April 11-14, 2007
San Francisco, California

Accessibility 2.0: A Holistic And User-Centred Approach To Web Accessibility

Brian Kelly, UKOLN, University of Bath, and Stephen Brown, De Montfort University, United Kingdom


How do museums ensure that the Web sites they provide are accessible? The consensus used to be that simply following the WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) WCAG guidelines would provide universal access to Web resources for people with disabilities. However the universal applicability of the guidelines is  increasingly being questioned. In this professional forum we invite participants to contribute to this debate. The facilitators will encourage feedback on:

  • The experiences the museum’s community has had in seeking to provide accessible Web sites
  • The strengths and weaknesses of the WAI guidelines.
  • The relationships between the accessibility, usability and interoperability of Web sites.
  • The relevance of the guidelines in a Web 2.0 environment.

The facilitators will describe work being carried out in the UK in the development of a holistic and user-focused approach to Web accessibility and invite comments on the applicability of this approach across a wider community.

In particular, the forum will outline a roadmap for further work in this area and invite feedback and seek consensus on ways of implementing activities in the future.

Keywords: accessibility, usability, interoperability, users, WAI

Notes For Participants

Participants at this professional forum will be invited to describe their experiences (including technical, policy and user issues) in developing accessible Web sites, although this will not be mandatory.

At the end of the professional forum participants should have:


The importance of accessibility of museum Web sites is well-understood. The W3C WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) guidelines provide a well-recognized and widely accepted approach which can help to ensure that Web resources can be accessed by people with disabilities.

However, experiences in use of WAI guidelines since they were released in 1999 is leading organisations to question their effectiveness. It has been argued that the low level of conformance with WAI guidelines is due not to a lack of willingness to provide accessible Web sites but to a realisation that the guidelines have their limitations and the WAI model has its flaws.

Such limitations are becoming even more apparent in a Web 2.0 environment which is providing a range of applications and uses of Web technologies not envisaged when the WAI guidelines were first released.

A new set of guidelines is being developed (WCAG 2.0) which seek to address some of the limitations of the existing guidelines. However, as has been pointed out by Joe Clarke in his "To Hell With WCAG 2.0" article, these guidelines themselves fail to address many of the concerns which have been raised, and have failed to acknowledge that other approaches to accessibility may provide legitimate ways of addressing the challenges of providing accessible solutions. Such limitations, however, do not mean that the guidelines need to be abandoned. Rather there is a need to make use of those guidelines which have been proven to be effective. In addition, there is a need to recognize that different contexts may require different solutions.

Such contexts may include:

Organisational Environment

The approaches taken in addressing the accessibility of a multimedia resource in a small museum with limited technical expertise may be different from that taken in a national museum with a large IT development team, due to the different levels of resources and technical expertise, for example.

The National Context

There will be a variety of legal systems affecting the expectations which may be set - and the threats associated with non-compliance. There will also be a variety of cultural-specific perceptions and definitions of terms such as 'accessibility' and 'disability'.

Context of Use

The approaches taken to address the accessibility of informational resources may be different from those taken in the provision of educational, cultural or entertainment services.

In this professional forum the facilitators will review the limitations of the WAI approach to accessibility and describe a model for accessibility which emphasizes the importance of addressing user needs holistically rather than simply applying a checklist.

Examples of a how this approach can be used in specific contexts will be given.

Cite as:

Kelly, B., and S. Brown, Accessibility 2.0: A Holistic And User-Centred Approach To Web Accessibility, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007 Consulted

Editorial Note