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Robert Pearson

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How Do We Measure Progress in Accessibility Efforts?

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Accessibility initiatives require a continuous process of stocktaking, re-evaluation and keeping up with the times, writes Robert Pearson.

 Image: We need to make continued and consistent progress towards accessibility enforcement

Image: We need to make continued and consistent progress towards accessibility enforcement.

At the beginning of 2014, I proposed the hypothesis that we may be entering a Golden Age of Accessibility. I based this statement on the belief that we may have may passed a tipping point where by the advancements of the accessibility industry may now allow for the ability to drive itself forward without the need for extensive inputs to work on accessibility initiatives. 

From the grassroots to the leading edge of assistive technology development, we may have leaped milestones from where we began barely a few years ago, however, as we prepare to welcome 2015, I can't help but recognize many instances where we may have begun to lose our way or worse, where the advancements of the past may have come to be devalued as we continue to move forward.

In Ontario, we have the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Being an objective of the AODA Alliance, their 20-year pursuit of equitable standards for persons with disabilities in this Province has seen much progress. However, despite five standards put in place in various forms and on various timelines, there remains recognition that more needs to be accomplished.

It's well known that any salient pursuit of digital inclusion and accessibility requires executive champions. It's been 20 years and today, we no longer have those champions around. The Alliance has outlined ingenious means by which to address this, through a new social grassroots campaign, but it speaks to the fact that the impetus for the original pursuit is no longer there. A way forward is to draw attention to the advancements we have made in the field so that the current generation is aware of the value that they hold.

Secondly, the AODA guidelines focus on re-evaluating the accessibility requirements itself. When first introduced, the AODA guidelines were quickly acknowledged as some of the most stringent ever introduced at the governmental level. In looking at the Information and Communications Standard, and specifically, the requirements around web accessibility, lofty goals were proposed, including compliance to the W3C WCAG 2.0 guidelines for websites throughout the Province. However the nature of the web, as well as general information and communications as a whole, was not considered.

For example, most of us now access the web through a mobile or portable device. Yet, nowhere within the W3C WCAG 2.0 guidelines does the word "mobile" appear. I know, as an accessibility professional that the W3C is developing guidelines specific to mobile, but is the government on par? Is anyone outside of the accessibility domain aware that mobile is not technically covered by WCAG 2.0? There is the argument that by adopting WCAG 2.0 on your regular site, you will achieve increased compliance on your mobile site. However, take the perspective of a large corporation with thousands of employees and millions invested in mobile. It may cost them millions more to retrofit for accessibility. However, if the guidelines don't specify that content and sites need to be "mobile" compliant as well, corporations wouldn’t take an effort. They would perhaps, to establish a business differentiator position, but the reality is that many may choose not to not make the investment.

Read: The Intersection of Access and Ability - Read Robert Pearson's Blog.

  • We need to make continued and consistent progress. It's always been a matter of taking small steps forward.
  • We need to find ways to prevent duplications of efforts. This may be achieved through a greater proliferation of accessibility/disability focused hubs.
  • We need to bring accessibility much further into the mainstream. Accessibility accommodations can no longer be seen as irregular from the norm; they simply must already in place, to be utilized as required.
  • We must find purpose in our efforts to drive advancements forward. We must meet to allow for the production of actionable items that come as a result of that gathering.
  • We must ensure that the value in these efforts is maintained. While this may come through increased recognition, it will mainly come from defining process, perception and the benefit of increased accessibility.

I'll explore each of these three facets in forthcoming posts.

Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays!