UK Museums on the Web, Part the Sixth

Accessible digital culture: past, present and future
Helen Petrie and Christopher Power, Human Computer Interaction Research Group, Department of Computer Science, University of York, Chaired by Marcus Weissen.

This presentation provided the linking bridge between the MCG Conference and the Jodi Awards. Presented both in English and BSL, the discussion centred around challenging and empowering methods in which digital media can be used to engage all, including sometimes marginalised communities.

Accessibility for those with disabilities and older people is often something that is tacked on at the end. But what about seeing it as a positive challenge?

In the mid noughties there was a huge interest in the potential as digital culture as an inclusive tool. The Web Content Accessibility Guidlines was produced much earlier, and the Disability Rights Commission Formal Investigation between 2003-2005 found a significant lack in websites. Culture Online and the MLA promoted accessibility as part of their mandates, so there is knowledge, experience and potential.

A new study of Web Accessibility is starting. Interestingly, in the commercial sector, the situation seems not to have improved. As technology develops, accessibility becomes an increasingly complex issue. The law in relation to web accessibility has not yet been used successfully. How can we keep accessibility in the arena in the world of the rapidly changing, sensory, semantic web? What is being asked of us in working in digital accessibility?

Perhaps there is a new burst of creativity. Martha Lane Fox has been appointed as the Chairman of a Digital Inclusion Task Force. What else can be done and what does this mean? The Eurpoean Commission is continuing to push for eAccessibility. The old WCAG aged and was not reflective of the changes in technology. Officially WCAG 2.0 was released in December last year. But very few people are using it. Why? Is it harder to use? It is certainly different, both in form and content and there are a significant number of criticisms of it that I am not going to go into here. I'm sure you can find them yourselves.

We need, as a community, to start testing the technologies that we are interested in. It isn't all doom - we are gaining a new insight into what accessibility actually means. And what it means is: Who is the audience and what do they want? What does it really mean to adapt our content- whatever that content is? Through the development of accessibility networks, such as the EC's eAccessibility, we can begin to work towards this goal.

Museums are meaning makers, amongst other things, and they embed their meaning and content in technologies. It is this meaning which is the crucial content - and it must be communicated to all, in all possible and suitable ways. It is a hard task. Because meaning is so individual, we cannot hope to present exactly the same meaning to all people, but through personalisation we can enable them to make the richest, deepest meanings that they can.


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