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E-service accessibility

Julia Schofield Consultants Limited was formed in the UK in 1983 specialising in user-friendly interfaces to electronic services and training. The company has worked in the usability and accessibility area for over a decade specialising in the retail, health and government sectors.

Work was based initially on integrated kiosks but as web technology improved then cross channel services, especially in government, became key to the company.

In 1994 JSC started work on a series of medical information programmes aimed at patients and their relatives. These, by their nature, have to be designed so that they can be used by a wide audience of all ages, levels of reading ability etc. Four titles have been produced so far with a couple of others in development. Initially, these have been placed in hospital waiting areas around the U.K. and make extensive use of audio. JSC is now looking at how these can be made more widely available through the internet without sacrificing acessibility.

JSC's retail clients in the UK are beginning to show an interest in accessibility following recent announcements by the EU. The company offers a web site evaluation service which covers looking at the site in non-visual browsers, checking general design and usability and commenting on areas such as use of language and colour blindness. This service was started in Australia where accessibility legislation already exists.

In 1996, JSC was head hunted by the Victoria Government (Australia) to join a team designing, formalising and delivering their multi-channel (Internet, IVR and kiosk) citizen centric system, now called Maxi.

One of the early deliverables from the Victoria Government work was a set of internet and interface guidelines published as good practice for local industry and internationally "Use and Usability". This work in Australia led to further consultancy assignments with Telstra (the largest telecom company in Australia) which provides a mixture of private-sector and government services through a novel multimedia payphone for public access.

Telstra Multimedia Payphone

Telstra Multimedia Payphone

It was this work with Internet, kiosk and interactive voice response systems, that led to work in device independent tool creation and authoring.

JSC worked with Telstra on various aspects of multimedia payphone usability and smart card recognition and has now become well known for ‘life event’ model government applications. Demands of catering for all community groups across multiple delivery devices pose huge challenges for these systems, particularly in government where information is frequently very textual, long and not citizen focused.

JSC has also worked with Centrelink in Australia (a ‘one stop shop’ for a number of government department services) on strategy, interface design and an interactive presentation to assist with understanding of ‘life event’ models. JSC has worked in a similar fashion with the Hong Kong Government which is shortly to embark on a multi-channel delivery system.

Hong Kong Government site mockup

Hong Kong Government site mockup

Topics for the workshop

Experience shows that W3C guidelines provide syntactical access to non-visual browsers but do not address the more difficult issues of orientation and semantics. Publishers generally provide an accessible path through information as an afterthought to the visual design process, with this path now inescapably linked to the visual design. Navigating such a path without any prior experience of the visual structure can prove difficult, something that many designers will fail to realise during their testing process (if they even test this at all) since most testers already have the visual model in mind when doing non-visual tests.

Additionally, technology moves on and the guidelines have a danger of being used as standards thus stifling innovation and even decreasing usability for more complex and unusual sites. Add to this the issues of cross-channel delivery and for those who have to use results of this thinking there are many real shortcomings.

The topics JSC would like addressed are:

  1. Guidelines for real orientation information. Some kind of standardisation to the description of environment / layout should be considered. Simply ALT tagging everything does not make for an intuitive non-visual environment.
  2. Guidance for those who have never really thought about not seeing as to how better understanding should be provided (some ALT tags can be virtually meaningless).
  3. A methodology for innovators to quickly show their ideas and work so that access, improved so much initially by the WAI guidelines, is not now stifled by these being used as standards and not allowing new techniques to be proven and recognised.
  4. Use of audio, particularly for WAP and later multi-delivery sites, with what influences can be placed on tool developers to incorporate real accessibility possibilities into their development environments. Audio is a huge enabler for seniors, those without movement, people with poor language skills, etc. as well as the visually impared


JSC has three expectations:

  1. Generation of an informed forum to take accessibility forward not just having it driven through pressure groups.
  2. Contacts for multi-channel developments (particularly associated with large government sites).
  3. A recommendation as to how innovation is represented and not stifled by out of date guidelines or technology moving on.


JSC has considerable international experience of building sites with the content models that support these. It brings knowledge of using many accessible sites, the founder director is herself unable to see. JSC also brings key current issues, being involved in some of the largest UK and Australian developments, particularly for government.

Dr Julia Schofield
Julia Schofield Consultants Ltd
15 September 2000