WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

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Re: Barriers to accessibility


From: Prof. Norm Coombs
Date: May 17, 2000 9:58PM

I looked through both your short and long explanations. My experience from
training several hundred web masters on accessible design is that points 1,
2, 3, 4 are all very true. I also think that in planning and discussion we
should treat points 5 and 6 in a different category. We are mixing 2
different sets of access issues here.
1-4 is about providing an accessible information technology environment.
Items 5 and 6 are about whether or not there is adequate access to the
accessible information technology. Both are important but are different
enough to be worth separating.
What's the solution for points 1-4? The creation of institution-wide
parameters for web pages could help. With or without that, these points
suggest that raising awareness and providing training is going to be a long
term, continuing job. It isn't just reaching today's web masters. The
turn over makes this a continuing maintenance type activity. THEREFORE! I
am convinced we need training materials that are exceedingly simple and
clear. There has been some discussion on a couple lists recently where
knowledgeable people are complaining vigorously about the technical
obscurity of the existing WAI guidelines. I know many intelligent,
computer literate poeple who cannot make out parts of these guidelines.
There is some evidence that they have sometimes been counterproductive by
intimidating well meaning people. Web masters who can't understand the
guidelines conclude that access is too difficult and good intentions turn
sour and end in discouragement. While we want to remain true to the WAI
materials and want to appreciate the fabulous work they have done, we MUST
provide documents and training that are many, many times better and simpler
than WAI has provided. We need materials that will help us readily train
the continuing turn over of web personnel. The job has to be made simpler
and clearer.
One of the present problems is that adaptive technology has been moving out
of the computer center and into disabled student services. This is a
mistake but seems to be an irreversable process. It is a mistake because
DSS is the way to take a problem out of the mainstream of the university
and put it into a disability ghetto where it can be out of sight. Further,
DSS is must more poorly funded than are computer centers. The mainstream
of the college can wash its hands of bothering with the problem and do it
on the cheap. Of course, the result is that it is frequently done poorly.
Not only is the equipment worse than that of the rest of the campus
(discrimination) but most DSS people lack the technical know-how to provide
adequate training.
The Office of Civil Rights in California also laments this trend and
insists that the entire campus must take ownership of disabled students and
take ownership of their information technology needs. I'm not sure how to
pull this one off. I would recommend that the DSS people build strong
relations with upper administration and also work hard to network with
other relevant departments on campus and break down ghetto walls by active
At 06:35 PM 5/17/00 +0100, you wrote:
>Hello to WebAIM ListSev folks
> I wanted to get some feedback from LAAP partners as well as the
>rest of the listserv so please read on and give me your thoughts. The
>WebAIM partners at USU have been talking with others in postsecondary ed
>about barriers to institutional coordination. Briefly, the main points
>(barriers) are summarized below. I would love to hear from any of you who
>would like to comment on these barriers. I apologize for the length, but I
>really think you can read it in about 5 minutes. You can either read the
>short or long summary. I am particulary interested in knowing if these
>elements are present at your institution/organization.
>Thanks in advance for your help and your thoughts. - Cyndi Rowland
>Short Summary:
>1. Institutions don't know who is involved in web design at their
>2. Few policies exist that coordinate any aspect of websites (not
>3. Designers awareness/skills/motivation to make the changes
>4. Turn over of web designers
>5. Old versions of adaptive equipment
>6. Errors made by the student who does not know how to use the adaptive
>Long Summary:
>1. The sheer scale of the institution may prohibit coordination because
>individuals are unknown to anyone taking the lead in a coordination role.
>We know that many institutions do not even know who all the individuals are
>that are placing web-content on the institutional site. Network
>administrators know who have servers but this does not mean that anyone in
>a central administrative position would be able to gather numbers, let
>alone names & contact points, of web designers at their institutions. This
>greatly affects coordination of accessibility since they can't even contact
>"all the players" to receive training or coordinate accessibility issues.
>2. Many institutions do not have articulated policies or regulations to
>coordinate their many websites. It appears that most institutions are just
>now developing policies to provide central coordination (e.g., because they
>want the institutional word mark on every page or because they would like a
>similar navigation through the site). These types of policies could
>provide a vehicle for coordinating accessibility requirements as well.
>However, they will be harmed by #1 above (lack of knowing who gets this
>3. Many web designers do not attend to accessible design. I know this is
>clearly the case for most designers in postsecondary education (project
>data verifies this to be true). Of course there are distinctions between
>those who don't know about it and those who do and choose not to change
>over time. Within this barrier I am thinking that we circle back around to
>the discussion we had earlier in this ListServ on motivation for web
>designers to change their practices.
>3. We wonder a great deal about turn over in web developers at
>postsecondary institutions. We have preliminary data (515 responses to a
>survey completed by web developers) to suggest that about half of web
>designers fufil these duties in a part-time role. Perhaps they have other
>assignments and web development is an add-on. Perhaps they are part-time
>employees. We are also aware of several situations where web developers
>are paid very poorly. For example, the positions of our USU institutional
>(full time) webmaster is currently open. The posted salary is $25,000
>/year (yes you read that correctly). We are aware of other institutions
>with similar stories. For us this begs the question, "How long will these
>highly skilled people stay in postsecondary ed?" In addition to part-time
>or poorly paid employees are those that are gobbled up by high paying jobs
>in the business sector. Eduction doesn't have a good history keeping up
>with business. Clearly high rates of turn over will hurt accessibility
>until all developers are trained initially with the ability to design in an
>accessible way.
>4. An academic culture of freedom is sometimes generalized to mean "we can
>put anything down in any format we want" without oversight. Where the
>traditions of academic freedom of content meet the regulatory world of the
>federal government tension is bound to occur. I suspect, if this is indeed
>a barrier, simple education would help separate the argument of faculty
>content versus form. However I could be wrong on this one.
>5. One of the institutional barriers to accessibility is the presence of a
>poorly funded disability student center. We have heard several stories
>that confirm this. For example, if an institution purchased several pieces
>of adaptive equipment (e.g., JAWS, ZoomText) in 1996 they would not have
>current versions. If these assistive devices populate campus computer labs
>students may not have access to all information. This is because many
>feature are simply not supported in older versions. The same can be said
>for students or faculty that do not download current browsers. It is
>difficult for designers to "degrade gracefully" from out-of-date versions
>of adaptive equipment or browsers when there are SO many elements to
>6. Sometimes the end user poses a barrier to accessibility. Some consumers
>may not know how to best work their adaptive tech devices to make use of
>design features found on the web. I put this item in as a possible
>institutional barrier because I wonder if institutions could make sure that
>"expert" are available on the use of the CURRENT version of the technology.
>If so, then new students could be better trained on how to use the devices.
>Cyndi Rowland, Ph.D.
>Project Director, Web Accessibility In Mind (Web AIM)
>Center for Persons with Disabilities
>Utah State University
>Logan, Utah 84322-6800
>(435) 797-3381
>FAX (435) 797-2044