The norm and the practice
How can you implement a standard 100% correctly and yet completely miss your target? Sometimes there are however standards that do not only work on paper, but also in practice. That are used in real life. That are easy to implement. Z39.50 for searching, SIP2 for self-service, CSV for file exchange, HTML and CSS for browsing, the list is much longer. They all work and are heavily used.
But there are also standards that you can implement 100% correctly, but that still do not deliver what you want to achieve. Take WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). This set of guidelines, which are managed by W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium) attempts to achieve Accessibility for literally áll users, irrespective of their origin, device or limitation. The latter two primarily refer to smartphones and tablets (the “user agents”) on one side and blind and visually impaired users on the other. “Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web. […] can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web” (van http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/accessibility.php).
WCAG (also an ISO standard) is part of WAI (the Web Accessibility Initiative of W3C) and is in many countries (of parts thereof) the basis of other standards: Section 508 in the US, AODA in Ontario, SGQR in Quebec and RGAA in France.
WCAG has three levels of “conformity”: A, AA and AAA, which more or less correspond with “must have”, “should have” and “nice to have”. The highest level, AAA, is not always applicable or possible: “It is not recommended that Level AAA conformance be required as a general policy for entire sites because it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA Success Criteria for some content” (frm http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/#conformance-reqs). AAA is e.g. about subtitling (also live) video (for deaf users).
But: your website can conform 100% to WCAG and in practice still not be usable. This has multiple causes. First of all, usability and Accessibility are two related, but not identical principles. Accessibility is primarily the technical side of things: do you comply to the standard? Is the site “barrier-free”? Usability on the other hand is mainly the usage in daily life: can users work fluently with the application? Is the site “user friendly”? And this is where the shoe starts to pinch: you can interpret the standard 100% correctly and still deliver something that is not usable. Then your buttons are technically completely correct, but they are in an order that is illogical for a blind user.
Furthermore, it is clear that Accessibility for blind is delivered by a chain of software: Iguana (in our case), website (the implementation of the software by the customer), browser (to view the site) and “assistive technology” (speech readers or screen enlargers). Well-known examples of such assistive technology are the widely used Jaws (Job Access With Speech, http://www.freedomsci.de/prod01.htm), ZoomText (http://www.aisquared.com) and the open source NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access, http://www.nvaccess.org/). All elements of this chain have implemented the WCAG standard, often for specific versions. Then the feared effect happens that the software version X works well with assistive technology application W version Y, but not with version Z. The number of permutations (software x website x browser x assistive technology) is huge and the testing a nightmare. What works well with speech reader version X does not work with version Y, etcetera.
Infor Library & Information Solution has multiple Libraries for the Blind and the Visually Impaired amongst its customers: the Dutch (Passend Lezen and Dedicon), Swiss (SBS), Belgian (Ligue Braille) and UK (RNIB) organisations for the blind all use our software in their back- and/or front-end. We provide high contrast profiles for the visually impaired, offer an online DAISY player plug-in and support WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative - Accessible Rich Internet Applications).
Accessibility and usability were in practice developed and tested in cooperation with multiple Libraries for the Blind and the Visually Impaired. Over the past years we have worked closely together with these organizations. After extensive testing and modifications by customer ánd Infor, WCAG 2 AA conformity was eventually reached by the organizations that had their site certified. In doing so primarily JAWS, v10-13 and ZoomText, v9.x were used.
All this is part of our broader approach to supply customized interfaces for specific groups (children, students, blind and visually impaired, dyslectics, users from specific language groups) and even individuals (e.g. by supporting personal interest profiles and search preferences). And this. Obviously all this is part of a much larger problem that is not only related to software, but amongst others also to buildings. Are there thresholds at the entrance? How high are the bookcases? Where do I find the information desk, the reading room or the coffee?
- Library and Information Systems