Why did we need another accessibility standard? – the birth of ISO 30071-1

Many people have said “2019 is the year inclusive design goes mainstream”. So it’s no wonder that this month’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day gained more interest than ever before.

But if inclusive design and digital accessibility are “so hot right now”, how do we help organisations to adopt it as part of the way they work? And how do we help them do that efficiently, drawing from the experience of people who’ve been working on this for decades?

At Hassell Inclusion, we know that accessibility skills are comparatively rare, so we aim to always use our time and resources to do things that have the greatest impact in enabling this to happen, and to be generous in sharing the years of accessibility experience we have with the widest audience we can reach.

That is why I’ve spent a lot of time and energy over the last couple of years leading the process to take the British Standard BS 8878 that we created in 2010 and turn it into an international Standard.

So I’m delighted that the resulting Standard – ISO 30071-1 – has been published this week.

I believe this is a great step forwards in promoting inclusive design and accessibility globally.

An international team for an international Standard

As project leader and editor of the new Standard, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the people who contributed to its development.

I’d like to thank everyone on our international committee ISO/IEC JTC 1, Information technology, Subcommittee SC 35, User interfaces who collaborated their expertise to the Standard from the perspectives of each of their countries, which included: Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Holland, Japan, Korea, Spain, Sweden, the USA and the UK.

It has been fascinating seeing accessibility from the multiple angles of each of these countries, and the resulting Standard has benefitted from each. As with all Standards, ISO 30071-1 has required a lot of long travel, careful discussion and considered compromise to agree. I feel confident that it will be able to be adopted globally because of the committee’s care and attention in making sure it has full international application.

I’d particularly like to thank Jim Carter, who ably chaired the committee and helped ensure the Standard harmonises with other international accessibility standards creation activities; both with those existing prior to its creation, and others that are still in preparation.

I’d also like to thank my co-editor Andy Heath, who has been a great collaborator with me in rewriting parts of the Standard to respond to decisions we made as a committee.

So let’s get to it. Why all this work, and what was it for…?

Why did we need another accessibility standard?

I’ve worked in the field of digital accessibility for almost 17 years now. Over that time I have tracked, and done my best to influence, four key aspects of accessibility:

  • Organisations’ evolving understanding of, and commitment to, the drivers behind accessibility – the ethical, legal/regulatory, commercial and innovation reasons why accessibility is important
  • The changing nature of digital products themselves – from simple informational text & image websites, through the addition of more interactivity and multimedia (including the specific opportunities and challenges of software-as-a-service, video-on-demand and games), through the shift from users being anonymous consumers of web content to being active publishers and collaborators, and through the increasing diversification of digital products onto a multiplicity of devices from mobile phones to wearables
  • The evolving understanding of how best to test digital products to check if they support the access needs of different groups of disabled and older people – from auditing products against guidelines, through better understanding of the role of automated testing, through the growing importance of testing products with disabled users, through to recognising the importance of canvassing disabled and older people’s views in earlier stages of digital product development
  • The changing organisational structure and roles in digital production teams – from an initial emphasis on the accessibility of technology, through recognising the key importance of ensuring user-experience designers and usability specialists understand accessibility, to an increasing focus on the product manager as a key player in making the strategic decisions that most strongly influence the accessibility of a digital product

While accessibility has never been simple, the demands it puts on every member of a digital production team can sometimes feel overwhelming. The decisions that they make every day can affect whether or not the products they work on will include or exclude disabled and elderly people.

Internationally recognised web standards such as WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 are immensely helpful in advising these team members on how to make decisions on what they are creating. User-centred design standards such as ISO 9241-210 have also provided design teams with standard processes for how to engage users within their design processes.

However, many product managers have been missing best practice advice on how to ensure their teams are making informed, justifiable decisions on accessibility at each stage of product development. And organisations have been missing best practice advice on how to embed accessibility capability efficiently within their business-as-usual practices.

BS 8878 has provided this advice in the UK since 2010. Global research for my book Including your Missing 20% by embedding web and mobile accessibility demonstrated that BS 8878 had a lot to offer organisations outside Britain. This is the reason many people in countries like Japan, where ensuring digital products can be used by the older population has always been a key consideration, have wanted BS 8878 to be an international Standard since it was published.

Evolving BS 8878 for international use

I believe ISO 30071-1 is the Standard all these people have been looking for. It has taken the best of BS 8878, which it supersedes, and extended it to make it more appropriate to help the creation of digital products internationally in 2019:

  • While BS 8878 provided advice on how to create or procure accessible websites and mobile apps, ISO 30071-1 extends this to digital products (or ICT systems, to use the language in the Standard) used on a wider set of devices, including VR/AR headsets, smart speakers, kiosks, in-flight and in-car entertainment systems, games consoles, ATMs and Electronic Point of Sales systems; it also considers the context of use of these products and what to do when the assistive technologies and accessibility guidelines that usually enable digital products to be accessible are not available on a device
  • ISO 30071-1 has taken BS 8878’s 16 step process for ensuring digital products are accessible when launched and maintained, and streamlined it into 8 activities that can be integrated with whatever software development lifecycle methodology teams are using to create their products
  • ISO 30071-1 updates and clarifies BS 8878’s advice on the relationship between inclusive design and user-personalised approaches to accessibility, including when to consider providing additional personalised accessibility provisions
  • ISO 30071-1 updates the advice on business cases in BS 8878 to make it more appropriate for legislation and regulations in different countries which encourage or mandate accessibility

Find out how the new Standard can help your organisation

At Hassell Inclusion, we have been training and supporting digital teams in the use of BS 8878 throughout the 9 years since its launch, and many of our insights from this experience have improved the new Standard to ensure it reflects the reality of digital production in 2019.

A second edition of my book, updated to support ISO 30071-1, and including our insights on how best to implement the new Standard, will be available in a few months.

In the meantime, you can find out more information on the new Standard on our ISO 30071-1 – All You Need to Know page. And don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

We hope the new Standard, our upcoming book, and our training, which has already been updated for ISO 30071-1, will provide a new generation of product managers and accessibility managers with the resources they need to ensure their digital products provide consistently great user experiences for all their users, whatever devices they are created for.

Buy the new Standard

Purchase ISO 30071-1 from the ISO Shop.

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