As David Sloan tells us the W4A is ‘the biggest annual gathering of the web accessibility research community.‘ and this year’s Keynote – By Prof. Jim Hendler – was a ‘Doozy’.
Indeed, you don’t have to take my word for it you can see Jim Hendler at the W4A12 for yourself – recorded (apologies for the adverts) live and saved on the W4A USTREAM Channel!
In brief Jim, made the case that accessibility goes beyond that of simple access by disabled users into something much deeper, and more opaque. The boundary of just what accessibility entales, and just what it’s limits are, have become blurred when you are talking about large data sets. If indeed, as Jim proposes, open public data and our access to it, is important – then just where does accessibility fit in?
This is a difficult question because it also raises the issue of information overload, even if we make the tabular datasets technically accessible – following 508 and WCAG 2 – these sets are so large and cumbersome that they will still not be accessible in any practical way. Access is prevented due to the size and complexity of the table and its data, so while we may be able to access individual cells via our user agents, the data itself will still be, to all intents and purposes, unavailable.
This kind of accessibility barrier is just the kind of thing we discussed in our paper at the W4A and is the focus on my continued work on auditory gist, glance, and cognitive limits. It seems however the battle to enable access by visually disabled users to large Open Data Sets – the ‘Accessible Web of Data’ – is going to be a ‘Battle Royale’.
Indeed, it may be time to start to think of accessibility along different dimensions; just as statistical analysis thinks of itself. While a resource may be accessible when judged against technical validity, or against guidelines such as 508, WCAG 2, or BS 8878, it may still not be practically accessible.