Ken Nakata of Hi Software is based in Seattle feels that the US authorities are taking a more proactive approach to enforcement, which should push developers and corporations towards prioritising accessibility. A recent high profile case in the US saw the law being clarified in relation to making web content accessible on phones and other devices. As he said, this has raised awareness of the offices of accessibility in corporate America, and CEOs now know that every day there is a chance of someone suing them for accessibility-related issues.

Meanwhile Thomas Richter of Samsung made a plea for harmonising accessibility legislation. If legal action is to be effective, he said, it must recognise accessibility as a global issue. From its perspective as a multinational supplier to every market on the planet, Samsung sees too many countries treating accessibility as a local issue, instead of using WCAG as a global framework.

Accessible social media

Another major talking point, and one that might not immediately spring into the mind of the everyday Tweeter, is the issue of accessibility in social media.

Social media presents a unique case in accessibility terms because whilst it is the duty of the platforms themselves to ensure, for example, that the sites are all navigable using only a keyboard, the content on social media is uploaded by millions of people across the world and accordingly social media users also need to consider accessibility when using the various platforms to ensure their content is accessible to the broadest audience possible. For example, many tweets and posts include images, videos or animated GIFs and, without a text description to explain what this content is, it is lost on many users who aren’t able to perceive the visual content.

Easychirp.com (a more accessible version of the standard Twitter website) is combating this by enabling users to provide a text description to images and is unique in social media platforms in this regard.

Watch the webinar

The webinar covered a number of other topics and we would encourage you to check it out if you weren’t able to attend the broadcast on the day.

Visit the webinar archive to view a video recording and full transcript of the webinar.

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