In a previous post on guerilla accessibility research I commented on how some of what seems to be the highest-impact innovation in web and ICT accessibility is provided by developers and designers trying out new things, and refining emergent techniques in response to issues that are discovered by their peers or by disabled web users. By contrast, when “universities” and “web standards/inclusive web design” are mentioned in the same sentence, it’s usually to receive criticisms of the poor quality of web design education…
However, in academia, there’s a small, yet bright and enthusiastic community of people tackling various accessibility research challenges (and often injecting inclusive design into the teaching curriculum too). Too often, traditional research dissemination models mean it’s a long time (if ever) before the outcomes of this research make it into the public domain, and academia has work to do to adapt to better use social networking services to share plans and discoveries more quickly and effectively.
So to redress the balance slightly, here’s an overview of some of the groups I know of in the UK who are doing interesting and high-impact web/ICT accessibility research – starting from the north and working south (of course!).
University of Dundee
My own place of employment, the School of Computing at Dundee University has a long history of research in digital inclusion for disabled and older people . We’re interested in exploring how to improve existing tech to be more inclusive (and teaching others to do the same), and developing new tech to help reduce social exclusion.
As an example, I was recently internal PhD examiner for Suzanne Prior‘s thesis defence, which explored how user centred design techniques can be modified to work with people with severe speech and physical impairments (SSPIs). This work has implications on how AAC devices can be created with greater input from end users; but there are also exciting opportunities to learn more about how web sites and other ICTs can be designed to work better for people with SSPIs.
In the northeast of England, in Middlesbrough, Teesside University’s Accessibility Research Centre is a very active group of e-accessibility researchers, led by Elaine Pearson and Steve Green. They have a focus on accessible learning, investigating topics around the concept of an inclusive virtual learning environment, ranging from learner profiling and adaptive learning environments to aids to teaching web accessibility to enhanced transcript generation tools.
University of York
Down the A19, the University of York HCI Group has a long track record in research focusing on technology, disabled and older people. Accessibility researchers Helen Petrie, Alistair Edwards, Chris Power and colleagues are fellow network members of eAccess+ network, participate in the i2Web project and were previously partners in EU4ALL, a European project focusing on accessible e-learning.
University of Manchester
In the University of Manchester Web Ergonomics lab, Simon Harper and his colleagues work at the intersection of web science and digital inclusion. They’ve carried out several accessibility projects of interest, including transcoding web content to improve non-visual accessibility (SADiE) , accessibility of dynamic web applications (SASWAT), and RIAM, which explored the convergence of mobile web usability and web accessibility; in particular the similarities between data input problems experienced by mobility-impaired desktop PC users and mobile device users on the move.
Loughborough’s a hotbed of activity in accessibility research, across different subject groups. We’re currently working with colleagues from Computing Science and Information Science on accessibility support for older people as part of the SUS-IT project,.
In the London area, there’s:
- The Centre for HCI Design at City University has an active HCI research group with strong interests in accessibility. They also have a consultancy arm, and researcher Makalya Lewis is the driving force behind a11yLDN, the first UK accessibility unconference.
- Middlesex University’s Design for All research team is led by Gill Whitney and Suzette Keith, a colleague on the SUS-IT project. They also set up the UK’s first Masters in Digital Inclusion.
- User-centred design researchers at Brunel University have been looking at the accessibility of online forms to older people, as part of the DIADEM project.
On the south coast, Southampton University’s Learning Societies lab contributes an accessibility focus to Southampton’s wider web science research activity. Led by Mike Wald and EA Draffan, their recent projects have included LexDis, a resource on accessibility, Web 2.0 tools and e-learning, and the JISC Techdis toolbar, a browser extension that can help to improve page accessibility on-the-fly.
There’s a lot of research on accessible e-learning taking place in the Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology, and I know several other people who have been active in web accessibility research over the years – people like Neil Witt (@dr_neil) at Plymouth University and Sarah Lewthwaite (@slewth) at Nottingham University. I should also mention Techdis, the UK’s advisory service to the post-16 education sector on disability, technology and education, regularly supports and publishes work aimed at improving accessibility of online educational environments and experiences.
But I know I’ll have missed out a project or group doing interesting accessibility work – so apologies if that’s you! Please add details using the comments feature at the end of this post.
The more people know that there is an active and eager accessibility research community in the UK, the better the conversation will be between those who are doing the research and those who stand to benefit from its outcomes – which bodes well for influencing future web accessibility research directions.