A more creative, inclusive approach to accessibility is needed than simply following technical guidelines, delegates heard at the eAccess 12 conference co-hosted this week by E-Access Bulletin publisher Headstar.
David Sloan of the Digital Media Access Group at Dundee University said his university’s School of Computing had integrated user feedback into all aspects of its work, from the building’s open design to recruitment of local elderly people to come in and participate in research.
“Involving people who benefit from the skills you’re teaching is critical, rather than just presenting people with guidelines like WCAG and using that in an assessment”, Sloan said.
Paul Edwards, programme manager for Channel 4’s online coverage of the upcoming Paralympic Games, agreed that sticking too rigidly to accessibility guidelines can have a detrimental effect on your audience. Flexibility is crucial: “The most important thing we’ve been trying to do is make sure our process is flexible enough to react when a situation occurs. When you’re looking at guidelines like WCAG, sticking too closely to them actually blinkers you to what’s happening to your users.”
Henny Swan, senior accessibility specialist for iPlayer and mobile at BBC Technology, said modern developers should ensure a website responds to the device it is being viewed on, including smartphones and mobile devices: “responsive design”.
However, designing accessible content for mobile devices is still tough due to a lack of authoritative guidelines on the subject, Swan said. This led to Swan and her team at the BBC developing their own specialist guidelines for accessible BBC mobile content: “We decided to write guidelines for HTML, Android and iOS (the iPhone operating system), because those are our three biggest areas. We needed ‘device-agnostic’ guidelines, rather than writing three different sets.”
The result is ‘Mobile and tablet accessibility guidelines and techniques’ – an internal BBC guide for developers, designers and project managers when creating mobile content. Guidance includes ‘supporting device capabilities’, which states that content must try not to break specific device accessibility. An example of this is the ‘pinch’ zoom function on the iOS, said Swan, which allows users to magnify content with a small finger gesture on the screen. “If you’re coding in HTML you can suppress ability for user to do that, immediately preventing a lot of people being able to read content quickly and easily. Don’t suppress what the device allows you to do.”