Accessibility SIG Meeting 28th February 2011

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BSI/JISC CETIS Accessibility Standards Workshop

Twitter/blog tag: #accbc

NB: The following notes were taken by Sharon Perry, JISC CETIS, with apologies in advance for any inaccuracies they may contain.


Standards development processes can appear to be remote from those stakeholders that the standards serve and opportunities for direct conversation between relevant communities can be rare. This is particularly true in Accessibility because of impediments to communication and because of its international applicability and the international nature of many relevant standards development processes. When opportunity presents we should not ignore it.

This informal workshop, jointly organised in collaboration with BSI (British Standards Institution) and JISC CETIS took advantage of the presence in the UK (United Kingdom) of a number of international standards developers and strategists to foster discussion and exchange between communities around recent and ongoing international and UK work in Accessibility Standards.

This workshop was held on Monday 28th February, 2011 in London.

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The JISC CETIS Accessibility SIG (PowerPoint format - 135Kb)

by Sharon Perry, JISC CETIS.
A brief introduction to JISC CETIS and the Accessibility SIG (Special Interest Group).

CETIS (Centre for Educational Technology and Interoperability Standards) is funded by JISC (Joint Education Systems Committee). It started life as the IMS Centre, focusing initially on e-learning interoperability standards developed by IMS. Several SIGs (Special Interest Groups) were established and run as communities of practice. It now has a wider remit and supports JISC funded programmes as well as standards work.

The Accessibility SIG (Special Interest Group) began in 2001 and is run as a community of practice focussing on the accessibility of e-learning in HE (Higher Education) and FE (Further Education). It is open to anyone with an interest in accessible e-learning so we also have representatives from the public and private sectors. The SIG has more of a standards slant rather than that of assistive technologies or pedagogy, which is dealt with by other services, such as JISC TechDis. Some of the community members have been particularly active in the international standards arena. We have a forum, open to all and a website and we periodically run events where the community can present any relevant work, discuss issues and network, which is a key element.

The Accessibility Standards Workshop is a joint event with BSI and is an ideal opportunity for the various communities to get together and be aware of what is happening in each others’ sectors. A mix of communities is represented at the event: standards, HE/FE, vendors, commercial, government, publishers, charities, etc.

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Accessibility Standards: the wider picture

by David Fatscher, BSI.
David Fatscher gave an introduction to BSI. It was established in 1901 and is a national standards body in the UK (United Kingdom). It is independent, self-financed and has no shareholders. It is not part of the government. BSI produces standards, which it then sells, and publishes books, runs training events, conferences, etc.

Some standards are really specifications and different levels of formality in terms of language are used. For example, language may be binding, such as "you shall" or less formal, such as "you should consider". Some areas of work, such as nanotechnology, are very new and need their own vocabulary. A standard covers things that can be tested. Standards are also full of acronyms!

BSI is also a member of CEN (European Committee for Standardization) and ISO (International Organization for Standardization).

BSI Technical Committees have lots of stakeholders (people with a shared interest) including: government departments, trade associations, certification bodies, enforcement bodies, trades unions, research organisations, professional institutions, standards users, etc. Each committee has a secretary and a chairman. There are approx 8000 committee members with approximately 40 new or revised standards being developed every week. Some standards go on to be international or European standards and vice versa.

There is a heirarchy of standards, beginning at:

The Disabled Rights Commission (now the Equality and Human Rights Commission) approached BSI to develop something that could be easy to read and practical for web accessibility. PAS 78 was developed in 2006 and reviewed in 2008. The resulting scope of BS 8878 Web Accessibility: code of practice reflects the recent changes in content generation, technology, etc.

Accessibility specifications are available covering services (such as inclusive services, and web accessibility), and the physical (i.e. managing inclusive design, smoke alarms, accessible hotels, design of building, and wheelchair passports) and virtual worlds (also including managing inclusive design).

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Recent ICT Accessibility Policies Development Outside of Europe (PowerPoint format - 248Kb)

by Alex Li, Microsoft.
Alex Li gave an overview of the large amount of accessibility standards work under development in the US (United States), Canada, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India, China.

In the US, Section 508, written in 1998, is undergoing a "refresh" (proposed in 2006). It applies to US federal agencies, which produce 35% of the US' GDP (Gross Domestic Product). If vendors, producers and providers adhere to 508, then they are more likely to get government contracts. Co-operation between government agencies and vendors is important, as there is an ongoing committment from the US government to this standard and many states copy it into their constitution.

The current structure of Section 508 is based on the technological approaches that were around in the 1990s, e.g.:

This approach worked well at the time as it showed how well products met the needs of people with disabilities.

The structure of the new draft of Section 508 (which is still subject to change) is based on what a product does, rather than on what it is. So it will cover:

Unlike WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), Section 508 does not have a set of ratings (such as A, AA, AAA).

Also in the US, Section 255, which pertains to telecoms design and provision (i.e. applicable to providers such as AT&T, T-Mobile, etc, and manufacturers, such as Nokia etc), is also being rewritten. Most of Section 508 applies to Section 255, which is managed by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). It was originally written for the conventional functionality of telephones. The rewrite is currently at the proposal stage and it is down to the FCC to decide whether to take it forward or not.

Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act became law in the US in 2010. The FCC will determine the rules of regulation. It will include:

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) of 1990 is also under revision. It has four sections:

Canada's Common Look and Feel for the Internet Standard v2.0 is also currently being revised and is expected to be based on WCAG 2.0. It is managed by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and applies to Canadian government departments.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act applies to both the public and private sectors and is also based on WAG 2.0. The increase in compliance from Level A to Level AA will be gradually phased in, with a different timeline for government departments to private organisations.

South Korea has the Anti-Discrimination Against and Remedies for Persons With Disabilities Act, which applies to both the private and public sectors.

Australia's government accessibility policy will also phase in WCAG 2.0 from Level A to Level AA. There is some debate on PDF (Portable Document Format) accessibility.

In NZ (New Zealand), the New Zealand Government Web Standards 2.0 applies to government sites and states that web 2.0 technologies, such as Flash, Java, etc should be avoided.

India has a 'Section 508-like' policy in draft, with public comments finishing at the end of January 2011.

China has a modified version of WCAG 2.0.

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VPATs (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) and Conformity Assessment: a case study

by Ken Salaets, Information Technology Industry Council.
Ken Salaets gave an overview of the VPAT. The ITI (Information Technology Industry) Council was founded 1916. It is a non-profit industry association based in Washington, DC (District of Columbia), but works with the government, and has a number of member companies including CISCO, IBM, Microsoft, etc.

So what is a VPAT? It is a table that identifies how well a product meets the Section 508 accessibility standards and are used by US government departments to find out whether products meet their requirements. A number of offers of products from different companies have to be received before a contract can be offered. The government has adopted the VPAT as a means of working out whether products are accessible. They are also used by corporations, such as General Electric, Coca Cola, etc, and by some non-US governments. Although the VPAT is voluntary outside of the government, it has has become a de facto standard.

Some companies can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars developing a VPAT. It can be part of a product's development process, but it has to be reviewed by lawyers, because of its impact. Of course, ultimately, the cost is borne by the customer.

Work is now being undertaken to look at how to expand the functionality of the VPAT. For example, it could be used to describe the accessibility of products produced across the world. An XML (eXtensible Mark-up Language) VPAT tool is being developed, which will allow information to be "grabbed" from the web in order to facilitate the procurement process. A website will show the relevant information for buyers and sellers. It will allow comparisons to be made between VPATs, filtering of data, and improved market research. It is hoped that this will maximize VPAT exposure and RoI (Return on Investment), and simplify the creation and storage of VPATs. It will be the responsibility of the sellers to put their VPATs on their websites.

There is some criticism of the VPAT in Europe. For example, although the template is uniform, the information entered into it is not and as not all procurers understand accessibility, this can be a problem. VPATS are voluntary and there is no set way of completing them.

It is important to try and move towards harmonization of VPATs and VPAT-like templates. Every country has their own way of doing this and wants to do it better than another country. However, work in this area between the US and Europe is being closely harmonised. The ITI Council is also considering developing a mapping software to map the VPAT with other (international) templates.

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Icons to Hardware (PowerPoint format - 195Kb)

by Jim Carter, University of Saskatchewan.

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Standardisation Mandate M/376 (Phase 2)

by Dave Sawdon, TRE Projects Ltd.
Dave Sawdon introduced Standardisation Mandate M/376, which covers European accessibility requirements for public procurement of products and services in the ICT domain and it is hoped that it will drive the adoption of accessible products and services. The work in Mandate M/376 (2005) Phase 1, divided between ETSI and CEN, looked at what standards existed around procurement and at the various means of conformance.

Phase 2, which started formally on 1st March 2011, will produce a formal European Standard (these start with "EN") containing all technical requirements necessary in one document, including test methods, that will detail how to demonstrate conformance and will allow public procurers to compare tender requests. Drafts will be available in August, with a public enquiry and call for comments in 2012. The final drafts will be available in January 2012, with it being published in September/October 2013. The formal standards process is a long one. CEN and ETSI will be running workshops, with the first scheduled for May 2011. It is vital that public procurement officials are included in the process. If people wish to be involved, this can be done via BSI's ICT/-/6 Accessibility Co-ordination committee in the UK (each EU state has its own body), via a trade association (e.g. Digital Europe - for the European ICT sector; Intellect - in the UK), via each country's government procurement body (the OGC (Office of Government Commerce) in the UK) or by contacting the experts direct.

Other relevant standards mandates include:

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Access For All 3.0 (PowerPoint format - 3.78Mb)

by Andy Heath, Axelrod Access For All.
Note: that there is some information in the Notes View of the PowerPoint presentation.
Andy Heath spoke about the Access for All work, which began at the University of Toronto, before being developed as the IMS Access for All v1.0 Specification. This work has now been developed into an ISO standard (ISO/IEC 24751-1:2008 Information technology - Individualized adaptability and accessibility in e-learning, education and training - Part 1: Framework and reference model).

Access For All v3.0, which is currently available for public comment, works on the premise that personalisation preferences need to be machine readable, so it uses metadata to describe personal needs and preferences. It aims to have a very simple model that can be easily modifiable, using XML and RDF (Resource Description Framework) bindings.

So how does Access For All 3.0 work? It uses a number of different properties to describe the access modes of a resource and the adaptations available and to describe a user's preferences. Tables are used to show the values for each resource type, so that expertise in accessibility is not required. For example, a video has a visual mode, an aural mode, etc. An adaptation type could include captions, for example, or the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) to an alternative adaptation. This information is machine readable and parseable. (Note that media types can be particularly difficult to describe as there are so many variations.)

The Specification also includes "refinements" – i.e. an element or term can refine (or be a more precise form of) another. For example, 'colour' is a refinement of 'visual'. So that if there is no adaptation available to deal with 'colour' elements, but there is one available that deals with 'visual' elements, it is a close enough fit to be used instead. This use of refinement elements is similar to Dublin Core Metadata.

The terms and properties used have been modelled to harmonise with those used in ISO/IEC 19788-1:2011 Information technology - Learning, education and training - Metadata for learning resources - Part 1: Framework Resources. This is very recent work. The Framework itself is complete, however other parts (e.g. ISO/IEC FDIS 19788-2 Information technology - Learning, education and training - Metadata for learning resources - Part 2: Dublin Core elements) still under development.

Feedback on the Access For All v3.0 Specification would be very welcome, so please download it, try it out, implement it, check it works, and provide feedback to the forum or by email to the working group co-chairs.

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BS 8878: Embedding accessibility into real-life web product management (PDF format - 1.54MB)

by Jonathan Hassell, BBC.
Jonathan Hassell talked about the BS 8878:2010 Web accessibility. Code of practice that was launched on 7th December 2010.

Why do we need a British standard? Because we have a British law around accessibility. In 2005, the Disability Rights Commission (now Equality and Human Rights Commission) showed that many websites were not very accessible. As a response, PAS 78: A guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites was developed and released in 2006. However, in 2009 the need to extend it to cover guidance on Web 2.0 technologies, as well as the move from provider-generated to producer-generated content, and the increasing use of off-the-shelf tools instead of bespoke content motivated and informed the creation of BS8878.

It is interesting to note how new roles in web development have emerged, which are having an impact on product accessibility. For example, in 2000 most of decision making around accessibility was done by technologists/coders; by 2008 these decisions were being made by user experience designers; and now web product managers take responsibility for this area.

Whilst WCAG has many positive aspects, the information can be a little jumbled up, such as information about subtitles being next to that on alt txt, and the resource implications are quite different. For example, alt text can be cheaply generated by a journalist, whilst subtitles are very expensive and affect the way in which video is handled.

BS 8878 is purely about creating web products and took about three years to develop. It does not just apply to websites but also to RIAs (Rich Internet Applications), SaaS (Software as a Service), widgets, and mobile applications. It contains advice on how to embed accessibility in an organisation, including how to make informed decisions, as well as identifing the key decisions that impact on accessibility. It is also about embedding responsibility, i.e. who is responsible for ensuring that a product is accessible?

The key word in UK Equality Act 2010 is "reasonable", but who defines reasonable? Neither the legislation nor the standard defines this. However, the standard does advise that every decision that impacts on accessibility in a project should be recognised as a decision, and documented along with all the implications considered, like a Captain's log.

Not every website needs be accessible for everyone. So consider what technologies will be used to access the site. Are there likely to be any restrictions? For example, are the site's users likely to have browsers which are locked down so they cannot change font size etc. If so, the site itself might usefully include features which allow font size to be changed. Similarly, consider the degree of user experience the product aims to provide. On what platforms will the product be delivered? It is more than just a choice of computer operating system and browser, there are now a number of different devices with different screen sizes and input modes. The number of choices can be huge. Should the product be created in-house or out-sourced?

User testing has not yet been done on BS 8878, so please provide feedback.

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BS 8878 and the Holistic Approaches to Web Accessibility

by Brian Kelly, UKOLN.
Brian has set up a webpage with all the information from his presentation, including slides (note that these are in SlideShare) and a video (via YouTube).

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WIDE (Widgets for Distributed Inclusive Environments) (PowerPoint Format - 1.2Mb)

by Elaine Pearson, Teesside University.
Elaine Pearson described the WIDE project, which has been creating bespoke widgets based on the W3C Widget Specifications.

WIDE complements Teesside University's on-going research on adaptable personal learning environments (see Towards an Adaptable Personal Learning Environment presentation at the last Accessibility SIG meeting). The team has been working with Portland College, which caters for students with very complex needs. They first created a symbols-based environment that was similar to a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) and then looked at creating adaptable content for it, as well as authoring and profiling tools for learning objects and resources. The WIDE work represents the next stage – i.e. adaptable tools and services. This will then be followed by work on adaptable interfaces.

There is a community of practice, which comprises of learners, teachers, developers, and researchers. The PLE (Personal Learning Environment) was based around the express needs of particular learners at Portland. Students were closely involved in the design from an early stage and 'personas' were created based on the team's experience of working with students from Portland College. Personas have been used a lot as they are very adaptable and are ideal for looking at specific needs without necessarily having access to individual students each time. The WIDE team has also been working directly with teachers and other support workers.

Widgets can be:

The team used an agile development methodology, based on iterative and incremental development. This lightweight approach is suitable for collaborative projects. Designs for the different widgets were formulated within a series of workshops and the team worked with teachers to produce specific learning designs. (Learning Designs were also adapted from another JISC project.) A specification for designing these widgets was then outlined and prototypes created by the developers. As each widget was created, feedbk from teachers was obtained, the widget amended, and feedback obtained again.

The Apache Wookie development environment was used. This is a Java server application, based on the W3C Widgets Specifications. The team wanted to use Wookie, because it is W3C compliant and should therefore be compatible with different VLEs. It uses a REST (Representational State Transfer) API (Application Programming Interface) that can be used to get or create instances of widgets. Wookie was generally the first choice of development platform, but some Opera- and Windows-specific widgets also had to be created.

The workshops produced more ideas for widgets than expected and Wookie has worked well in most cases as a development platform. The team has managed to develop all but one of the 49 designs proposed. The only one which is outstanding is a widget called "Pronounce It", because no free API is currently available (the widgets need to be made up from free and open source resources).

The widgets have been classified by type (e.g. tools, applications, learning objects), purpose (e.g. task management, time management, learning aids, assistive technology, social networking tools, content free applications, etc), features (i.e. whether they widget is self-contained, media content, etc), and development platform to make them easy to seach and find.

The widgets are mostly comprised of HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and JavaScript and use the following W3C specifications:

The team is also starting to look at the IMS ACCMD (AccessForAll Metadata) and ACCLIP (AccessForAll Learner Information Package) Specifications to see whether widgets can be made adaptable based on individual preferences (note that the IMS AccessForAll Version 2.0 Specifications will be replaced by Access For All 3.0 see Andy Heath's presentation above).

Widgets created include:

The widgets are all quite simple, but are what the teachers said they wanted for their studensts. They have been designed to meet particular needs. For example, the Virtual Abacus was developed to meet the need for assessing students' skills in maths, where students could not type or use a a calculator.

The widgets can be found on WIDER (Widgets for Inclusive Distributed Environments Resource) and feedback is welcome.

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W3C/WAI Web Accessibility Standards

by Shadi Abou-Zahra (W3C/WAI).
(See Web Content Accessibility and Mobile Web: Making a Web Site Accessible Both for People with Disabilities and for Mobile Devices for some of the work in this area.)

Shadi Abou-Zahra described some of the work of W3C, which is a consortium of over 350 members and which works on a consensus-based process, i.e. one vote per member (see the Consortium Process Document for further details. It has many offices world wide, including the UK (Ireland).

There are many different W3C work areas, including web applications, mobile (including television), voice, web services, semantic web, privacy and security, etc. The range of these areas shows how the web has grown. Web accessibility cuts across all these areas. WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) is one four domains in W3C. It is not dependent on a single source of funding but receives additional funding from public grants. Most of the working groups are public and people can participate in many ways.

The WAI work areas include accessibility support in W3C technologies, e.g. the alt attribute in HTML, and it is mostly well-known for developing guidelines and methods for evaluating accessibility. It also carries out a lot of education and outreach. The Research and Development Group looks toward future trends that will help inform the next batch of work.

Web accessibility is supported by several key components:

The WAI guidelines include:

The WAI-ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) suite adds semantics to the base technology. It is an additional syntax and does not replace WCAG, ATAG or UAAG.

WCAG also overlaps with some of the Mobile Web Specifications:

For example, colour contrast is important for people with visual acuity problems, but it is also important when devices are being used outside in the sunshine.

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Mobile Applications Accessibility Standard (PowerPoint Format - 171Kb)

by Yacoob Woozeer, DWP (Department for Work and Pensions).
Yacoob Woozeer is currently studying for an MSc in Digital Inclusion and has submitted a proposal for Mobile Applications Accessibility Standard.

Several DWP services are now moving online. But how will customers access this content? More and more people are using smartphones and tablets to access websites, so it is important to focus on mobile applications rather than on creating websites that can viewed on different devices. Some people find a dedicated application a lot easier to use than the web.

Mobile applications do not always factor in accessibility. However, the DWP aims to factor in accessibility for every mobile application it develops. There are elements in ISO 9241-171 Ergonomics of human-system interaction - Part 171: Guidance on software accessibility, BS 8878, and W3C's Mobile Web Best Practices that could help.

Feedback on what to include in the standard is requested.

End of Accessibility SIG Meeting 28th February 2011: Back to Top of Page