Bloor Accessibility Survey highlights need for continuing research

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2009 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Bloor Research’s Accessibility Practice, in conjunction with HeadStar and Ability Magazine, have just completed a survey of attitudes to ICT accessibility.

The survey was carried out in response to a heightened awareness of the need for accessibility brought about by court cases, such as Target in the US, new standards, such as WCAG 2.0, increased pressure from governments to make e-gov accessible to all, and the on-going ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

These legislative drivers are being complemented by the realisation that, in the economic slowdown we are living through, organisations need to reach out to as wide a customer base as possible. Two ways of doing this are:

  • Improving your brand image by being seen to be taking your social responsibilities seriously.
  • Making your products and services reach out to a wider audience by including the specific needs of the young, the old, the underprivileged, people with disabilities as well as the cash-rich, time-poor.

In this light, accessibility is one, significant, part of a larger drive that comes under the title of inclusivity, or design for all. If ICT systems are going to be available to the widest possible audience then this must include making them accessible to people with disabilities. The process for designing for people with disabilities will highlight requirements that will help a much wider audience. For example, ease of navigation of a web site is essential to a person using a screen reader or a dictation system; the extra care put into the structure of the site will benefit other groups such as those who have not used computers before or those who have time pressures.

The survey investigated the current and planned status of organisations’ ICT systems and then identified the drivers for accessibility, the barriers that were slowing down the implementation of accessible systems, and what needs to be done by the industry to remove these barriers. This information will be used to suggest and drive improvements and new functions in the products and services available to organisations.

The survey shows that the level of commitment to accessibility varies dramatically, with the bottom fifth of those surveyed showing little interest or future plans. Although all industrial sectors showed a considerable variance, the public sector in general was more committed and had plans to improve further. This is not surprising as Section 508 in the USA, and the Disability Equality Duty in the UK are aimed at this sector. Further, the public sector has a duty to serve all the population, be inclusive, whereas the private sector does not see accessibility as a duty.

The survey asked about the major drivers for accessibility. Meeting legal requirements and enhancing corporate social responsibility ratings were both rated strong or very strong drivers by 70% of the respondents, whereas only about 15% rated increased revenue or reduced cost as a driver. This suggests one area of further research is the creation of business cases for accessibility.

Besides a list of suggested drivers the survey asked for other suggestions, the answers were then grouped and the big players were: “it is just the right thing to do” and “lead by example” but also more pragmatic reasons came up such as “makes test automation easier”, “improves search engine optimisation”.

The survey then asked about barriers to implementation, legacy systems not being accessible and lack of budget, where each were quoted by 40% of respondents as strong or very strong barriers. This suggests that providing tools for improving the accessibility of legacy systems could be an interesting business opportunity. Surprisingly, less than a quarter quoted lack of understanding or inadequacy of tools as a barrier.

Finally the survey asked an open question “Suggest one improvement to accessibility support”. This question was also asked at the recent eAccess 09 conference and both came up with many interesting suggestions but one of the main themes was a need to increase awareness of the issues, barriers and benefits of accessibility across all the stakeholders: users, procuring departments, IT at all levels in the organisations. A particular example was quoted of this problem where a government department was promoting accessible ICT to local businesses when at the same time another department was promoting a solution to the same business that was not accessible. Other suggestions included better, easier-to-use, testing tools and products that were accessible out-of-the-box.

Based on the results of the survey the Bloor Accessibility Practice will continue to:

  • Investigate tools for testing and development.
  • Look at the accessibility of packaged applications.
  • Work to increase the awareness of accessibility.
  • Promote standards, guidelines and legislation.

The full results of the survey will be published on the Bloor website in early July. Continuing research will be published on a regular basis via our accessibility microsite.