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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): Markku Häkkinen


Research, Guidance


The Research and Development Working Group has a well-defined responsibility for sharing current knowledge and identifying gaps in knowledge of web accessibility.

It also has an additional responsibility, which is defined in the RDWG charter, to promote best practice for researchers. This includes:

  • researchers working directly in web accessibility,
  • researchers working in other areas where their work has potential benefit for people with disabilities who use the web.

Providing guidance on accessibility-aware research helps make sure that researchers most effectively consider the needs of people with disabilities in the research they do. It can also provide a valuable reference for organisations that fund or support research.

However, without this guidance, there is a danger that potentially valuable research in web technology could lead to issues for people with disabilities. For example:

  • Research that presents a solution to an apparent accessibility problem, but has been carried out without appropriate background research to understanding the nature of the problem. The result is that 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. This may lead to emerging web technologies that lack accessibility support and need to be retrofitted in order to be accessible

This document aims to provide a succinct, publicly available, and contemporary guide that is available to individuals and organisations that carry out, support or are otherwise involved in research to consult for guidance on ensuring the research they do or support is accessibility-aware.


This document provides advice on a range of topics relating to research that has implications for web accessibility

  • Understanding Web Accessibility and how people with disabilities use the Web
  • Understanding the implications of research innovation to people with disabilities
  • Conducting research with people with disabilities
  • Reporting research in an inclusive way

Understanding Web accessibility

This section provides resources for researchers looking to learn more about web accessibility, including how people with disabilities use the Web and the challenges they face, and the technologies and tools available to web content authors to help them create accessible web content.

  • 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)
  • Data structures - do they accommodate user diversity? for example alternatives for non-text content
  • 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

Involving people with disabilities is vital in order to understand a problem space and to evaluate proposed solutions.

  • 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

Reporting the output of research activity in an accessible way helps ensure that everyone can learn about the impact of research, including people with disabilities.

  • 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)

Discussion (temporary section)

Some points for discussion include:


What topics should and should not be covered?

The above structure 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 more limited knowledge of accessibility issues (whether researchers or representatives from organisations supporting research, such as funding agencies).
  • 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.