Q&A: Where Do We Go From Here? Web Accessibility Across 3 National Systems
Over 27 million Americans today are impacted by a disability affecting computer and internet use. With such a vast percentage of the population directly affected by our digital world, what strides are we taking to ensure equality on the web?
Both Cyndi Rowland, Executive Director at WebAIM, and George Joeckel, Web Accessibility Specialist at WebAIM, were on a mission to uncover the answer to this pressing question. The results were revealed in the webinar, Where Do We Go From Here? Web Accessibility Across 3 National Systems.
Read the webinar Q&A below for insight into their results, or watch the full webinar for a comprehensive look into their research.
What was the most common failure? And did it vary by organization?
GEORGE JOECKEL: It was 1.1.1, which goes back to making sure that non-text content, like images, have alternative text, which doesn’t always have to be an alternative text tag per se. Sometimes, that alternative text is provided nearby on a web page.
But if that’s the case, it still requires an attribute. And in that case, it would be a null tag, alt equals quote, quote. What this does is that if it is a decorative image, or if the alternative text is provided elsewhere, then a screen reader can skip that image instead of it just saying graphic with no content or no function.
Are the failures that resulted a lack of education, or understanding of web accessibility, or a refusal to comply for some reason? How can we improve this?
CYNDI ROWLAND: Of course, we would never know the answer to that. At the heart of it, the question you’re asking is, is the issue that they can’t do or they don’t do?
And I think for those of us that are in the field, we’ve got to guard both of those. We have to do everything we can to make sure that folks have both the knowledge and skills to do it and also work within the system to ensure that there are sufficient motivations. And of course, you guys know what those are.
But I think the takeaway here is that in some entities if you don’t have administration that understands the criticality of accessibility and supports it, some of the developers may be put in a bit of a bind as they’re trying to get their work completed.
GEORGE JOECKEL: We don’t know if this is a predominance of ignorance or lack of motivation. But I think it’s very fair to say that the level of these issues and their discoverability, nobody who’s trying to implement these things correctly isn’t doing so because they just don’t know how. Right? Because again, going back to those images, we weren’t trying to say, oh, is your alt attribute correct, or is it equivalent. We’re just saying, oh, you’ve got an image with nothing.
That’s one of the things, I think, is really important to remember is none of these errors were from issues that were so esoteric that somebody just doesn’t know how to do it. More that whatever they are doing, like using headings, or using a label, they’re not doing correctly because they’re empty. There’s no value in there.
It appears that the UCEDDs hosted by universities are having no impact on their host universities’ awareness of accessibility issues. Is that a fair statement? To what do you attribute the UCEDD hosts’ lack of awareness?
CYNDI ROWLAND: One of the things that UCEDDs really are supposed to be doing is working at their own institutions on many different levels of disability. And I would agree with you. I would say that we may not have an influence of UCEDDs to hosts. But interestingly enough, since the UCEDDs did so poorly, I don’t know that we’d want to have that influence. In fact, the hosts did a little bit better. So maybe the direction of effect should maybe be going in the other way.
Again, if I ask myself, what explains this outcome, what explains this effect– and although I know the question is in the context of the UCEDD and post-institutional relationship, I’m going to expand it out to all three. I think that as a field, we’ve focused on knowledge and skills, which is critical. It is necessary. But I also think it’s insufficient.
I think we’ve got to do a better job as a field looking at the entire system engagement, because that’s where the real change is going to happen. And I think that we’re still at a spot where some people know about a policy, or a commitment, and others don’t. Some have been given the tools that they need for their jobs, and others haven’t.
So in the big scheme of things, we have so many giant potholes down this highway, we’re surely going to fall into some of them at some point. So in answer to your question, I think we just need to continue our focus on knowledge and skills and figure out how it is that we’re going to better impact systems.
GEORGE JOECKEL: I feel like we were able to, at least in this specific domain, move the conversation forward because actually, when we went to present this to the national group– we did a poster session– we printed out all the results for all of the UCEDDs and handed those out individually.
And so if there was a lack of awareness before or an ignorance, there isn’t now. And as Cyndi said, we also are going to be replicating this study. So we’ll be able to see if people have been able to make progress over the last year.
One of the concerns I might have is a lot of times, the UCEDDs are pretty locked into whatever the host is doing, the university, in terms of a course management system. And it would be my fear that maybe they wouldn’t be able to perform better, or there was one root cause, or if the state was really poor, there would be a correlation.
But because there was no correlation, I think each of these organizations are responsible for themselves. And by identifying which of those three organizations is performing the best, hopefully, they could help bring the other two along.
Watch the full webinar below!