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Web Accessibility and Usability Conference, Johannesburg, 13 May 2010

News!– Web Accessibility and Usability Workshop held in Johannesburg

2010-06-13:The W3C Southern African Office recently participated in a Web Accessibility and Usability conference held on 13 May 2010 at the Johannesburg War Museum. Web Accessibility is a very important subject in South Africa given the Promulgation of Information Act whereby "South Africa's Constitution gives every person the right of access to information, held by a public or private body, that is required for the exercise or protection of any right." Furthermore South Africa was one of the first countries to ratify the UN Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This convention promotes state parties to encourage "access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet." Thus a huge responsibility rests on the shoulders of Webmasters and Web Developers to ensure that these are implemented on their websites. The Web Accesibility and Usability Conference aimed to bring together Web Developers and Practitioners to share experiences of how to take these policies from "recommendations" into practice.

The event was organised by Mr Nigel Brown of Classic Exhibitions and Conferences, and consisted of about 25 participants organised in a workshop-like environment. The presenters, apart from the W3C Southern African Office, included those Web Developers who have gone through the exercise of developing websites that conforms to the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0/2.0 (WCAG 1.0/2.0). What came out of the talks was that each developer had to go through the effort themselves of reading the guidelines, interpreting it and then finally implementing it on their websites. There was no Best Practices guideline or Accessibility training available to them that they can use to ease their effort of ensuring Accessibility on their website. Thus different "interpretations" were presented. There were those who developed 2 different websites (one with the "fancy bells and whistles" and one that were simpler and conformed to Accessibility Standards) and then switched between the two depending on the user that accessed the website. There were those that developed websites solely based on the WCAG 1.0 guidelines, and there were those who went the extra mile beyond the guidelines and even added sign language to their adaptive website. One of the most interesting presentations was the one that related the experience of users accessing websites via their mobile phones. It showed that illiterate users could access websites such as mobile banking sites, based on word-form recognition, and that accessible websites hold advantages even for these mobile users.

The message from the conference was clear. Web Accessibility is an extremely important consideration for Web Developers and it holds many advantages of creating simpler and more effective websites. However, in South Africa, not many websites conform to these guidelines and a lot of developers still require help and training in developing accessible websites.

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The W3C Southern Africa Regional Office is hosted by the CSIR Meraka Institute.