Accessibility on agenda at WWW conference

The continued poor standards of web sites for the visually, learning and hearing impaired has led to accessibility appearing high on the agenda at the 15th International World Wide Web Conference (WWW2006) in Edinburgh.

The conference, organised by the University of Southampton in association with the British Computer Society and several other international organisations, will bring together the key influencers, decision makers, technologists, businesses and standards bodies shaping the future of the web.

One of the key areas for discussion will be web accessibility; the current state of play, the benefits it brings, and the moves towards standards in this area.

The need to address such issues comes in light of the fact that some two years on from the DRC report which found that 81% of the 1000 sites tested did not even meet Level A of the W3C guidelines, the state of accessibility across the board has only marginally improved.

Particular reference will be made to recent new guidelines including PAS 78, which were introduced in March by the British Standards Institute. Additionally, the forthcoming release of version 2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, the de facto accessibility standards of W3C, will be under the spotlight.

Eagerly awaited for more than a year, the new version will introduce some changes, such as technology independence, so that accessibility can be achieved through a wider range of technology platforms and coding languages. This degree of generality is likely to be important as web technologies naturally evolve, as evidenced by techniques such as AJAX and Web 2.0.

Chris Rourke, Managing Director of leading user-experience consultancy User Vision will be addressing the conference by describing some of the important lessons learned from performing usability tests with disabled users, including the discovery of barriers to use that are not covered by the WCAG guidelines themselves.

Chris Rourke comments:

The emphasis on accessibility at WWW2006 is further evidence of the way in which the UK is moving the agenda forward, and it’s great that accessibility is being seen as such a significant issue for the web industry.

That said, it is disappointing that there is still a need to persuade web designers to take accessibility seriously – but without events like this we will not change that.

Both the new and forthcoming guidelines are good news for the web community as we drive forward, and we are glad to be working with fellow professionals to share our thoughts on what these guidelines mean and how they are applied.

WWW2006 also aims to develop skills and raise awareness of the future of accessibility by incorporating the International Cross-Disciplinary Workshop on Web Accessibility.

Run by specialists from the University of Manchester’s School of Computer Science, the workshop brings together leading international researchers in the field to examine the technical requirements for achieving web accessibility, to advise on best practice, and to discuss real world examples of how organisations can achieve good accessibility through web development.

Additionally, the Scottish Usability Professionals’ Association will host an event on the evening of May 23rd featuring presentations from members of the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative and the RNIB‘s Julie Howell, lead author of PAS 78. For full details of the event and registration please visit Scottish Usability Professional’s Association

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