First European e-Accessibility Forum

The First European e-Accessibility Forum in Paris was organized on January 29th by the French accessibility initiative BrailleNet in cooperation with the European Design for All e-Accessibility Network (EDeAN). Some 270 participants attended the conference. The proceedings and presentations are now online. There were some remarkable presentations and a couple of things I would like to share with you. Since I won’t comment on every presentation please check the proceedings papers — there might be some treasures like “Accessible Banking” that are more relevant to your work than mine. ;-)


Richard Schwerdtfeger works for IBM and is a member of the W3C WAI and the HTML working group, among others. I assume he had been invited because the organizers only knew him for having developed IBM Home Page Reader back in the 1990ies. But his current work involves the W3C working drafts for Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) and other core technologies that his team developed in cooperation with vendors of Assistive Technologies (AT, e.g. screen readers) and the Mozilla Foundation.

There’s a paradigm shift in the usability and accessibility of Web 2.0 applications. ARIA adds meaning, importance, relationships, fills the gaps in (X)HTML, and increases usability for all users through familiar navigation models from desktop applications.

From Marian Oosting ( I learned about DAISY. It’s a library standard mostly used for talking books for the blind. Based on MP3 and the W3C XML standard SMIL, it combines strong compression with superior navigational features. Quite intriguing to use that format for audio books, and since 2006 it’s becoming available and more attractive for non-disabled users. For example, talking books are quite popular with elderly people who constitute about 60-80% of public library users.

In his presentation Chris Heilmann (Yahoo!) emphasized the need to ask people with impairments because they use assistive technologies in other ways than a non-disabled developer might foresee. Don’t assume, integrate their advice!

Miguel González-Sancho (European Commission, Information Society Directorate General) presented the European programs for e-Accessibility, e-Aging, and e-Inclusion. ICT is becoming essential for socio-economic participation, yet 40% of the European population is left behind. Functional limitations and disabilities increase due to aging. About 20% or 100 million of the European population is concerned. Thus accessibility is gaining relevance and becomes a social imperative.

In “Web Accessibility in the Future” Michael Cooper (W3C WAI) was rather giving the big picture and avoided to announce a release date for WCAG 2.0. Although the updated version will definitely play an important role in the future of accessibility, so does the development of a common Accessibility API or authoring interfaces that generate accessible content (ATAG). Think of user contributed content where the authors are usually unaware of accessibility requirements. Moreover, professionalization of accessible design, programming, and manual and semi-automated evaluation will gain importance. We must keep an open eye on developing technologies (MathML?, Second Life?), advocate accessibility in early stages, and keep accessibility awareness in legislation and society.

Dominique Hazaël-Massieux (W3C Mobile Web Initiative) talked about the mobile web, of course. There are more mobile phones than computers, they are cheap, and about 80% of the world population has mobile network coverage. Mobile access is everywhere, will become ubiquitous. There are some limitations like the tiny screen, the lack of a proper keyboard, diversity is large and access slow. In fact mobile and impaired users have so many challenges in common that Dominique estimates an accessible website already meets half the requirements of the Mobile Web Best Practices. Bad news for militant accessibility advocates who keep emphasizing the differences between accessibility, universal access and device independence.

Dave Wilton from the large British financial services supplier Legal & General gave some real world examples why it literally pays to become accessible:

There are nine million people with disabilities in the UK. If 1% just bought a £300 policy, his company will make £27 million: “The cost of making the site accessible pales into insignificance.” If people can’t buy from Legal & General, they will go to their competitors. In surveys, helpdesk and logfile analyses they found 10% of their visitors don’t make it past the home page. That’s equivalent to slamming the door into the faces of 20,000 visitors each month. 30% never open a PDF file. Besides, every third Briton is older than 50, and as we have heard before, the incidence of disabilities increase with age. There are not only people with cognitive impairments, but also 3 million people who speak English as a second language, 1.5 million people lacking basic language skills, and 5.2 million adults who have sub-GCSE level English.

Next time somebody tells you “disabled people are not our target group” show ‘em these results:

  • Online traffic surged with a 50% increase in natural search engine listings.
  • The number of visitors receiving quotes increased by 100% within three months.
  • The new content management system cut site maintenance costs by 66% with an annual saving of £200k.
  • Without changing products or prices, conversion rates improved substantially, ranging between 26% and 300% increase with an average of 200% (something Jakob Nielsen seconds).
  • The entire project delivered 100% return-on-investment (ROI) within just 12 months.
  • Customer satisfaction was improved (not one accessibility complaint!)
  • It was great PR!

Comments are closed.