In October, 2009, Inclusive New Media Design (INMD) published its final report on including people with intellectual disabilities (ID) in the World Wide Web.
It describes INMD’s effort to identify the best ways of encouraging Web designers to build Web sites accessible to people with intellectual disabilities. It also examined the effectiveness of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to achieve such inclusion, and identified the factors that influence Web designers to embrace accessibility efforts.
Training & Actions Taken
INMD ran accessibility training workshops with Web designers and people with intellectual disabilities. It collected data about the work and the accessibility practices of Web designers.
As a result, participants took or planned action related to ID inclusion, and shared their knowledge with others. Action taken included:
- “adapting use of imagery to support text;
- using large fonts and simple text;
- re-checking previous work for ID accessibility;
- passing on information at work, or through blogs.”
Adaptations According to Disability Level
INMD’s success in contributing to inclusion was primarily for people at the mild end of the ID spectrum. While participants acknowledged that related adaptations could be beneficial to all people, they also recognized that adaptations for people with severe- or profound intellectual disabilities may be intrusive to non-disabled, Web site visitors. Thus participants indicated they would be less likely to accommodate that segment of the population in their future work.
Barriers To Accessibility
Participants saw the WCAG as too complex to understand and to implement, though they did acknowledge their value. They feared too much attention may be paid to meeting the guidelines rather than focusing on true accessibility.
Participants identified barriers to accessibility for people with ID and for other people with disabilities:
- “the attitudes of decision-makers, who may not share participants’ commitment to an accessible web;
- the nature of the projects they work on;
- an absence of understanding of the accessibility needs of ID audiences;
- an absence of guidance about how to address these needs, for example within the WCAG guidelines.”
Potential Accessibility-Barrier Solutions
The impairment diversity of people with ID, and their related accessibility requirements and assistive technologies, account for such absences, as does the paucity of expertise about ID among the WCAG working groups. This caused the INMD to conclude that:
- “WCAG guidance needs to be exceeded to address ID accessibility needs
- Information about how to do this, and on ID accessibility, needs to be made widely available, for example through the development of an online resource.
- Key decision-makers in the web design process – clients, line managers, copy writers, editors – play an important role in ensuring maximum accessibility.
- In order to achieve inclusive new media design and ID accessibility, it is necessary to engage with these stakeholders of web design in future action research.”
Recommendations on encouraging ID-accessible design included:
- “Develop an online resource about ID accessibility: including tips, how-to videos, examples of good practice and of user interaction; information about how to exceed WCAG guidelines; and the facility to build a community of web professionals committed to ID accessibility.
- Engage with intellectually disabled web users: most participants cited user testing as the most beneficial aspect of our workshops. User testing put a human face on the issues discussed with participants, and addressed their lack of understanding about ID audiences and their accessibility needs.
- Engage a diverse range of stakeholders: decision-makers affect accessibility practice. Further research needs to engage with a more diverse range of stakeholders – line managers, copy writers, policy makers – in order to make ID accessibility happen.
- Develop research with people at the severe/profound end of the ID spectrum: people at the severe or profound end of the ID spectrum are more likely to be left out of the web, because accessibility measures which address their needs are more intrusive to non-disabled audiences than measures which address mild ID, or sensory or physical impairment. Therefore further action research is needed to attempt to achieve their digital inclusion.”