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Standards and guidelines

Standards and guidelines


Edited by Alex Li, International Organization for Standardization (ISO)/ International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC1) Special Working Group–Accessibility Convener

Accessibility and international standards development

Special working group on accessibility
1. Users needs summary
2. Standards inventory
3. Guidance on mapping user needs

Section Summary
International technical standards on ICT can influence changes in a global scale as international bodies (such as the International Telecommunication Union or the International Organization for Standardization) yield more global influence. International co-operation on such issues was also the intent of the UNCRPD, and by providing appropriate ICT accessibility standards, the market of accessible ICT products and services will develop more efficiently and effectively.

The Special Working Group on Accessibility (SWG-A), which was approved by the ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC 1), works on developing international standards. It focuses on three aspects: publishing a comprehensive users needs summary, itemizing the standards and policies related to accessibility, and providing guidance for standard development organizations to map a standard against user needs.

Accessibility and international standards development

Pervasive Information and communication technologies (ICT) accessibility requires coordination of many independent societal components—many of which, including education, employment, economic factors, civil-rights, and research and development, are addressed within the toolkit. The area of focus within this section is ICT international technical standards.

One characteristic of international standards is that they can influence changes in a global scale. While regulatory instrument generally applies within the boundary of specific jurisdiction, international standards from organizations such as International Telecommunication Union (ITU-T), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) can more readily yield global influence. This characteristic of international standards especially compliments the objective of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities (CRPD). In Article 9 (a) the Convention requires State Parties “to develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public;” while Article 4 (f) requires the promotion of “universal design in the development of standards and guidelines”. It also establishes the grounds in Article 32 for International Cooperation and proactive exchanges “Facilitating cooperation in research and access to scientific and technical knowledge”. 

Read more on the obligation to define minimum standards.

Another characteristic of international standard organizations is the diverse range of topics they work on.  Standard organizations can deploy highly specialized expertise in areas such as encoding of languages or specifications for media formats which may have direct or indirect impact on accessibility of ICT. While policies and regulations tend to focus on the final outcome in terms of accessibility for the citizens, the level of accessibility depends on many layers of interdependent technologies, microeconomic conditions, and policy landscape. Improving the accessibility awareness in the work of standard development would have far reaching impact on facilitating the accessibility of various interdependent technologies that are not easily affected by regulatory instruments —making it cheaper and faster to deliver accessible ICT experience to end users.

By providing appropriate ICT accessibility standards, the market of accessible ICT products and services will develop more efficiently and effectively. Standardization encourages organizations to address the needs of the people with disabilities and people with limitations due to age and triggers development of ICT products and services with built in accessibility.

Special working group on accessibility
Understanding the potential positive impact standards can make towards a more accessible digital society, ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC 1) approved the formation of a Special Working Group on Accessibility (SWG-A) at its Berlin meeting. The objectives of SWG-A are:

  • Determine an approach to, and implement, the gathering of accessibility‐related information, being mindful of the varied and unique opportunities including direct participation of user organizations, workshops, and liaisons

  • Maintain and disseminate up‐to‐date information of all known accessibility‐related standards efforts, i.e. the standards inventory

  • Maintain and disseminate up‐to‐date information on accessibility‐related user needs, i.e. the user needs summary

  • Through wide dissemination of the SWG materials, encourage the use of globally relevant voluntary accessibility‐related standards

  • Together with PAS mentors, advise consortia/fora, if requested, in their submission of accessibility‐related standards/specifications to the formal standards process

  • Provide support when JTC 1 needs assistance related to accessibility (such as duties for WSC Accessibility Strategic Advisory Group and input on accessible ISO web content)

SWG-A has delivered three significant deliverables—all of which are relevant to the audience of this toolkit. All of the ISO/IEC Technical Report (TR) mentioned below can be accessed at the JTC 1 SWG-A website.

1. Users needs summary
A comprehensive user needs summary is published under ISO/IEC TR 29138-1. The primary purpose of the user needs summary is to facilitate standard development organizations to consider barriers faced by people with disabilities during standard planning and development. In particular, TR 29138-1:

• Discusses accessibility barriers which people with different disabilities encounter when interacting with ICT systems;
• Gathers accessibility needs of ICT users, including those with the widest range of capabilities; and
• Can be used to analyze whether or not an ICT accessibility standard fully takes into account the user needs.
TR 29138-1 contains approximately 150 specific user needs.

Two examples of user needs summary, for illustration purposes, would be:
1.1. Some users need visual information also available in auditory form.
1.2. Some users need visual information also available in tactile form.

By documenting a comprehensive list of user needs, standard development organizations and product designers can create standards and products that can better accommodate the needs of all users. It should be noted that not all user needs are relevant to a given standard. A good example would be a standard specifically for audio encoding most likely would not need to consider user needs related to tactile feedback, which is more relevant to hardware.

2. Standards inventory
SWG-A published ISO/IEC TR 29138-2 to itemize all know standards and public policies related to accessibility. This inventory of standards and policies makes it easier for standard development organizations and policy makers to avoid duplication of effort and take advantage of previous effort in accessibility standards.

3. Guidance on mapping user needs
The publication from JTC 1 SWG-A, ISO/IEC TR 29138-3, provides guidance for standard development organizations to map a standard against user needs. Mappings can help standards developers to consider the potential for addressing particular needs in their standards. JTC 1 encourages standardization organizations to utilize the User Needs Summary in a variety of ways, including developing and improving the coverage of accessibility issues in their ICT standards. It should be noted that, as pointed out previously, not all user needs are relevant to a given standard. Specific expertise in the standard domain is required to determine relevancy.

Despite the fact that ISO/IEC TR 29138 was published in June 2009, its earlier draft form has already been used as reference material for the European Commission Standardisation Mandate M376 and Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee (TEIAC) of the United States Access Board to develop upcoming accessibility policies.

The TR mentioned above can be accessed at the JTC 1 SWG-A website. Due to the increased awareness of accessibility in JTC 1, many new standards have been developed to incorporate accessibility features. In addition, ISO/IEC also recognize that it is highly beneficial to consider the needs of older persons and people with disabilities in standard development beyond that of ICT products and services. ISO/IEC Guide 71 was published in 2001 to provide a framework for standard development organizations to integrate accessibility into standard for every types of products and services. ISO/IEC is currently developing an updated version of Guide 71 to incorporate new development in accessibility.