Perceptions & Definitions of Accessibility – #w4a12 #accessibility #a11y #www2012

This year at the WWW/W4A we ran a panel session as part of the main WWW conference; looking at perceptions – and definitions – of accessibility. It ran in conjunction with our W4A paper on the same topic but we intended to make the panel an ‘extended hand’ to non accessibility focused Web developers.

Mike Paciello, Ed Chi, Bebo White, and Georges Gouriten.

Mike Paciello, Ed Chi, Bebo White, and Georges Gouriten.

Related to our W4A work, we had ‘clickers’ to collect audience (and Panel) demographic information, along with the answers to the many questions we wanted to put to both our audience and panel. We expected these questions would emerge from panel, audience, Twitter, and ourselves, as the discussion unfolded; you can see the full panel – recorded live – on the W4A USTREAM Channel.

Things didn’t go as planned! The first question ‘Is accessibility only about people with a disability?’ was also the last question – and we had to cut that short after the panel overran the programmed 1h30m slot.

In general, the audience split into two main camps:

  1. Those that thought accessibility was more than disability, and encompasses low-income, situational impairments, developing regions, and the like (I am in this camp); and
  2. The opposing view point which defines accessibility as strictly linked to disability, such that people with disabilities, or those working in the domain ‘own’ the term.
Georges Gouriten, Ricardo Baeza-Yates, and Chieko Asakawa (with Hironobu Takagi)

Georges Gouriten, Ricardo Baeza-Yates, and Chieko Asakawa (with Hironobu Takagi)

Each put forth a very reasonable argument: those in camp #1 suggested that accessibility could not be limited to only disability, that working in a constrained environment also limited access, and that access was broader than disability as the term suggests – if not then accessibility and disability would be similes (which they are not).

Camp #2 on the other hand suggested that so many advances had been made over the last 20 years, that to break the link between accessibility and disability would have a detrimental effect. That the public thought ‘disability’ whenever they heard ‘accessibility’ and that this link was too valuable to break or extend.

Lively Debate

W4A/WW Audience Participants share a lively debate!

It’s a difficult discussion to have, with many valid but opposing views. Only you can decide which camp you’re in after listening to the opposing arguments of the panel. But safe to say, the panel could have gone on all night. Indeed, there was so much interest that as promised, we will soon have a listing (survey) of all the questions which did not get asked so that you can have your say!

Please help us by filling this in (I’ll let you know when we release it) we’ll make the data open so everyone can share it and interpret it.

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