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Tips for Accessibility-Aware Research

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This page outlines a proposed RDWG publication providing guidance to technology researchers in considering accessibility appropriately in their work. The deliverable would be an RDWG publication that is not related to any research symposium.


Page author: David Sloan Other contact(s):


Research, Guidance


In addition to a responsibility for sharing current knowledge and identifying gaps in knowledge of web accessibility, RDWG has an additional responsibility, defined in the RDWG charter, to promote best practice for researchers working directly in accessibility, and also to encourage other researchers working in fields that have potential impact on people with disabilities who use the web.

WIthout this guidance, there is a danger that potentially valuable research in web technology could lack an appreciation of the impact of the research output on people with disabilities. For example:

  • Research may present a solution to an apparent accessibility problem, without appropriate research to understanding the nature of the problem, and the solution is of only limited practical use
  • Research that leads to the development of new languages, frameworks, design patterns, without due consideration of accessibility needs, may lead to emerging web technologies that need to be retrofitted in order to be accessible

The author is unaware of a succinct, publicly available, contemporary guide that researchers can consult for guidance on ensuring the research they do is accessibility-aware; this resource aims to fill this gap.


The description provided for this deliverable in the RDWG charter is:

"Start-up tips and basic guidance for researchers for incorporating accessibility considerations into their research designs, to be published as a W3C Working Group Note."

A possible outline of topics that this resource could cover is listed below. Note that in many cases, the proposed document will be a reference to existing WAI resources, particularly those providing a background on web accessibility. This document will effectively serve as another route into that content.

For Web researchers needing to understand the accessibility field

  • Understanding the Web Accessibility stack (AT, Accessibility API, User Agent, DOM) and responsibilities of each layer in the stack
  • Key accessibility issues encountered by people with disabilities and how AT plays a role in helping them
  • Principles of information that needs to be exposed through the stack to enable accessible interactions to take place
  • Understanding the roles and responsibilities of the WAI model of accessibility (content, user agent, authoring tool)
  • Understanding the socio-technical challenges that may prevent web users from having the appropriate browsing/AT set-up
  • Understanding how researchers' own work can have positive impact on people with disabilities; and identifying potential pitfalls

Understanding the implications of accessibility to research innovation

Research activity that is not directly accessibility-focused can lead to significant benefits for people with disabilities. At the same time, if the needs of people with disabilities are not considered at different stages of research, there is a danger that resulting innovations may be inaccessible to some people. Accessibility considerations need to take place early and throughout the program of research.

Areas to consider:

  • User interface design of innovations (input and output mechanisms)
  • Datasets - do they accommodate user diversity?
  • Other?

Examples, use cases etc to illustrate when accessibility is considered appropriately (and when it is not?).

One example is: Media Accessibility User Requirements

Conducting research with people with disabilities

  • Participatory research, inclusive research - effective involvement of people with disabilities throughout research
  • modifying research methods to include people with specific accessibility needs or circumstances, for example people with severe physical and communication disabilities; working with older people
  • Challenges of experimental design, data collection and analysis
  • Representing users; use of "proxy users"; use of remote evaluation

Reporting research in an inclusive way

  • Conferences, journal papers that publish accessibility research
  • Other routes to publicising research with accessibility impact
  • Practical tips for communicating research findings in an accessible way (accessible PDF, HTML; accessible conference presentations)


[Additional background on the subject matter]


Some points for discussion include:


What topics should and should not be covered?

The description provides a starter list, but perhaps more topics could be included; some may be considered out of scope?

Guide format

  • How long should the resource be?
  • How should it be structured, given that there are two key audiences - those who are working in the accessibility field, and should be aware to some extent at least of current literature and the problems that need solving, and those who have little to know knowledge of accessibility issues.
  • How should the knowledge be presented? Frequently asked question style? Lists of "do this", "don't do this" tips?


  • Dickinson, A., Arnott, J., and Prior, S. (2007). Methods for Human-Computer Interaction Research with Older People. Behaviour and Information Technology, 26(4), 343-352.
  • Prior, S. (2011) Towards the Full Inclusion of People with Severe Speech and Physical Impairments in the Design of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Software. PhD Thesis, University of Dundee: UK.
  • Sears, A. and Hanson, V. 2011. Representing users in accessibility research. Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference on Human factors in computing systems, (Vancouver, Canada, May, 2011). CHI'11. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2235-2238.