Challenges to improve access to information society: from usability to e-quality

AUTHOR
Teresa Torres-CoronasLeonor Gonzalez, Mar SoutoMario Arias-Oliva

ABSTRACT
Individuals and organizations have enhanced the use of Internet and web information services during the last decades. Web pages are increasing exponentially every day (Gullison et al, 1999). Internet is used by 70% of its user as an information source (Korman, 1998). But according to the research conducted by the “Environmental Systems Research Institute” (2005), only 40% of the users searching for information can find it. To improve access to information will be a key stone in a further development of the Information Society.

There are more important problems than searching the right information when accessing to web information services. Many web pages are not accessible or easy to use for any user. Most of web information services have been developed by computer science specialist, graphical design specialist, without taking into consideration quality or communication experts’ criteria (Murray and Costanzo, 1999).

According to Ivory and Heast (2002) most of web sites are not usable, and this problem will increase in the future.

As the World Wide Web Consortium points out, individuals that have no access to the right technology cannot access to information services. For instance, a web page that required broadband access will not be accessible for a 28.000 kb per second connection modem; or a computer that has not installed a very last version of browser software will not let access to certain information services (W3C, 2005). If organizations wish to ensure access to their web information services, web pages must be designed taking into consideration the specific user situation, including special requirements for handicap people. In US, 54 millions of persons can be considered handicappers (Jackson-Sanbon et al, 2002); and in the UK 11 million persons have legal consideration of handicap according to the “Labour Force Survey” (Grewal et al, 2002). Are web sites ready to be browse by people with disabilities such us blind, deaf, color-blind, or any other disabilities?.

Only developing accessible web sites for people with disabilities we will improve really access to the Information Society. There are rules to fulfil and to guaranty that web site can be accessible for everybody. The most well known is the AAA standard developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, the WAI – Web Accessibility Iniciative, WCAG – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Designing accessible web sites for everybody (including people with disabilities) must be an ethical imperative to guaranty access to the Information Society. Regulatory frameworks are including these aspects in order to avoid any kind of discrimination in the Information Society. For instance, in the United States the Section 508 Amendments make mandatory for all government webs to make their pages accessible for people with disabilities, and regarding the American with Disabilities Act we find a trend to apply the no discrimination principle to virtual environments as well (Sloan, 2001). It has no sense to take care of people with disabilities in the “real world”, but not in the “virtual world”.

But nevertheless, to have a usable and accessible web site is not enough. We must go forward and include other important social and ethical dimensions to achieve e-Quality. For instance, aspects such as offensive content should be considered as well to improve access to Information Society.

Our research focus is based on the general ideas described, and is as follows:

  • To define main principles and variables that guaranties a proper access to information services.
  • To determine certain usability principles that any web must fulfil in order to make sure that any user can find and access to information.
  • To analyse accessibility principles for people with disabilities.
  • To establish a broader framework to determine the e-Quality concept that let any user access to information in a proper way.

Within this theoretical framework, we will analyze a case study to determine the ethical attitudes in organizations regarding the access to web information services.

REFERENCES

Environmental Systems Research Institute (2005): “What Is Usability?”, http://www.esri.com/software/usability/whatisusability.html [accessed el 01/06/2005].

Grewal, I., Joy, S., Lewis, J., Swales, K., Woodfield, K. (2002): “Disabled for life? Attitudes towards, and experiences of disability in Britain”, National Centre for Social Research on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, HMSO.

Gullison S., Blades R., Bragdon M., McKibbob S., Sparling M., Toms E. (1999): “The impact of information architecture on academic web site usability”, The Electronic Library, 17 (5), pp. 293-304.

Ivory M.Y., Sinha R., Hearst M.A. (2002): “Imporving Web Design”, IEEE Internet Computing, March – April, pp. 56-63.

Jackson-Sanborn, E., Kerri Odess-Harnish, K., Warren, N. (2002): “Web site accessibility: A study of six genres”, Library HiTech, 20 (3), pp. 308–317.

Korman R. (1998): “Helping users find their way by making your site “smelly”, WEBREVIEW.COM, May 15th, http://Webreview.com/wr/pub/98/05/15 [accessed el 01/06/2005].

Sloan, M. (2001): “Web accessibility and the DDA”, The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT), No. 2, http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/01-02/ [accessed 01/06/2005].

W3C (2005): World Wide Web Consortium, WAI – Web Accessibility Iniciative, WCAG – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, http://www.w3c.org [accessed 01/06/2005].

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