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Brian Grellmann

Investigating the web accessibility needs of people with aphasia


— The Brief

The dissertation project is an independent piece of research carried out full-time for a period of three months under the supervision of academic staff.

— Proposal

My proposed topic was formed in conjunction with the W3C Working Group’s Silver Task Force and my supervisor, Stephanie Wilson’s interests in technology for people with aphasia. Working on a project partially proposed by the W3C made for a unique opportunity to contribute to the body of knowledge which drives the internet.

My working title for the dissertation is:

Investigating how well the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 cater to the needs of people with aphasia.

— Aphasia

Aphasia is a communication disability which affects one third of people who experience a stroke and impacts all facets of language use. In the UK, over 367,000 people have aphasia, and in the US the number exceeds 2,000,000 (National Aphasia Association, 2016).

— Motivation

The World Wide Web and the Internet have increasingly become the primary method for people to conduct various aspects of their day-to-day life. From staying in touch with family and friends, finding employment, reading the news, to e-commerce, society is reliant on the vast amount of information and services the web offers. Accordingly, it is fundamental that universal access is a requirement of all websites. What’s more, people who are unable to use these websites will have an added feeling of having a disability and being isolated from society, their friends and their family.

Additionally, as a result of an ageing population, and more people surviving traumatic injuries, the number of people affected by aphasia will only rise. It is crucial to the economy and society, that people with mild to moderate levels of aphasia contribute to society for as long as possible.

— The Research Questions

RQ1: What are the barriers, if any, for organisations to create accessible website for people with aphasia?
RQ2: To what extent are websites that meet WCAG 2.0 accessible to users with aphasia?
RQ3: What are the accessibility needs of users with aphasia which are not covered by WCAG 2.0 guidelines?

— The Aims

  1. Identify the level of knowledge within organisations about accessibility for users with cognitive impairments, in particular aphasia
  2. Identify the web content accessibility needs of users with aphasia
  3. Identify the web content accessibility needs of users with aphasia which are not covered by WCAG 2.0
  4. Develop a set of recommendations to be considered for future versions of WCAG

— Beneficiaries

The results of the study will benefit researchers, developers, designers, and content writers who strive to create accessible websites. In particular the results will be valuable to W3C members inclusive of WAI and the Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Accessibility Task Force (COGA TF), an internal group who write guidelines for WCAG. Ultimately, the goal is to contribute to the well-being of web users with aphasia who will feel a greater sense of empowerment and independence from being able to access the web autonomously. Users with other cognitive disabilities and older adults will also indirectly benefit.

— Approach

In order to answer the research questions, a questionnaire, expert accessibility review and user study will be conducted. The purpose of the survey will be to understand the current landscape of web accessibility in organisations and in particular accessibility issues related to aphasia. The purpose of the expert accessibility review is twofold. First, it will identify the level of adherence for a range of commonly used websites; and second, the result of the review will determine which websites are tested in the user study. The goal of the user study is to understand how well a conforming website meets the needs of a user with aphasia.

— Update

The project proposal received a high distinction grade and has since been combined with the INCA project, a new interdisciplinary research project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council that will investigate digital content creation and curation tools for people with aphasia. It will shift the focus of my original proposal from websites to social media applications across various platforms.

Expected completion date: 27 September 2017