2002 Conference Proceedings

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Karl Hebenstreit, Jr. US General Services Administration karl.hebenstreit@gsa.gov

The title of this presentation reflects the expectation that the findings of the evaluation process outlined here will provide a model for systematically improving the accessibility of a collaborative web environment, as the logical next step in realizing the vision presented two years ago of the web as an accessible collaborative learning environment.[1] During the past two years, governmental and international consensus standards processes have improved our awareness and definition of the issues involved in addressing the lack of accessibility, but the means by which we evaluate how any particular product meets those requirements within the context of work or academic environments remains a formidable challenge.

To conduct a systemic accessibility (interface) evaluation of a product, extensive knowledge of both the product and the various assistive technology products. Therefore, the first step of this process has been to establish a governmentwide community of practice to leverage the shared experiences (knowledge) of specific technologies to enable improved returns on our collective investments in these technologies. The second step has been to develop a suggestion mechanism within this environment for identifying accessibility issues, and engaging in discussions that lead to either interim "work-arounds" or more permanent solutions to resolve each issue.

Three recent books provide the theoretical underpinning for the interface evaluation project -- Thierry Bardini's Bootstrapping [2], Alison J. Head's Design Wise [3], and Jenny Preece's Online Communities [4]. Bardini provides an historical account of the pioneering work of Douglas Engelbart, at the Stanford Research Institute's Augmentation Research Center. "Bootstrapping" is the term given to the process they developed by which those who actually invented the hardware and software for this new system were the primary users of the system, leading to a positive feedback loop where continued improvements in the system led to improved capabilities of the team to develop yet further system enhancements. Drawing upon the insights of leading practitioners in the field of Human-Computer Interaction, Head has provided a fundamentally sound yet practical introduction for product designers to conduct interface evaluations. Preece's book focuses on a new mode of communication enabled by the Internet -- a community model consisting of conversations among many peers -- and provides insights toward making these environments successful.

Collectively, these references provide a means to addressing the human, interpersonal aspects of an online collaborative community with an effective method based on a sound theoretical foundation. The Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines [5] provide the central technical guidance, with the dual purpose of not only generating accessible content but also providing an accessible authoring environment. The process will be conducted within a community of practice, which has been established with a multi-purpose charter. Each purpose provides the motivation for one or more projects such as this one, each with the goal of contributing toward achieving that purpose. For each project, a key aspect is gathering the core team who can work together to achieve early "wins", leading to a positive feedback loop where momentum gathers for further improvements ("wins") through an interactive suggestion mechanism. That momentum leads to additional people joining the community, providing expertise in additional domains of knowledge, and also novice (first-time) users to provide confirmation of findings, which we look forward to presenting at the conference.

[1] Hebenstreit, Karl and Susan Turnbull. "Project PINNACLE: The Web as an Accessible Collaborative Learning Environment", presented at CSUN 2000.
[2] Bardini, Thierry. Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Orgins of Personal Computing. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000.
[3] Head, Alison J. Design Wise: A Guide for Evaluating the Interface Design of Information Resources. Medford, NJ: CyberAge Books (an imprint of Information Today, Inc., 1999.
[4] Preece, Jenny. Online Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2000.
[5] World Wide Web Consortium. Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, 3 February 2000.

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