W3C, WAI and all things accessibility – 2016 year in review

For me, 2016 has been a remarkable year and a year of great change both professionally and personally. Yet with great changes there are also great opportunities, and in my opinion the developments in accessibility throughout 2016 are reflective of some notable changes and the start of some great things to come.

Before moving on to the global accessibility trends we’ve seen this year, I would like to acknowledge one such change a little closer to home. Media Access Australia’s inaugural CEO Alex Varley left mid-year after 10 years of hard work supporting the access needs of people with disabilities.

While I have missed Alex’s dedication, mentoring support and politically incorrect humour, this change has definitely led to an opportunity with the appointment of new CEO Manisha Armin. I’ve really enjoyed working with Manisha as the accessibility work continues and I look forward to supporting Media Access Australia in 2017.

 

W3C WAI – LOTS HAPPENING AND LOTS COMING UP

 

In my opinion, one of the most significant things coming out of the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is the fantastic Web Accessibility Perspectives videos which provide a number of excellent examples of how people with disabilities use the web. In the past, it’s often been hard to find professional and specific examples of the web in action by people with disabilities and this resource has been a tremendous addition.

Other areas where WAI has been busy this year actually stem from last year – the adoption of the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 2.0. As software developers started to ensure compliance to ATAG 2.0 during 2016 there’s been a noticeable improvement in the accessibility of authoring tools. On a personal note, I’ve been particularly excited to see its direct impact through the work of a PhD candidate that I’m co-supervising who is making good use of ATAG 2.0 in the evaluation method process. While ATAG 2.0 arrived with relatively little fanfare in 2015, I suspect that it’ll be 2016 which will be remembered as the start of its impact.

More recently, there have also been updates to the Techniques for WCAG 2.0 and Understanding WCAG 2.0 which helps to determine the relevance of the ageing standard in relation to the modern web. And for auditors, the WCAG-EM Report Tool: Website Accessibility Evaluation Report Generator has recently been updated providing guidance on how to structure an audit report based on a five-step evaluation method process.

Another great development is the ongoing evolution to the WAI-ARIA Graphics Accessibility API Mappings. This is likely to have a significant impact on the improvement in the support of assistive technology underpinnings in graphics and it will be interesting to see the outcome of the continuing work in this area.

 

AUSTRALIA NOW HAS AN ACCESSIBLE PROCUREMNT POLICY – WE THINK

 

Arguably one of the biggest headline-grabbing accessibility news locally has then the announcement of Australia introducing an accessibility policy relating to public procurement. This announcement offers significant potential across many areas including likely new employment opportunities within government for people with disabilities, the ability for Australia to avoid being a dumping ground for inaccessible tech, and the ability to finally catch up to other countries such as the USA that have had similar policies legislated since 1998. The only catch is that the announcement was remarkably light on detail and while it’s believed the agreement is largely based on similar European Union procurement policies, disability groups are keen to find out when it will actually be rolled out, along with specific information as to its inclusions, and hope that there’s no devil in the detail.

 

AUGMENTED REALITY ENTERS THE MAINSTREAM

 

Moving to the consumer space and it’s hard to talk about 2016 in terms of technology without mentioning Pokémon Go. As highlighted in an earlier column, there’s no doubting it is a great game, and for most people, it’s the first time that augmented reality has been experienced on their mobile device. Yet accessibility in the game was largely elusive and highlighted the importance of making sure that as new and innovative games appear, accessibility is a part of the conversation and implementation.

 

THE YEAR OF CONNECTED ‘THINGS’

 

Perhaps one of the things 2016 will be best remembered for in tech is the first time the Internet of Things (IoT) began to be embraced by mainstream consumers, particularly in the form of digital assistants like the Amazon Echo and more recently Google Home. While it’s still early days in this space, the accessibility potential of being able to use an app on an accessible device or digital assistant to do things around the home or office has great potential. It will be fascinating to see how Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon – and perhaps a new player yet to be revealed – will make this another essential integration of technology in our lives.

 

BIG THINGS HAPPENING IN 2017

 

So as we move into a year of new tech and as it turns out a Trump Presidency, what should we keep an eye on in terms of accessibility developments in 2017? An important area to watch out for is WCAG 2.1 and WCAG 3.0. To quote the W3C in its’ recently completed WCAG 2.1 call for comments:

“WCAG remains relevant nearly a decade after finalization. Technology has, however, evolved in new directions. For instance, the widespread use of mobile devices with small screens and primarily touch-based user input methodologies has led to challenges making content that conforms to WCAG 2.0 accessible on those devices. Technology evolution makes it possible to meet the needs of more users, and users with low vision, or with cognitive, language, or learning disabilities see new benefits that should be better represented in guidelines. Further, the increasing role of the web in our lives means technologies such as digital books, payment systems, driverless vehicles, etc. now need to be addressed by web accessibility guidelines.”

Importantly, WCAG 2.1 is not a replacement for WCAG 2.0, but rather a tweaking to make it clear as to how WCAG 2 applies to areas such as app development. It is possible to apply WCAG 2.0 to apps right now, but I think most accessibility specialists will agree that it’ll be great to have specific clarity around this in the not-too-distant future. WCAG 3.0 on the other hand, is very much a long-term project. As we look at things like augmented reality and the Internet of Things I’ve briefly discussed above, it’s important that in the long-term, WCAG is able to cater for these and other emerging technologies.

Something else I’m looking forward to in 2017 is hopefully making a contribution to W3C through the W3C Research Questions Task Force (RQTF). The RQTF has only just been established and it will aim to investigate and report on research questions identified in consultation with the APA Working Group. This will help the APA Working Group to address accessibility knowledge gaps and barriers in emerging and future web technologies, including, in particular, those technologies which are under review by APA. It’s very early days, but I am hoping it’ll be an avenue to make more of a contribution to WAI processes going forward.

Also going forward is the next intake of the Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility course that I co-teach, which is run in partnership with the University of South Australia and Media Access Australia. The course has been running for five years now and I’m looking forward to my continued involvement in 2017 to help ICT professionals incorporate web accessibility into their work practices.

In addition, the super big thing in accessibility for me in 2017 is the arrival of the WWW2017 and Web for All (W4A) 2017 conferences to my home city of Perth, Australia after being part of the successful bid to bring it over here three years ago. It’s amazing to think that its almost here and if you have the opportunity to come along, I’d strongly encourage you to do so, as it’s a rare treat to get a conference of this scale coming to Australia.

 

AND FINALLY…MY BOOK

 

Last but not least, I can’t write a piece on 2016 without mentioning my recently published book ‘Outrunning the Night: a life journey of disability, determination and joy’. The book is written to be a memoir with a purpose – to support people with disabilities, and their parents or carers.  There are several formats available including paperback, Kindle and audio book with further details being available on the book’s website www.outrunningthenight.com.

 

THANK YOU

 

With 2016 almost over, I’d like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank you for reading this column and for your ongoing support. Reading back through my other end-of-year wrap-ups it’s remarkable how things continue to improve for people with disabilities. While we haven’t yet solved all the access problems of the world yet, it’s exciting to see so many people working on so many things that ultimately make things in my life, and the lives of people with disabilities worldwide, that little bit easier to reach our full potential. I hope you have a wonderful break over the Christmas and new year period. Kind regards, Scott.