Accessibility in Use

Accessibility in Use, if you haven’t already heard the phrase you better get used to it, because I think it is such a simple yet elegant concept that its here to stay.

It’s simple, and yet its also a coda into a whole heap of concepts we take for granted. Originally, Vigo and Brajnik described in their 2011 paper [1], and elaborated on in the forthcoming W3C WAI RDWG Note of Accessibility Metrics. Accessibility in Use describes accessibility as it is experienced in the field by an individual. This individual experience aspect is reminiscent of User Experience thinking and represents a shift from the general and generic to the individual and specific.

Indeed, the concept makes me think of the current open access debates (on which I’ve also commented here) extending this concept IMO from asking the simple question of whether scientific research literature can be accessed for free by the general public, and returning to place an additional constraint on the authors and publishers by asking if the paper is really open, or open-in-use. Does the paper have a property which enables an informed reader of the general public to understand the thrust of the work and its importance (lay abstracts – tweets; think Tiny Transactions on Computer Science). In reality I’m saying this concept isn’t present in many (if any) open access articles and so I think that the concept of open access can never be realised until people with and interest can both access the paper and the concepts within it.

Back to Accessibility in Use; it seems to me that this concept is both critical and difficult (just the thing I like). How can accessibility in use be measured for the individual and how can the resource which we want to certify as ‘Accessible in Use’ contain enough information to allow all users a uniformed experience of access. Accessibility in Use is well beyond simple guideline conformance and cookie cutter accessibility evaluation automation, in which evaluation tools differ in the interface and information given to the evaluator (still important to be sure), not based on models of the user. These user models move us in to the areas of adaptation and personalisation, a move away from one evaluation for all, but into one evaluation for one. In this sense Accessibility in Use may be difficult to realise.

So should we do nothing? Well I think not; it seems to me that by just ‘thinking’ Accessibility in Use we can bring a deeper understanding to what we build and how we test what we build; and further, we can apply this into other domains, conjoining those domains together.

For instance, could we argue that an inability, by a bright but untrained member of the public, to understand the thrust and importance of one of our papers makes the paper inaccessible and therefore not open, even if that paper meets all accessibility guidelines and is given away free? Are we the architects of an accessibility barrier by not including information a user requires to understand our work, a user bye-the-way who does not have any other means of understanding the work without an intervention of some sort?

Maybe these are questions we should chew on some more.


  1. M. Vigo and G. Brajnik. Automatic web accessibility metrics: Where we are and where we can go. Interacting with Computers, 23(2):137 – 155, 2011.

2 thoughts on “Accessibility in Use

  1. Pingback: Accessibility in Use | Bugs Become Features… : User Experience Design Rx

  2. Pingback: Evaluating Accessibility-in-Use | Bugs Become Features…

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