For Accessibility and Inclusion, More Focus on Content and Functionality is Needed

On July 16th, 2013 a speaker at the FCC highlighted a key approach to ensuring inclusive online design.  As part of the FCC’s new Accessibility and Innovation Speaker Series Clayton Lewis, Professor of Computer Science and Fellow of the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Colorado, spoke on “The Future of Inclusive Design Online”  The presentation is online here (captioned video) with text version online here.  The event was attended by about fifty people at FCC HQ, in addition to more attending via the Internet.  Attendees included many from government and industry, in addition to consumers with disabilities and other interested persons.

Professor Lewis’s presentation highlighted developments in technology and how they are working to ensure accessibility for people with functional needs through providing opportunities for superior access.  However, he noted that “We have accessibility problems everywhere today because people are creating presentations rather than content.”  He  pointed out that most forms of technology today have shifted to presenting things in a pretty, visual, and stylistic way.

He posited that a way to ensure accessibility is if the focus is less on how it looks and more on its content and functionality; that’s a way to better ensure inclusion and accessibility for all.  One example he provided was in regard to a game that uses color representation and if it is only presented by use of colors, that it cannot be accessible for some. The right direction is to look at the purpose of the game.  Is it merely to move color pieces around?  No, behind the visual makeup of the game is a strategy that has nothing to do with the actual colors;  it is this focus on the content and function of the color pieces that will allow for more accessibility and inclusion. 

Lewis also noted that in regard to making websites accessible, that"(software) commands can traverse the logical structure of program, not just layout order", as a way to ensure more accessibility in the background of the technology.  In summary, Lewis hammered the point that we need to shift from pretty presentations to delivering the content. 

 Lewis' presentation provided an overview on accessibility and inclusion in topics such as:

  • the shift from accessing a presentation of content in a particular form such as a web page, to accessing the underlying content through a program that can render it in a different form, such as an audio summary;
  • the shift from mass production to personalized customization of content;
  • the development of tools that allow individuals with disabilities to be producers as well as consumers of content; and
  • the design of policies that make these things possible.

 The event included demonstrations of accessible technology solutions by several companies Deque Systems, Frameweld, SSB Bart Group and the FCC's Software Development Kit used in its Accessibility Clearinghouse.