Discover new ways of thinking about accessibility

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As an employee of the W3C Web standards organization, you might think that I would say the most important thing to start with when addressing web accessibility is standards. I don't. I say the first step is learning how people with disabilities use the web. You might be surprised to learn that is the W3C's advice. We've now got it more clearly in writing, in the new document published today by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI):
Involving Users in Web Projects for Better, Easier Accessibility
and the updated related document Involving Users in Evaluating Web Accessibility.

We're excited about these and other documents on the perspectives of users — specifically users with disabilities and older users — coming soon as part of WAI-AGE Project funded by the European Commission. People with disabilities have long known that direct experiences are a key input to the standardization process and to successful implementation of standards. Understanding the experiences of older users is becoming an important issue for many projects. These documents help project managers, developers, and designers better include users' experiences throughout their work.

When designers and developers see people with disabilities use products like theirs, most are highly motivated by a new understanding of accessibility. Rather than seeing accessibility as only a checklist item, the real-life experience shows the human side of accessibility. Designers and developers understand the opportunity for their work to impact lives.

It also broadens your perspective in a way that can lead you to discover new ways of thinking about your product that will make it work better for more people in more situations.

The Involving Users docs start with several ways that involving people with disabilities from the beginning of a project helps you better understand accessibility issues and implement more effective accessibility solutions. The docs provide pointers on:

  • Finding a range of users
  • Working with users
  • Analyzing accessibility issues
  • Drawing conclusions and reporting
  • Notes for usability professionals
  • Combining user involvement with standards <-note this important section in each document.

While the evaluation document is mostly for those developing websites, web applications, browsers, assistive technologies (AT), and authoring tools; the main Involving Users document also addresses those developing standards and policies for accessibility, and those developing any web technologies or technical specifications.

We hope that the Involving Users documents help you realize the benefits of involving people with disabilities in your web projects. Please share your experiences, and your suggestions for the documents: the WAI Interest Group (WAI IG) hosts a public discussion e-mail list; comments on specific documents are collected through the publicly-archived list; and we'll watch for comments to this blog post. Thanks! ~Shawn

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