More research must be done on web accessibility
Web accessibility opens up various ways for people with disabilities to use the new social media in the information age. One person who is an expert on this topic is the online editor Domingos de Oliveira. He reports on the web accessibility studies that have been published in the last few years and sees a great need for more research.
Web accessibility means that everyone can use the internet without limitation regardless of their physical or mental abilities. This is important because, according to statistics, people with limitations (such as problems with vision or hearing) spend an above-average amount of time on the internet.
This has been confirmed by a study called 'Accessible Web 2.0' ('Web 2.0 barrierefrei’) conducted by Aktion Mensch. In 2008, people with a disability were asked about their use of the social web on the website 'Easy for Everyone ('Einfach für Alle') – Offering Web Accessibility'. The results are worth reading even today because astonishingly little has changed since then.
Domingos de Oliveira works as a freelance online editor. He has been blind from birth and is committed to working toward an accessible web. Accessible web design has been an emphasis of his work for years. He has also published a book on this topic: 'Accessible Web – A Manual for Editors' ('Barrierefreiheit im Internet – ein Handbuch für Redakteure', in German only).
Not enough research on web accessibility
Overall, it is striking that there are many – particularly technical – initiatives for web accessibility such as the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortiums (W3C), but there are hardly any relevant studies. According to Domingos De Oliveira, the current state of research on web accessibility is disappointing. On the one hand, there is not enough money for basic research; on the other hand, some institutions don't even publish their data. In his opinion, two major aspects require more research:
'First, web accessibility for people with intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities and dementia . Their need for web accessibility is particularly strong because very little assistive technology has been developed for them, and without such technology, it is difficult for them to understand the contents of the web. Very little research has been conducted regarding this group.
The second group is deaf people. If they have not learned to speak aloud, they depend on sign language. Because it is expensive and time-consuming to produce videos in sign language, automatic translation of written words into sign language should be improved,' says De Oliveira.
Two thirds of people with and without disabilities would even be willing to pay more for accessible products on the internet. This was the result of a European Union (EU) survey in 2012.
Web accessibility increasing in Central and Eastern Europe and Asia
On the other hand, quite a lot of research has been done on global comparisons of web accessibility. One study conducted at Washington University showed that, in the countries studied, there were large differences in how accessible the websites of post-secondary schools and governments were. Only 39 countries even have a large number of accessible websites. Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland and Great Britain are the leaders in this area – all of these countries have laws about web accessibility.
The 'Zero Project Report' regularly studies the development of web accessibility in various countries. At the end of February 2014, a conference titled 'Innovative Policies and Practices for Persons with Disabilities' came to an end. The most interesting result was that the development of web accessibility has stagnated in the EU, while the countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Asia are developing very positively.
There are definitely positive trends in making websites accessible, but basic research is still needed in some areas, as Domingos De Oliveira points out.
Your opinion on web accessibility?
We would like to hear your opinion on web accessibility: Would you benefit from it? Do you see a need for research? And do you know of any accessible websites that could serve as good examples for others? Share your view in the comments.