Author Identifiers

Fatima Artiba Diaz
ORCID: 0000-0002-6575-5514

Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Science

First Advisor

Associate Professor Justin Brown

Second Advisor

Dr Scott Hollier

Abstract

Since its creation, the Web has progressively developed and become a vital source of information in every domain and for almost all people. It is crucial to guarantee that the information contained on the Web is available for everyone, especially for people with special needs. Removing accessibility barriers is fundamentally based on tools, skills and support of all contributors, particularly the content creators, to ensure information is navigable and usable in the context of the end users experience. Web Content Management Systems play a significant role in structuring, storing and provision content to the Web and have evolved to address the difficulties of manually coding web pages versus the convenience of manipulating their content without any programing skills. Web Content Management Systems have gradually evolved to contain features and functions that allow content authors to shape their content in ways that address web content accessibility expectations, though only if the content author knows how to use these features to maximum effect. This thesis explores such usage by participants deemed to be novices, in that they have limited technical skills in the context of web coding and have limited expose to Web Content Management Systems or the application/awareness of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This research places an emphasis on the outcome of these novice users when provided with some basic training and awareness raising of WCAG principles and the use of a modern Web Content Management System. This is explored in the literature as an area of some importance as organisations with significant web presence cannot simply tell their content authors to ‘oh, and make sure it is accessible’ and hope that the end product will somehow achieve that goal without an investment in some form of accessibility education.

"For web managers and developers in all public sector organisations. “Make sure that all content commissioners and authors are fully trained in the importance of accessible content, and in the means that are made available for them to achieve this". (p. 58)

The purpose of this research was to explore to what level the use of accessible Web Content Management System and novice users’ training impacted accessibility outcomes. This study emerged from the widespread role that Web Content Management Systems play in terms of storing and managing web content and the growing usage of these systems by experts or novices at an organisational or personal level. Through a selection process, this study identified a Web Content Management System that had a number of accessibility features, developed some training and ‘awareness raising’ materials and then asked novice users across two groups to apply what they had learned in order to develop an accessible website. The goal of the study was to ascertain if the two groups performed differently according to the training and awareness raising materials they received, and if even basic accessibility outcomes were achievable with just a few hours of training and from what was essentially an accessibility ‘cold start’.

The study used a mixed methods approach encompassing three research methods; experimental method, survey method and observational method, to compare qualitative and quantitative data obtained from ‘accessibility awareness’ and ‘accessibility unaware’ participant groups. Thirty university students participated in this research and received accessibility awareness raising sessions, with additional accessibility-related examples for the accessibility awareness group. All participants undertook pre and post-tests that were designed to collect data allowing the researcher to compare the learning performance before and after the participants’ awareness session. At the end of the awareness session, the participants of both groups completed a survey which was designed to provide further data on the participant’s perception of web use and experience, the concept of web accessibility, web content accessibility guidelines, the system used, and their opinion of the accessibility awareness session. Data collected from the survey, pre and post-tests and the recording provided a holistic set of data from which the primary and supporting research questions were addressed.

The results of the research indicated that the accessibility awareness group demonstrated measurably better accessibility outcomes than the unawareness group; these results being attributed to the awareness training session, participants’ searching behaviour, time spent on tasks, and effort made to implement accessible features and complete the required tasks. The participants in both groups had some prior knowledge in the use of the Web but limited or no skills in HyperText Markup Language (HTML) or the use of a Web Content Management System. While performing tasks, the participants in the awareness group attempted to apply the accessibility concepts learnt during the training session and spent more time in searching those concepts on the Web in order to provide accessible web page content. Conversely, most of the participants in the unawareness group were concerned by the “look” of the web page, rather than focusing on actual accessible content; they only mimicked the exemplar website they have been provided as an ‘end product’, but did not explore the how and why of accessible content. All the participants at the end of this study were aware of the significance of web accessibility and were favourable to consider it in any future website development they may be involved in.

The outcome of the study shows that the use of accessible Web Content Management System with example-based accessibility awareness sessions can lead to improved accessibility outcomes for novice web content authors. This research strongly suggests that even small, focussed and example-based training/awareness raising session can drive an accessibility mindset in web content authors, even those with limited or no technical, accessibility or web authoring experience.

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