Accessibility Training for the New Digital World: The IMPACT project

This article is part of a Special Issue on The Social Value of European Research on Media Accessibility.

The digital landscape has been changing since the introduction of the Internet in our lives. Surfing the web and interacting with digital devices and content has become a basic daily routine. Still at present most digital content is not accessible for all. The need for accessibility when accessing an ICT product has risen since the endorsement of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) by European Directives. To this aim the publication of the European Standard on Accessibility of ICT products and services in public procurement (EN301 549), urges all Member States to develop common strategies to ensure that people with a disability can use digitally provided information and public services in Europe. The EN301 549 EU Standard aims at enabling disabled users to access to digital content and products.

ICT accessibility means that all the mainstream technology such as computer, mobile phones or any software can be used by all end-users regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Adapting a Design for All approach at the earliest stage of the development process of any ICT product or service, maximizes accessibility for all potential end-users. The recent adoption of laws and policies at EU and international levels put accessibility in the front line requiring that any software, web content, documents and hardware can be accessed in a way that people with different kinds of disabilities can use and interact with them. Some basic accessibility examples are to provide text alternatives for images, so that these can be read out loud by visually impaired people using screen readers. Another example is to include subtitles to any audiovisual content to provide an alternative to audio for people who cannot hear the content. As digital content and digital products are increasing, accessibility in ICT products and services is crucial.

In December 2018, in a Decision of the European Ombudsman (strategic inquiry OI/6/2017/EA) on how the European Commission ensures that persons with disabilities can access its websites, states the need of a mandatory training on accessibility for all staff members working on websites to ensure that people with disabilities have access to good quality services when accessing digital content or using digital devices. This fact opens a discussion and a new space regarding the professionals that should take the task of assessing accessibility in the web and ICT products and tools. Still the lack of official training poses a major challenge for facing the accessibility levels required by law.

An overview of the available training in digital accessibility shows that existing training is divided in academic and vocational education. The first is usually carried out at universities, as part of a technological degree and mainly centred on providing low efforts solutions that allow compliance with the law. The latter is mainly provided by private companies or organisations in the form of task oriented vocational courses that last a short period of time. In both cases training is focused on compliance with existing digital accessibility legislation and standards, such as WCAG2.0/2.1. Existing training lacks to provide more inclusive and empathy-driven design, implementation and testing approaches.

To fill this gap the new Erasmus+ project IMPACT (Inclusive Method based on the Perception of Accessibility and Compliance Testing), aims at defining the skills and competences that a digital accessibility professional should acquire and master. This will allow at designing, testing and certifying a competence–based curriculum of the new professional profile(s) for the implementation of the EN301 549 Accessibility Standard.

This Erasmus+ project is a strategic partnership led by Koena (France) with partners from three high education institutions, namely Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), University of Dublin (DCU), and University of Normandy, and two SMEs, namely Koena and ECQA. The project has been designed in line with the EC’s initiative “An agenda for the modernisation of higher education” (28/02/2017, EACB1) since it aims to equip people with the right skills for our digital and modern society and take a coherent skills approach. The open nature of the training materials will contribute to tackle social division and allow for a wider inclusion. The project has been divided in four stages. The first aims at defining the skills and competences of the new professional for the implementation of the EN301 549. In the second, a modular curriculum will be designed. The third plans to create training materials as Open Educational Resources for training professionals on how to apply the EN301 549 Accessibility Standard. Finally, in the fourth, IMPACT will certify the new profile and the educational components for both academic and vocational levels: ECTS/ECVETS. This will secure recognition at EU level and the project’s sustainability.

The European Accessibility Standard EN301 549 professionals trained by IMPACT will acquire suitable skills to provide high-quality accessible contents in different contexts: website, technologies and tools.

By Estella Oncins Noguer
Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain
Estella.Oncins (at) uab.cat

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