Article: Exploring perceptions of web accessibility: A survey approach

Citation: Yesilada, Y., Brajnik, G., Vigo, M., & Harper, S. (2015). Exploring perceptions of web accessibility: A survey approach. Behaviour & Information Technology, 34(2): 119-134.

Yesilada et al. note that definitions of accessibility vary due to the “constantly evolving” nature of the field and the various sub-fields within it (p. 119). As the authors found in a previous study, “misunderstanding [of] accessibility definitions, language, and terms might cause tension between different groups,” leading to difficulties. This study, consisting of a survey of over 300 people “with an interest in accessibility” (p. 121) is the authors’ way of addressing the issue in the hopes of enabling more useful communication within the field.

The study was carried out via a survey distributed by several accessibility-related mailing lists and which asked participants to provide demographic information about themselves; to rank five different definitions of accessibility and/or write their own definition; and to agree or disagree with statements regarding web accessibility (p. 121).

The definitions used in the study are excerpted here from the web survey used, which is still available online:

  1. Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web. More specifically, Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web.
  2. Technology is accessible if it can be used as effectively by people with disabilities as by those without.
  3. The extent to which a product/website can be used by specified users with specified disabilities to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.
  4. A website is accessible if it is effective, efficient and satisfactory for more people in more situations.
  5. The removal of all technical barriers to effective interaction.


The bulk of the survey, however, was given over to the rating of statements about the purpose of accessibility, its drivers, and how to enact it. These statements can be categorised as follows:

  • Usability vs accessibility – Does accessibility relate to usability? (p. 122)
  • Audience of accessibility – Is accessibility concerned mostly with people who have disabilities, or a broader audience? (p. 122)
  • Legislature vs revenue – Is accessibility primarily driven by laws or effect on revenue? (p. 123)
  • Evaluation of accessibility – How can accessibility best be assessed? (p. 123-124)
  • Dynamic and contextual – How is accessibility affected by “pages that change and the context in which a page is experienced”? (p. 124)
  • Standard definition – Is one important? (p. 124)
  • Accessibility and user experience – What is the relationship between accessibility and the user experience? (p. 124-125)

The authors analyzed responses to these statements not only in aggregate, but by correlating responses with respondent’s self-reported demographics. Expertise—defined by the authors as whether or not respondents’ time spent working on accessibility and their years in the field (p. 126)—technical background, work sector, area of specialisation, and whether or not the participants were “in the trenches” or not all played a role in how respondents rated statements in the various areas.

Due to the sometimes extreme variation in responses based on respondent demographics, and based on overall responses to the statements, the authors argue that more needs to be done at the educational level to teach accessibility as “interrelated” to usability and user experience (p. 131).

One particularly interesting note is that those who work in the government sector or who work on accessibility issues regularly are more likely to support statements about accessibility benefiting a broader group of people. As the authors note, there is sufficient evidence “showing how accessibility is also about those living in the developing world” or who are otherwise socially disadvantaged (p. 132), suggesting that more studies are needed to make this clearer to those who are not practitioners.

Ultimately, the authors conclude that accessibility’s breadth and continuing evolution make communication challenging, and that more studies like their own—as well as an approach to education which takes the broader context of accessibility into account—are needed to fully address the problem.