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muse: "the heart may freeze, or it may burn" (Default)
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Accessibility guidelines were originally meant to provide a framework for access for everyone to the web, a special type of usability that served the needs of users with disabilities. However, as they are currently implemented in the WCAG 2.0 guidelines and mandated in the US in Section 508, they tend to be implemented by those who don't understand their original purpose rather mechanically and in a way that is divorced from qualitative methodologies of usability: use a browser that is accessible, and a page that validates according to a mechanical system, and it will automatically be accessible to everyone with every disability, or so goes the myth. Sadly, this is rarely true and ignores the majority of web content out there which cannot be made accessible according to the guidelines.

Unfortunately, this approach rarely addresses user needs, especially in the case of sites which are actually complex portals to many different types of content, including online communities and virtual worlds. Brian Kelly, in his talk From Web Accessibility 2.0 to Web Adaptability argues for a more holistic approach to access that is a framework that applies to web communities.

In the presentation, he makes the following key points (which I summarize and adapt) about what considering accessibility in a framework of "adaptability" might mean:

*Not everything on the Web will ever be accessible to everyone, so don't try.
*Accessibility may not cross cultural, linguistic, national and discipline boundaries - it has local, momentary, individual meanings.
*Different communities may have different needs.
*The same user may have different needs at different times and places and for different types of content.
*Focus on inclusivity & universal design rather than "accessible to people with disabilities"
*Focus on accessibility of the end use of content rather than access to all content
*Blended accessibility cf potential of social networks to facilitate discussions, not perfect accessibility of every feature
*Trust and openness: organizations taking reasonable measures - involvement with users in design processes. You don't do it because you might be sued. Faith. Honesty.
*Accessibility is a process - it's always in beta.
*Consider your users - do iterative testing, hold focus groups, get feedback, do formative evaluation.

I go on to elaborate: what might this process mean to those of us tasked with moderating our own online communities? Why should a busy community leader consider accessibility, which after all one might think only applies for a small population?

*Adaptable design is actually good design for everyone; if you enhance accessibility in ways that are easily available to screenreader users, for example, you enhance the user experience for those using older browsers or text only browsers. If you enhance usability for people with disabilities, you enhance it for everyone.
*Adaptable community moderation practices, such as managing the readability level of official content and acknowledging all contributions, benefit everyone too. Time-strapped web users struggle with content that is written at too high a level.
*Adaptable design is an ongoing process; it's not something expensive that you do once to comply with the law. You make the adaptations that you can to accomodate the most users that you can; you keep going.
*Adaptable design is not always more expensive; often it is about providing very low-tech or workarounds to provide access, as we'll see from the case studies.


muse: "the heart may freeze, or it may burn" (Default)

December 2015

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