Article: Automatic web accessibility metrics: Where we are and where we can go

Citation: Vigo, M. & Brajnik, G. (2011). Automatic web accessibility metrics: Where we are and where we can go. Interacting with Computers 23: 137-155. Retrieved from

In this article, the authors study seven quantitative metrics for reviewing web accessibility to determine which are the most reliable for assessing web sites. As the authors note, despite conformance criteria like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and numerous automated conformance-checking tools, metrics can provide more detailed quality control when comparing multiple web sites or multiple iterations of the same web site (p. 137).

The authors explored different metrics using the following areas to determine which was of the highest quality:

  • Validity – “How well scores produced by a metric predict all and only the effects that real accessibility problems will have” and “how well scores mirror all and only the true violations” of conformance criteria like WCAG 2.0 (p. 138)
  • Reliability – Are the metrics consistent?
  • Sensitivity – Is the metric too sensitive to minor changes in accessibility level?
  • Adequacy – Does the metric report its findings in a consistent manner that can be adequately quantified?
  • Complexity – How many variables does the metric need to compute its scores, and/or do external tools exist to create the metric?

Out of a large number of metrics reviewed briefly, the authors analyzed the following automatic metrics:

Of the metrics analyzed, only WAQM, WAB, and PM fulfilled the validity criteria (p. 151), with the WAQM and WAB scoring slightly better than the PM metric in terms of adequacy (p. 154). The authors note that even these three metrics are less than idea, and suggest that researchers “focus more on quality aspects of accessibility metrics with the long-range goal” of improving them (p. 154).

Article: “Implementing recommendations from web accessibility guidelines: Would they also provide benefits to nondisabled users?”

Citation: Schmutz, S., Sonderegger, A., & Sauer, J. (2016). Implementing recommendations from web accessibility guidelines: Would they also provide benefits to nondisabled users? Human Factors 58(4): 611-629.

This article (published online earlier this month, before its print date in June) examines whether web sites which meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0are also more usable for non-disabled users. The authors provide a brief overview of WCAG and why accessibility is important, and suggest that whether or not accessible design has “adverse effects on nondisabled users” might play an important role in encouraging adoption (p. 612), pointing to a 2012 conference presentation which showed that empirical evidence was the most successful driver of accessible design.

To measure the effects of accessible design (as defined by WCAG) on users without disabilities, the authors modified an existing web site, creating one version which did not conform to WCAG standards, one which conformed to the WCAG’s A-level standards, and one which conformed its AA-level standards, and measuring the ability of sixty-one participants without any diagnosed disability to meet a number of tasks on the modified web sites (p. 614). The authors measured both task completion time and task completion rate (p. 618), ultimately determining that users were able to complete more tasks and to complete tasks more quickly when they were WCAG-conforming (p. 619)

In their discussion of the findings, the authors note that it was likely a “combination of changes” rather than a single WCAG criterion being met which improved overall usability, despite some of the criteria presumably having no effect on non-disabled users (p. 621-622). They point out that WCAG’s accessibility requirements in often cases are the same as good design principles in general, and that “beneficial effects of accessibility on nondisabled users” are perhaps unsurprising as a result (p. 622).

Ultimately, this article shows that accessible design on web sites can improve usability for nondisabled users. As the authors point out in their conclusion, AA conformance—the second-highest possible conformance to WCAG—was necessary for the biggest gains; however, meeting this level of conformance was “rather easy”, since it is not difficult to implement designs that meet the required criteria for AA conformance (p. 623).

It’s worth reiterating that the point of accessible design is not to make web sites easier to use for non-disabled users, but to enable the use of the web by users who are otherwise unable to access it.

However, given the persistent myth that accessible web sites are “ugly” and “expensive and difficult”, research which aims to empirically prove that accessible web sites are actually more usable than non-accessible ones—and easy to implement—is a welcome development.

Article: Applying a critical approach to investigate barriers to digital inclusion and online social networking among young people with disabilities

Citation: Newman, L., Browne-Yung, K., Raghavendra, P., Wood, D. & Grace, E. (2016). Applying a critical approach to investigate barriers to digital inclusion and online social networking among young people with disabilities. Information Systems Journal. (Note: page numbers given below refer to the PDF, as this article is as unpublished in print form, and lacks official pagination.)

Newman et al. explore digital inclusion through the lens of critical theory—specifically, the critical theory of French sociologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu. The authors begin with a brief, intersectional overview of research on Internet usage, calling on studies which show that percentages of Internet use differ along racial, income-based, and educational lines, as well as in individuals with a disability (p. 1). In their own study, the authors focus on Internet use amongst young people with disabilities (‘digital inclusion’), an area in which they note little research has been performed (p. 4).

The authors argue that Bourdieu’s critical theory, which “is concerned with understanding how inequalities in society are created and maintained” (p. 5) by the “Doxa or ‘natural order of things'” (p. 7), serves as a particularly useful tool for examining digital inclusion, as it allows for study of the “economic, social, and cultural capitals” which are distributed unequally on a societal level (p. 6).

Brief definitions of each level are provided, as follows:

  • Economic Capital – “wealth and assets”
  • Social Capital – “resources generated through group membership”
  • Cultural Capital – “the collective value of adaptive knowledge, skills, competencies, and the influence of family background and investment in education that may shape success”

(p. 6)

To study these capitals in the context of digital inclusion, the authors taught 18 young people with cerebral palsy or acquired brain injury basic Internet use in home-based interventions (p. 8), with roughly 11 visits each over a 7-month period, after which each participant in the study was interviewed (p. 9). After the interventions and interviews, the authors analyzed the capitals of each participant.

Economic capital: The authors note that, in addition to devices used to access the Internet, those with disabilities may also require specialised software for reading and writing support as well as often-expensive assistive technology (AT) (p. 12).

Social capital: The authors found that, in general, Internet use reinforced existing social groups (p. 13). One area of social capital more likely to be needed by those with disabilities is someone who is able to give computer help (p. 13), and the authors noted that the participants’ families’ knowledge of resources and the participants’ “limited conversation and communication skills” impacted their ability to access the Internet (p. 14).

Cultural capital: The authors found that a lack of family knowledge/ability when it comes to the Internet and technology can impact those with disabilities more than those without (p. 14). This is primarily due to those without disabilities being able to just get online, whereas those with disabilities require additional resources specific to their group, which parents are unlikely to be aware of (p. 15).

A list of types of capital which affect this group’s Internet access is provided on page 20:
A chart shows the economic, cultural, and social forms of capital offline, online, and specifically related to those with disabilities.

The authors provide several pages’ worth of discussion on these capitals, noting that many of the “digital” capitals required for Internet access (including hardware and software, the ability to actually use the hardware and software, conversational ability, and needing to know people who can provide IT assistance) are increased by those with disabilities, as they must also have access to, operate, and understand how to use AT.

The authors’ use of Bourdieu’s critical theory makes very clear what seems intuitive: Internet access is more difficult for those with disabilities. As well, it usefully pinpoints specific capitals that members of this population require for Internet access.

Article: The Inclusion Principle

Article citation: Link-Rodrigue, M. (2009). The inclusion principle. A List Apart.

In her article “The Inclusion Principle,” from issue 288 of web design magazine A List Apart, Margit Link-Rodrigue explores the idea of “Affordance” as it applies to designing web sites for people of all ability levels and regardless of the technologies they may be using.

Affordance is a design theory which asserts that a thing should be designed in order that the user can “look at [it] and intuitively understand how to interact with it.” As Link-Rodrigue points out, this theory falls short where those with disabilities are concerned. What may be intuitive can all the same be unusable.

Enter universal design. This theory holds that design must be “inherently accessible,” so that absolutely anybody should be able to use the thing you’re designing for it to be successful. Link-Rodrigue notes that many designers—web designers especially—feel this stifles their creativity, and/or may simply be unaware of the challenges that those with disabilities face when browsing the web. More importantly, she argues that universal design doesn’t have to cause problems in either of these areas.

The main problem in web design comes from the fact that accessibility is often a secondary concern, something web designers or web site owners think about after a problem occurs. This is backwards, Link-Rodrigue argues. Instead, designers should operate under the titular inclusion principle: moving away from marginalizing those with disabilities by making ‘standard’ web sites accessible to them, and moving towards including these users by designing web sites with them in mind from the outset.

While this seems like splitting hairs, Link-Rodrigue is quick to point out that it isn’t. A shift to inclusive design means that sites are accessible by the way they’re designed. Instead of an “outcome-oriented” accessibility, which may not even properly make a whole site accessible to those with certain types of disability not covered by the specific outcome, sites created with inclusive design in mind are “distinctively process-oriented”—they’re universal, and do not need anything special done to them in order to be usable by anybody at all.

For fuller details on (specifically for web sites), and how to embrace the shift from accessible to inclusive design, read Margit Link-Rodrigue’s “The inclusion principle” at A List Apart.

Article: The Development of Open Access Journal Publishing from 1993 to 2009

Article citation: Laakso M, Welling P, Bukvova H, Nyman L, Björk B-C, Hedlund T (2011) The Development of Open Access Journal Publishing from 1993 to 2009. PLoS ONE 6(6): e20961. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020961

In their 2012 article “The Development of Open Access Journal Publishing from 1993 to 2009,” Laakso et al. measure the numbers of active journals and published articles in each year between 1993 and 2009. The article starts with a quick description of how the Internet has enabled OA publishing, and a definition of the two types of OA with which the authors are concerned: Green OA, where publishers allow authors to self-archive some form of their submitted articles; and Gold OA, where the journal itself is available free of access in some form.

Next, Laakso et al. lay out previous research, mentioning earlier surveys of OA publishing by Ware and Mabe (2009), Crawford (2002), Wells (1999), Morris (2006)—whose study the authors note as the most comprehensive prior to their own—, and Sotudeh and Horri (2007), among others.

For their own study, Laakso et al. gathered their data on the number of OA journals from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), a free online index. As the authors note, DOAJ was selected for this purpose because it is “an actively maintained and well-established index with clear inclusion criteria” (p.3). In 2009, DOAJ contained 4,767 OA journals (Laakso et al., p7). For the number of articles published in each year between 1993 and 2009, Laakso et al. manually collected data from that year’s active journals, since automated methods were deemed insufficient (p.3).

What makes the article (and others like it) most interesting, of course, is a comparison of the data Laakso et al. present with data for 2016. now indexes 8,948 journals—almost double the amount Laakso et al. report for 2009. Although the number of articles is harder to calculate, DOAJ currently indexes 2,024,744 articles—more than double the 893,574 OA articles Laakso et al. report having been published between 1993 and 2009 (p.7).

It is worth noting that, despite Laakso et al.’s use of DOAJ as the sole source for the number of OA journals in 2009, the index does not contain every single journal—at least, not in 2016. With the current rules for inclusion, journals must publish 5 articles per calendar year to stay in the index. Additionally, new journals must apply, a process which can sometimes take many months, as DOAJ is a volunteer-run index. (This blogger is a volunteer there, so is well acquainted with the process and its various delays.)

In any case, given that the number of articles index in DOAJ alone is so high, it is clear that OA publishing has continued to expand in the seven years since Laakso et al.’s study.