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Lack of Interoperability ‘Is Biggest Accessibility Barrier’

The biggest barrier to making make the web more accessible to disabled people is interoperability, Sandi Wassmer, member of the UK government’s e-Accessibility Forum, told delegates at e-Access ’11 conference in London last month.

Interoperability is “about having disparate and diverse devices that all communicate with each other,” Wassmer said. “To use a non technical way of explaining it, a postage stamp is interoperable. We have a system that everyone agrees upon around the world. The stamp makes sure your letter gets from here to where it’s going. It’s a system which is different in each country, but it is interoperable on a global scale.”

Without interoperability, inclusive design – creating websites of value to everyone – will fail, she said. “We can design inclusively all we want, but if I have one device that does one thing and you have another that does something different, if we don’t achieve interoperability, we won’t be able to connect.”

The key to interoperability is the use of the open standards created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and its accessibility arm, the Web Accessibility initiative (WAI), Wassmer said. However, although the consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are fairly widely followed by web designers and developers, two other key sets of guidelines – the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) which cover software used to create web content such as content management systems, blogs and social media; and the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG), which cover software that displays web content such as web browsers and media players, have not yet been widely adopted, she said. Instead, the market is allowed to dictate how features are added to web browsers or social media networks, for example.

“People don’t really care about [ATAG and UAAG] as it is a case of market forces. To me, this is really what needs to be resolved before we can have an inclusive web.”

Meanwhile a range of new government initiatives relating to access to ICT by disabled people were announced at the conference by Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries Ed Vaizey and his senior digital inclusion policy adviser, including a new online forum to discuss key issues with government (see coverage from our sister publication E-Government Bulletin).

And click here for Sandi Wassmer’s slides and other presentations and transcripts from e-Access ’11.


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