I arrived at the University of Dundee as a mature student in 1998, to take one year out to get an MSc in Applied Computing, and then go back into industry. Well, it took me rather longer than a year…as in the intervening time I found myself developing for myself a hybrid role of accessibility and inclusive design researcher, teacher and consultant. It’s been (mostly) terrific fun, but it came to an end this week as I start a new job with The Paciello Group. Continue reading Time for a change
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!).
Excitement is growing amongst people who work in accessibility, as the CSUN 2011 conference in San Diego draws closer. As probably the longest and most well established conference on disability and technology, CSUN attracts a great number of people working in the web and software accessibility and inclusive design area. This year is no exception, judging by the chat on Twitter and the CSUN Tweetup roll-call. But I’ve never been, and I’m unlikely to attend unless my circumstances change. Here’s why.
Recently I had the pleasure and honour of sitting on the examining panel of a PhD thesis defence by Sergio Sayago, a researcher at the Interactive Technologies Group of Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona. I met Sergio at W4A 2009, where he and his supervisor Josep Blat won the Best Paper award for their paper describing an ethnographic study of older people and their use of information and communication technology. Having enjoyed reading that paper and hearing his talks (he gave two at W4A), it was great to be able to announce that he’d successfully defended his PhD thesis.
Yesterday I received notification of publication of a Web Accessibility Special Issue of the Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology journal, focusing on a selection of the best work presented at recent W4A conferences. I had the pleasure of editing this edition of the journal, and the result is what I think is a very neat cross-section of the web accessibility research and development going on right now.
Last week I gave a session to third year HCI students on the relationship between accessibility, usability and aesthetics. Part of this session was to explore how aesthetic appeal can override apparent usability limitations in influencing the success of a product or interface; and we also explored the extent to which accessibility and aesthetic appeal can co-exist.
One of the discussion topics was “do accessibility and usability advocates lead by example?” Do their web sites exist as inspiring examples of good design? We had a good laugh finding examples of where that answer was a resounding ‘no’ – although disability charity web sites are certainly improving in terms of design quality – and I pointed students to the fantastic Design Eye for a Usability Guy makeover of Jakob Nielsen’s Useit.com web site. The serious point was that if people wish to inspire designers to think about accessibility while maintaining creativity and design appeal, we need to show that it can be done. Not all accessibility advocates are talented designers (I wish I was), but we recognise the importance of getting the message over in an appealing way.
Education, Education, Education. Much of the buzz filtering back through Twitter from this year’s South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) surrounded the launch of the Web Standards Project’s InterAct Curriculum. It builds on the efforts of Chris Mills and colleagues at Opera in developing their Web Standards Curriculum, and, while it’s still work in progress it looks – from a first glance – like it will grow to be an excellent set of resources to promote the teaching of best practice in web design.
These initiatives are all evidence of a brighter horizon, the product of efforts by web standards advocates to improve the quality of web design education, and thus the skillset of people entering the web design industry. This follows criticism of the standard of web design education, particularly at university level.