Accessibility (a Euro IA theme)

It’s been a while, but here’s my final post on the Euro IA Sum­mit. Usabil­i­ty has been a design val­ue long cham­pi­oned by HCI pro­fes­sion­als from which IA has part­ly devel­oped. Nat­u­ral­ly, they’ve often been respon­si­ble for ensur­ing usabil­i­ty in projects. There have been devel­op­ments that force IAs to take a broad­er view and see usabil­i­ty as one of many val­ues that go into a suc­cess­ful user expe­ri­ence on the web. Morville realised this quite a while ago and remind­ed us in his keynote of his user expe­ri­ence hon­ey­comb.

Acces­si­bil­i­ty is one of those oth­er val­ues, and quite a few talks dis­cussed it in some way.

For instance Fredy Oré’s talk on the project he did for Dig­i­tal UK (the inde­pen­dent, non-prof­it organ­i­sa­tion lead­ing the UK’s move to dig­i­tal tele­vi­sion) con­tained quite a few exam­ples of how he as an IA was faced with acces­si­bil­i­ty prob­lems. From fig­ur­ing out how to cre­ate a site struc­ture that would sup­port both Eng­lish as well as Welsh to work­ing around the lim­i­ta­tions of a lega­cy CMS, there were many acces­si­bil­i­ty-relat­ed deci­sions to make.

Bogo Vatovec sum­ma­rized the results from a test he did with sev­er­al con­tent adap­ta­tion solu­tions (mobile web brows­ing appli­ca­tions). The state of affairs in this area appeared to be quite sor­did. Opera’s mobile web brows­er came out as the best option cur­rent­ly avail­able. How­ev­er, smart soft­ware will nev­er be the sil­ver bul­let to solve all mobile web-brows­ing woes. We’ll need to build sites to be acces­si­ble for a broad range of devices. I feel we need to go even one step fur­ther and cre­ate alter­na­tive archi­tec­tures specif­i­cal­ly tai­lored for the mobile con­text.

Final­ly Steven Pem­ber­ton flexed his W3C mus­cles and over­whelmed the poor non-techy IAs with a del­uge of infor­ma­tion on new web stan­dards such as XHTML 2 and XForms. The key take­aways for me were that the W3C is still push­ing for a true Seman­tic Web (yes, upper­case). Exam­ple: Pem­ber­ton said XHTML 2 is “micro­for­mats done right”. Also, XForms promise to be a real alter­na­tive for oth­er RIA tech­nol­o­gy, with the main ben­e­fit that it won’t need third par­ty tech­nol­o­gy to be installed on the client.

So again, I expect IAs to be involved in more and more acces­si­bil­i­ty-relat­ed dis­cus­sions. Acces­si­bil­i­ty is one of many design val­ues that go in a user expe­ri­ence. These val­ues should be pri­ori­tised for each project. Some might even put acces­si­bil­i­ty above usabil­i­ty. IAs could do worse than edu­cate them­selves on some acces­si­bil­i­ty basics.

This is the fifth and final post on themes spot­ted dur­ing the Euro IA Sum­mit 2006. The first post was on strat­e­gy, the sec­ond on social search, the third on process & deliv­er­ables and the fourth on involv­ing the client. My first post-sum­mit post can be found here.

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Kars Alfrink

Kars is a designer, researcher and educator focused on emerging technologies, social progress and the built environment.

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