Welcome to UKOLN's Cultural Heritage blog. This blog was launched in early 2009 in order to complement UKOLN's range of services for the cultural heritage sector and provide a dissemination channel as well as a forum for discussions and debate.
The blog was archived on 31 March 2011. No further posts will be published.
The Winners of the UK Jodi Awards 2010 for accessible digital culture were announced on 1st December 2010 at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh. Some some thirty delegates from many parts of Scotland had braved the snow to attend the event and the ‘Doing Digital Sensibly’ seminar about digital inclusion. The event was jointly organised by Digital Access Scotland, the Jodi Mattes Trust, the Scottish Archive Network, National Archives of Scotland, Museums Galleries Scotland and the Scottish Libraries and Information Council.
Commendation for Digital Access onsite: Medicine at the Movies (http://www.youtube.com/user/UKMCG), a partnership of six museums, including the Thackray Museum, the British Dental Association Museum and the George Marshall Medical Museum.
The importance of providing access to digital cultural heritage resources and service for people with disabilities is widely acknowledged. WAI, the Web Accessibility Initiative, has developed a set of guidelines for Web content (WCAG), authoring tools (ATAG) and user agents (UAAG) which can help enhance access to people with disabilities.
These guidelines, however, do not address a number of real world challenges which cultural heritage organisations will face. They do not consider the resource costs of implementing the guidelines, the failures of the marketplace to provide affordable tools for use by user communities and the difficulties in migrating from existing enterprise systems. In addition there is a lack of evidence of the relevance of WCAG guidelines – indeed various guidelines provided in WCAG 1.0 have been dropped from WCAG 2 (and it is too early to have gathered evidence on the relevance of WCAG 2.0 guidelines). In addition to these factors regarding the guidelines themselves, the WAI approach fails to acknowledge the context of use of the Web service and the increasing importance of personalised interfaces.
Despite these reservations, the value of WAI should not be underestimated. The challenge for institutions is to develop policies on how the WAI guidelines (and other relevant guidelines on best practices for enhancing access top Web resources) can be implemented in a organisational context, which may require compromises to be made. Such challenges will today include a need to consider the impact of the credit crunch and the likelihood of decreased levels of funding for many public sector organisations.
I was the lead author of a paper entitled “From Web Accessibility to Web Adaptability“, published in the Disability and Rehability: Assistive Technology Journal which summarised the challenges of implementing WCAG guidelines and described an approach, called Web adaptability, which provided a context for use of the guidelines.
Access to the paper is currently restricted due to copyright reasons. However a blog post has been published which summarises the approaches describes in the paper. In addition a presentation based on the paper was given recently at the RNIB’s Techshare 2009 conference.
In addition a slidecast of a rehearsal of the talk, containing an audio channel which is synchronised with the PowerPoint slides, is available on the Slideshare service and is also embedded below.
The video and slidecast themselves provide an example of a pragmatic and user-focussed approach to the provision of digital resources. Although the video is not captioned and the images in the slides may not have alternative text, it is felt that providing access to these resources can enhance access to people with disabilities (people who attended the talk who may have found it difficult to understand the content and required additional time to absorb the ideas and people who may not have been able to attend due to mobility constraints, for example) as well as enhancing access more widely.
Indeed a question may be asked: “Could a failure to provide such video and audio recordings of talks be regarded as an infringement of accessibility legislation?” – after all the legislation talks about organisations taking reasonable measures to ensure that people with disabilities aren’t discriminated against unfairly.
If you are considering the risks of being sued for providing innovative services which may not conform with WCAG guidelines you should also consider the risks of failing to use such services, if the services provide a richer environment for some of your users.
Over the last few years there has been an emphasis on inclusion within public services for people with physical and/or sensory impairments. The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was brought in to support this, but public services such as archives, libraries and museums also need information and advice on how to achieve inclusion effectively. Sometimes funding is needed (for modifying buildings, say) but sometimes it’s more about staff training, different furniture layouts, more readable signage, accessible Web sites and creative thinking on activities.
So what else is there? Well, looking around the site, I found not only guidance for libraries on setting up reading groups to include people with sight loss, but also information on the RNIB’s own Telephone Book Clubs – which I didn’t know about. And there are a couple of 30 minute briefings (based on Word document downloads) you can use to run training sessions for your staff. Under Helping the Reader there is a case study section, and the site also includes a forum where people can add their own ideas, ask questions and start discussions.
Some areas don’t have a lot of content at the moment – there is only one case study – but the idea is that it will build up over time using input from the forum. So if you are doing something interesting, then join the forum and let other people know what you are up to. In that way they’ll be able to build up the site into a really useful resource.