Sunday, 9 December 2012

Accessibility and the evolving digital arena

The whole concept of accessibility is being questioned and we need to understand what is happening so that we're not caught unaware. We were a bit late applying retro standards to our web sites after legislation about website accessibility in the updated Disability Discrimination Act 1995 called, The Equality Act, 2010. We have kept an eye on the issues in this blog. See some previous posts.

But, there is a sea-change coming: perhaps helped through the positive legacy of the Para-Olympics where overcoming disability was celebrated. Within the last month a report by Kevin Carey commissioned by AbilityNet, Universal Citizen Access, Universal Consumer Access: A New Approach, has upped the anti. The Key Concepts Summaries from Page 29 should give the gist and 7.5 Key Concepts relating to Technology, (Page 31), are as follows:
  • Digital information systems should be defaulted to the maximum access state and the simplest information array
  • Publishers should adopt uniformity in their displays, taxonomy, terminology, navigation and controls
  • Conformity between major publishers is unlikely in the short term, so investment should be in inter-operability applications.
The key change is to redefine disability of access as anything that stops any citizen obtaining the same access to information as a peer group norm. This expands the concern for access radically. It includes age as well as physical impairments. So if extra information is only made accessible by QR (Quick Response) code on the assumption that people will have suitable mobile devices to hand to decode these, or, if—as is happening—large businesses, like banks, are now insisting that statements/information will only be made available electronically, they are mandating some minimal requirements for the customer that can exclude access. Note that restricted access here is not physical and not even age related, but device dependant which is linked to life-style and income. Oh, and just in case, those QR codes are the square matrix designs on ads, packaging, magazines, and in some museums etc. that can give you labels, layers of information and links to other digital environments. They are effectively matrix bar-codes.

In response to Kevin’s report, AbilityNet has launched Mind the Digital Gap, a proposal for a strategic initiative launched at a parliamentary reception at the House of Commons on 21st November. Once the concept of access is expanded to any citizen outside a peer norm, the numbers should ring alarm bells. There are millions of defined registered disabled people just in the UK so yes, we should be taking notice. Imagine asking your clients if they’d mind excluding X million potential customers worldwide from their information.

If you have higher education institutions among your clients then you might be interested in the Mobile Technologies and the Law Overview, by JISC, 19th November, that covers accessibility, as well as copyright issues.

Times, they are a-changing!