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full text of my .net/april2007 article contribution Who's responsible for accessibility?

with kind permission from editor dan oliver, here's the full text of my contribution Who's responsible for accessibility? to alastair campbell's cover article Learn to love accessibility in the april issue of .net magazine:

Web accessibility – who's responsible?

In web accessibility, you'll often hear emphasis being placed on the duty of web authors to create accessible content. However, this is only one part of the web accessibility equation.

Right at the planning stage, clients and site owners should gain a basic understanding of what accessibility is, why it's important for their project, and how to choose the right web authors/developers to do the job. An excellent starting point is the Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 78 Guide to Good Practice in Commissioning Accessible Websites, endorsed by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC).

Web authors/developers need to be aware of potential accessibility issues when developing their content. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide a solid foundation for development and evaluation. However, authors still need an actual understanding of the rationale underpinning the various checkpoints and current best practices that not only satisfy the guidelines, but work in the real world (through user testing and feedback).

Authoring tool developers must ensure that their products are both accessible in the way they can be operated and actually produce accessible output, in line with the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG). In web development, “authoring tools” doesn't just cover software such as Dreamweaver, but also Content Management Systems, blogging tools and admin system.

Any effort on the part of web authors to add accessibility features is rendered useless if browsers and assistive technologies don't take advantage of them. User agent developers need to ensure that their products support these features and, most crucially, make them available to users in an accessible and obvious manner, as outlined in the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG).

Lastly, there has to be an onus on users themselves. They need to learn what user agents are available to them, how to use them, and how to configure them to best suit their particular needs (e.g. if they require larger text or particular colour combinations, they should strive to gain the knowledge to set their preferences as defaults; if their current browser does not allow for this in a satisfactory manner, they should consider switching to one that does). BBC's My Web My Way (developed in association with AbilityNet) is a good resource for users, but organisations such as the RNIB also have a mandate to make this sort of information available to their stakeholders.

Only if all of these work together can a truly accessible experience be realised. Placing the onus on just one of these groups will result in suboptimal solutions, such as web authors having to create custom solutions to make up for missing AT support or the user's ignorance of their browser's built-in functionality.

a PDF of the page with my little section is also available.

posted:
20/03/2007 at 02:17:29
tags:
.net article accessibility