Editorial Introduction to Issue 44: One Day We All Learn the Hard Way
Having opined elsewhere in this august organ that it would not be my policy to produce themed issues, I suppose I had better put my hand up at least to accumulating a majority of main articles which address the theme of accessibility from various and interesting perspectives. Having argued on the grounds that Ariadne issues which concentrate unduly on one topic inevitably leave a lot of readers feeling excluded, I can see that that the majority of readers who do not live with significant visual, physical or other impairments will feel hurt and almost certainly betrayed. Those who do: might be forgiven for thinking "That makes a change."
So how do I answer the charge of at least inconsistency? As an avid listener to In Touch  (and BBC Radio 4 in general) and as a very minor contributor to UKOLN's work on Revealweb, the issues raised and activity described in all these articles do, to my mind, really affect the majority of the readership. Whether directly affected by living with a disability or seeking as part of our professional activity to increase access to resources, electronic or otherwise, few of us are in any position to disregard the information and opinions they contain. I for one am still learning and need to do more. Moreover there comes a time when we all have to learn the hard way - literally.
Much has been accomplished in improving provision, not least, in my span of experience, the widening realisation that much more can and should be achieved. Nowhere more so than in the fields of digital information and electronic resources. It is against such a broad horizon that Kevin Carey, Director of humanITy, looks at Accessibility: The Current Situation and New Directions for our benefit, based on his considerable experience and authority. Despite the broad scope of his discussion, covering as he does digital information systems across broadcasting, telecommunications and the Internet, the conclusions he draws eschew the traditional approach while being very down-to-earth and highly practical. Indeed as he states quite starkly, "None of these proposed solutions are science fiction - they are all available now" - and we ignore them at our collective peril.
So Ariadne 44 contains a variety of approaches to the topic of accessibility including the very practical as exemplified by the above-mentioned Revealweb. My colleague Ann Chapman, in her article Revealing All, describes how the project has provided some very useful solutions to people with visual impairments here in the UK. Ann has been involved with Revealweb for some time now but her enthusiasm has never waned for the way Revealweb has promoted readers with visual impairments from second-class citizens in the information world to people with 24/7 access to this Web-based union catalogue of resources in accessible formats. This catalogue, the first of its kind in this country, has made an enormous difference to its users, as described in Ann's section on impact. Consequently it is all the more a source of considerable concern, despite official and community praise for this project, that its financial and thus long-term security is currently in doubt.
Another practical take on accessibility is provided by Patrick Lauke who has been Evaluating Web Sites for Accessibility with Firefox . In his Get Tooled Up article, which comes as a most welcome sequel to his contribution in issue 42, he gives us a very useful tour d'horizon of the potential of a Web Developer Toolbar extension. Patrick addresses a raft of issues featured in the W3C WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and shows how developers can evaluate their work with increased confidence.
Patrick has not been alone in his work of assessment as Marcus Weisen, Helen Petrie, Neil King and Fraser Hamilton describe a comprehensive audit commissioned by MLA in Web Accessibility Revealed: The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council Audit . This audit is notable for the degree to and manner in which users with a wide range of disablities were involved in the evaluation of the Web sites assessed. The authors provide a wealth of statistical information and analysis of Web site features that cause unnecessary difficulty. Another project which equally prizes the opinions of users in its work is described by Jenny Craven and Mikael Snaprud in Involving Users in the Development of a Web Accessibility Tool. Their description of the European Internet Accessibility Observatory Project provides an EU perspective on improving accessibility for the European citizen and explains the goal of producing a collection of Web accessibility metrics and associated tools.
Almost inevitably any discussion of accessibility runs the risk of flirting with the 'standards' word; Lawrie Phipps, Neil Witt and Brian Kelly consider the WAI guidelines in the context of e-learning and float the suggestion of some movement Towards a Pragmatic Framework for Accessible e-Learning. In their article they put the relationship between guidelines, standards and the encompassing legislation under examination and suggest a more pragmatic approach.
The tiny majority with no interest whatsoever in accessibility issues are more than compensated by the rest of the issue. Paul Gerhardt, Co-director of the Creative Archive at the BBC provides us with his authoratative view of the potential for radical change that the Archive represents. What he describes as a 'small act' of the launch of the Creative Archive Licence could completely change the landscape of broadcasting and media creation in general.
Michael Fraser has contributed an overview of Virtual Research Environments and provides information on those JISC-funded projects in which his institution of Oxford University is involved. He gives a current definition, always welcome, of a VRE and considers its relationship to the existing research infrastructure. Michael draws conclusions in his article of inevitable interest to any institution engaged in research.
I am most grateful to Paul Trafford who has written interesting thoughts on the relationship of mobile blogs for personal reflection to institutional learning environments. He bases his contribution on his work with The RAMBLE Project. This article will prove a useful addition to our reading on current developments in blogs, not least for its consideration of blogs in an institutional learning context - and for its recognition of the advent of mobile devices within the new generation of students.
I am equally indebted to Luis Martinez and Stuart Macdonald whose article on Supporting Local Data Users in the UK Academic Community provides readers with less experience in the field with an overview of the evolution of data gathering and local data support in the UK academic community. Readers with greater experience in this area will be interested in their views on how this area is likely to develop. Local data support will inevitably be affected by developments in Web and telecommunications technologies, and in the field of educational technology as a whole. The authors invite us to consider in the light of those developments a range of issues, each of which would merit a lengthy panel discussion for the professionals in this domain.
As usual, we offer our At the Event section, as well as the helpful updates in our Regular Columns and reviews on works involving library Web content management, the academic library, disaster management for libraries and archives and the importance of partnerships in the modern academic library. In addition, of course, we provide our expanded section of news and events.
I hope you will enjoy Issue 44.
- In Touch, BBC Radio 4 http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/intouch.shtml