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Beyond Specifications: Towards a Practical Methodology for Evaluating Web Accessibility

Panayiotis Koutsabasis, Evangelos Vlachogiannis, and Jenny S. Darzentas

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 5, Issue 4, August 2010, pp. 157 - 171

Article Contents

Summary and Conclusions

There are many reasons for web sites to be accessible. The social responsibility of web site owners requires that they provide accessible web-based information and services. The market segment for people with disabilities including the elderly is too large to be ignored; these people want to autonomously access and use the web for education, entertainment, and commerce. Furthermore, the robustness of technical development when accessibility is taken into account is another major argument for taking up this approach. Last, but not least, there are already legal frameworks in place for governmental organizations to apply accessibility to the design of their sites. Other entities are also expected to be held liable for providing information and services on equal terms for all, and if they are not punished by legal systems (for instance, the U.S. Pharmacy chain, Target (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=National_Federation_of_the_Blind_v._Target_Corporation&oldid=318445849 accessed February 25, 2010), then some people suggest that steps be taken to have them ostracised by public opinion, using the well known technique of “name and shame.”

This paper argues for a practical approach to web accessibility evaluation that provides recommendations for the methods and tools to be used as well as maintenance processes. This approach is required in order to address the fact that the current set of web accessibility tools and specifications need technical knowledge for their comprehension and application. Designers are continuously pressed to apply governmental legislation to web accessibility, which is often prescribed in specifications when they require practical methods, guidelines, and tools to proceed.

This paper proposes a practical methodology for evaluating web accessibility that includes (a) identification of user requirements and set up of accessibility goals, (b) web accessibility evaluation and redesign process, and (c) establishment and follow-up of an accessibility policy. The rationale behind this proposal is that of design-for-all, which incorporates the requirements of all people including those with special needs (and without discriminating types of users or disabilities) into the design process.

To illustrate the web accessibility evaluation process, this paper presents a simple example in the domain of electronic publishing and discussed the accessibility problems found that are typical of many other contemporary web sites.

The work presented in this paper reports on issues that need to be considered by HCI researchers, interaction design practitioners, and usability professionals for inclusive design of web applications that are complementary to web usability engineering.

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