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Academic Urges Shift From Accessibility To ‘Adaptability’

An approach to improving web access for people with disabilities based on ‘adaptability’ rather than ‘accessibility’ is urged by a leading academic in this month’s E-Access Bulletin.

Brian Kelly, UK Web Focus at UKOLN, the national digital library research body based at the University of Bath, says ‘adaptability’ adopts the UN Convention’s view that disability results from the interaction between people with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their participation in society.

“Disability is therefore a social construct and not an attribute of an individual,” Kelly says. “In particular, resource accessibility is the matching of a resource to an individual’s needs and preferences – and is not an attribute of a resource.

“This is a different philosophy from that which underpins the WAI [World Wide Web consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative] approach, which argues that universal accessibility can be provided by focusing solely on the individual web resource, the tools used to create the resource and the browsers used to access the resource.”

The web adaptability approach does not reject the valuable guidelines which have been developed by WAI, Kelly says. “Rather, the approach feels they should be regarded as guidelines which can be helpful in many but not all circumstances. It is essential that the WAI guidelines are used in a pragmatic fashion, and not as a series of inflexible rules.”

The adaptability approach focuses on real-world deployment challenges rather than continuing to mandate use of guidelines independent of their context of use, the technical complexities of today’s web environment, the rich diversity of uses made of the web and the differing individual users’ needs and requirements, he says.

NOTE: For a full report by Brian Kelly on web adaptability versus accessibility see Section Three, this issue.


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