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Industry attitudes and behaviour towards web accessibility in general and age-related change in particular and the validation of a virtual third-age simulator for web accessibility training for students and professionals
While the need for web accessibility for people with disabilities is widely accepted, the same visibility does not apply to the accessibility needs of older adults. This research initially explored developer behaviour in terms of how they presented accessibility on their websites as well as their own accessibility practices in terms of presentation of accessibility statements, the mention of accessibility as a selling point to potential clients and homepage accessibility of company websites. Following from this starting point the research focused in on web accessibility for ageing in particular.
A questionnaire was developed to explore the differences between developer views of general accessibility and accessibility for older people. The questionnaire findings indicated that ageing is not seen as an accessibility issue by a majority of developers. Awareness of ageing accessibility documentation was also very low, highlighting the need for raising awareness of accessibility practices for ageing.
Current age-related documentation developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative was then examined and critiqued. The findings show a tension between the machine-centric Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) and the needs of older people. Examination of guidelines when compared to research-derived findings reveal that the Assistive Technology (AT) centric structure of the documentation does not appropriately highlight accessibility practices in a context that matches the observed behaviour of older people. The documentation also fails to appropriately address the psycho-social ramifications of how older people choose to interact with technology as well as how they identify themselves in relation to any conditions they have which may be considered disabling.
The need for a novel, engaging and awareness-raising tool resulted in the development of what is essentially a "Virtual third-age simulator". This ageing simulator is the first to combine multiple impairments in an active simulation and uses eye-tracking technology to increase the fidelity of conditions resulting in partial sightedness. It also allows for developers to view their own web content in addition to the lessons provided using the simulations presented in the software. The simulator was then validated in terms of its ability to raise awareness as well as its ability to affect web industry professionals' intentions towards accessible practices that benefit older people.
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.