eAccess+ – A European network for e-accessibility

The European Commission-funded eAccess+ network is a network of organisations who will focus on supporting and promoting awareness and adoption of e-accessibility in industry and the public sector, and also amongst service providers to excluded groups. We’ve just had our kick-off meeting – so here’s some information about what we’re going to do over the next 3 years.

eAccess+

Lots of effort, time and money has been spent on developing and promoting e-accessibility – ways in which digital content and applications can be created and used in a way that disabled people have equitable access to services, information and entertainment. As we all know, despite these efforts, there’s evidence that the arguments promoting inclusive design have only had limited success in persuading organisations to act to improve the accessibility of their web sites. In some cases understanding of the ‘what’ and ‘why’ – never mind the ‘how’ – of accessibility is still frustratingly low.

Aim of eAccess+

The key aim of the eAccess+ network is to involve as many stakeholders as possible – policy-makers, organisations in industry and the public sector, groups supporting people with accessibility needs, and disabled people themselves. We’ll contact organisations, ask them about their views and approaches to e-accessibility, listening to them to understand more about any resistance to e-accessibility they may have. We’ll answer questions honestly, allay fears, provide evidence where evidence exists, and generally support organisations in thinking and acting more inclusively in their use of the Web and other ICTs.

Who’s involved?

The network is led by the Johannes Kepler University Linz, and consists of 25 accessibility-aware organisations from across Europe, representing academia, industry, the public sector, and the non-profit sector. Since a key aim is to promote and support adoption of W3C standards such as WCAG, ATAG and WAI-ARIA, the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is also represented. I’m pleased to be representing the University of Dundee as one of the network partners.

What we’re going to do

There are three main areas of focus:

  1. Web accessibility
  2. Interactive Digital TV
  3. Public information systems – such as self service kiosks and ATMs

The aim of the network isn’t to rewrite guidelines, or develop new tools, or do large scale evaluations.

Instead, we want to:

  • provide a central resource hub pointing people to useful and important resources about e-accessibility. Our first task will be to build up some resource pages before we share the hub with the wider world – with the main focus on building it up to answer the questions organisations ask us about why and how to improve e-accessibility. Examples might include evidence to support the business case, and best practice in including accessibility in procurement processes.
  • grow a network of e-accessibility advocates and experts who can spread the message of why e-accessibility is important, and help people achieve it. That starts with the 25 member organisations, but eAccess+ will expand to include associate members, who will in turn help to widen the support network.

From my perspective, this firstly means becoming even more familiar with all the good work that has already happened in the field (I’m an accessibility researcher but even so I regularly discover new e-accessibility projects that I think I should have known about years ago!), and secondly doing as much as possible to grow the network by talking about e-accessibility to as many people as possible in as many places as possible.

In particular, that means attending events where there’s an opportunity to talk about e-accessibility to people who might not be as aware as they should be – particularly those in industry and the public sector; from  policy-makers to developers.

Get involved!

There are lots of good things going on in e-accessibility -but until now, so much of this knowledge has been limited to specific geographical regions or groups of people. What we need most now is to join up and share all this knowledge. If you want to help, contact me, follow @eAccessPlus on Twitter or visit the eAccess+ web site.

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