Recently, Jared Spool of UIE published a short post asking whether designing for everybody leads to bland results. He argued that in order to avoid acceptable, but anodyne and uninspiring design solutions, design teams need to focus on a given group at the expense of others. The analogy he used was a restaurant that focuses on a particular cuisine and concentrates on achieving excellence in that area rather than trying to cover all tastes. Does that mean he’s suggesting there’s a problem with inclusive design?
This year, we’ve seen a growing prominence of discussions about the idea of developing a resource providing access to trusted information on web and ICT accessibility – an accessibility Body of Knowledge. It would be hard to defend the idea that accessibility knowledge should remain a specialism, held only be a chosen few and made available to others only at great cost, going against the very objective of supporting inclusion that we surely all support. Instead, there’s an obvious attraction for accessibility specialists and those less familiar with accessibility theory and practice to be able to refer to and use a resource that provides authoritative information on accessibility, from development techniques to assistive technology performance and support to legislative requirements to statistics on return-on-investment.
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!).