Michael joined the W3C in June 2006 as a Web Accessibility Specialist. Michael is the Team Contact for the Accessible Platform Architectures Working Group which supports accessibility of W3C technologies, the Accessible Rich Internet Applications Working Group which develops accessibility semantics to support assistive technologies, and Accessibility Guidelines Working Group which develops authoring guidelines and techniques to create accessible content. He supports task forces in these groups to address accessibility for users with cognitive or learning disabilities, low vision, or users of mobile devices; research accessibility issues of upcoming technologies, and explore new technologies. Key specifications include the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA), and Framework for Accessible Specification of Technologies.
Prior to joining W3C, Michael worked at Watchfire as Accessibility Product Manager, responsible for automated and tool-assisted manual accessibility evaluation software. He focused on supporting harmonized international standards via this software and supported customers to achieve those standards. Previously Michael was the product manager at CAST for Bobby, an early accessibility evaluation tool which was purchased by Watchfire in 2002. At CAST he also worked on technical approaches to providing self-adaptive learning materials for students with disabilities. Before entering the field of Web accessibility, Michael worked in the disability services office at the University of Denver, providing academic accommodations and technical training for students with disabilities.
Michael holds a Master of Education degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Denver.
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This is a draft transcript produced live at the event and corrected for spelling and basic errors. It is not a commercial transcript. AXSCHAT Michael CooperNEIL:
Hello and welcome to Axschat. I'm really pleased that we are joined today by Michael Cooper, who I've known for a while now but for those of you that don't know, Michael is a web accessibility technical lead at the W3C for the web accessibility initiative and prior to that which is I know Michael, was staff contact to the technical groups and is continuing to work with the accessibility working groups. So, he has worked at the W3C since 2006 and I knew him when I was contributing to the cognitive accessibility task force. So, that's an awful lot of acronyms but essentially the W3C, worldwide web consortium is the thing that designs the standards of how the internet and the world wide web operates including interoperability with assistive tech and accessibility and that's what we are all about. And that's why it's great to have Michael here. So, Michael welcome, can you tell us a little bit more about the work you're doing and how you fell into accessibility in 2006 or maybe before?MICHAEL:
Sure, so as people know, Judy Brewer who was the director of the web accessibility initiative for 25 years has stepped back from the role. So, I've been involved, I've been an employee of the web initiative since 2006, worked with the technical groups. I've garnered a lot of experience with how W3C works, as well as a broad understanding of the technical challenges of accessibility on the web. So, I said that I thought I had something to offer to Steffy and so, right now, I'm stepping into some of Judy's role, primary working on what is our strategy going forward. Everything at W3C is changing. The organisation is shifting from a model hosted by four universities to an independent legal entity, that's changing how our operations work and the legal entity is operated by a board of directors. So, we now have different sources of guidance for our directions. So, you know, as W3C moves forward, the web accessibility initiative needs to look at you know how are we moving forward along with all of this. So, I'm working with the staff in the web accessibility initiative to you know, identify really how do we best support accessibility of the web, specifically from our role within W3C, which includes the guidelines that we write, the technologies that we create such as Aria to fill gaps, the education that we do that makes sure that people are paying attention to all of this. You know, there are a lot of different components to it. And, so, we are determining that work. But, it's very clear to me that a lot of this work is being done by other organisations. So, as we look at what is our centre of expertise in the W3C, I also want to look at, you know how can we collaborate with other organisations to maximise the value of each other's work and you know, going back to your question on some of my background, this comes out of my own personal background. Before joining W3C as staff, I worked on the accessibility tool, BOBBY, the first. Not arguably the best. But the first web accessibility evaluation tool. That was a great entry to the field for me. And I actually came to me from my master's degree in education. So, that background, although I have a degree in education, has steered me into accessibility and is very helpful to the transition that we are going through right now.NEIL:
Excellent. So, I know Debra and Antonio both have got questions and I fondly remember BOBBY I worked on it for a very long time. And so, I think you know, it's very important that we have web standards and particularly standards around accessibility because so much happens on the web. Stuff happens beyond the web of course and on mobiles and I know that W3C works with other standards bodies and creates standards for all sorts of other things as well, specifically for accessibility. But there has been quite an evolution in the thinking about how those standards get delivered. So, a lot of people are familiar with WCAG, the web content accessibility guidelines and version one and version two, whilst two was an evolution, they are working on three which is taking a very different approach to stuff. So, I think that perhaps that's something we would like to look at because it's, I think there are some changes there, but also, you know, I'm interested to see how, not only is there a change in approach to the standards and your governance and everything else but the world is changing very dramatically and off air we talked about how technology is changing and how do we serve the community. Because Axschat is about our community. We are not the most technical of accessibility communities. We are a sort of disability inclusion technology broad church community, although some of us work in a technical field. So, how is something like WCAG3, going to address some of those, you know the nontechnical issues or the more usability issues the blurring of the boundaries that the cognitive accessibility themes often raised that proved to be a challenge when you've got black and white criteria that were quite often the case in success criteria for the way that stuff has been done in previous iterations of standards and then I'll stop talking.MICHAEL:
Okay, so yeah, I'm talking notes so I can try to address your questions. So, I think I'll answer the middle of your question first. So, in terms of you know, how do we stay on top of technology evolution? Obviously the world has changed a lot during the time W3C has been around and WAI has been around and you know, both technical changes and social changes have impacted how we do our work. You know? And in particular, there has been a lot of focus on more agile development of specs rather than taking years and years to develop a standard. You know, they should come through you know, much more quickly and you know, if there is a long tail to development it should be in the incubation the stage. In the web accessibility initiative we have been able to adopt that approach for some of our technologies like Aria, we are struggling with how to adopt that to the guidelines because so much is interdependent in the guidelines you know and if you do one thing and not another, you know the consequences, it's hard to look them through. So, and you know, that's been a challenge with us. But also, some of that challenge, I think comes from the history of you know how WCAG was developed and came out in the world. WCAG1 was an initial set of guidelines focused on HTML at the time and was very useful and then was quickly outdated. So, they said, let's do WCAG2, that would be more technology independent but then it took ten years. And then we said, well. we are never going to need to touch this again until 2020, so let's stop. You know, eventually the need to update the guidelines came around. We were starting with both immediate needs which led to WCAG2.1 and 2.2. But also really discovering that there were things that we could not do in our accessibility guidelines wow meeting the require meets that we had set for ourselves for WCAG2. And those requirements made sense at the time with the technology that was there and the policy and evaluation environment that we were working in. But you know, I think again technology has changed again and the way policies use the guidelines may evolve. So, we need to think freshly about what are our actual constraints and requirements. So, for WCAG3, we are trying to think much more broadly about that, how can we address more use cases, you know, more user groups. That in turn involves thinking through new ways of defining guidance and evaluating that it's been done, assuring oneself. So, there is exploration with different types of testing, different types of conformist models. The big worry I think in the working group overall is how is the policy community going to receive this, you know some people feel that it's a great innovation that will help a lot, some are worried that it will not seem drive enough. So, we are really working with coming up with policy compatible guidance. So, this is an important move to increase basically equity in web accessibility guidance. Unfortunately, although we said, we are going to do this in five years, we are now going to be at least ten years by the time, I'm hoping that with some of the changes that have been going on in W3C's evolution that we might be able to pick up on it. The chairs and I have certainly learned a lot in the past couple of years on how to move this work forward effectively. I think there are some new ideas we are coming up with but, yeah that's a situation we are in at the moment. I will say that one of our requirements for WCAG3, will be that something that takes less than 20 years to update. So you know, I don't know what the mechanism will be, but we envision there will be some kind of a model for updating guidance every year. So, in a way that doesn’t make guidance go obsolete and what not.DEBRA:
Wow. You seem like you've a really hard job, Michael. I just want to say for anyone that doesn't want know about BOBBY, BOBBY was actually designed after the UK police. I just always thought that was so cute. Anyway, I just wanted to say that. But you know, it seems like it's really hard, WC3, WCAG, with all you're doing and I remember I also, like Neil was part of the COGO workforce and I was shocked, as an individual, as a technology leader, at what we were having to work on, the complexity, the nuance. I know accessibility is nuanced but the way you do standards, wow. It's just not my cup of tea. I'm just not that person. But there was a whole bunch of those people in there and giving their time and volunteering and so, I think one thing that would be helpful, to explain to some of our audience is why is it so complicated ? Meaning, so it takes ten years, no 20 years to update the standards but let's also take a moment to celebrate what W3C has done. W3C has gotten WCAG tied into laws all over the world, that's hard to do and another reason why it gets complicated when you try to shift it right because you're actually tied to legal and compliance and if people get this wrong and there is so much more to it and we were talking off air about how assistive technology ties into this. Antonio, off air, was talking about what is happening with social media. There are so many moving parts, Michael. I would be curious how in the world you get your hands around that. But also how can our communities, our corporate stakeholders, our accessibility leaders. The UN aid, how do we get behind this because you're fighting for our community to be included. So, I feel we have to get behind you all to help you. But I also I want to talk about the complexity and I named just some little tiny pieces of it but I just want to be fair about the successes you have had but also how complicated this is?MICHAEL:
Sure, so your experience in the cognitive accessibility group, they are a group that are focusing a lot on gathering, requirements, research, there is actually a reason for that which is they found it was very hard to get people in the rest of the working group to understand the reason for guidelines they were asking for and they basically said we are going to throw the library at you. So, you know that group is more focused than some of our other groups are but you know, it has produced a lot of really interesting material but yeah, it's definitely not everyone's cup of tea. Some of the other groups though like nearly every W3C group has a reputation for being slow and painful to work with. Some of that is because of our consensus process. The function of the W3C, which stands for worldwide web consortium, is to bring industry together to come to agreements on standards and when you have voting going on, on that kind of thing, it gets bad. So yeah, we follow a consensus process and that includes in our working groups and especially in the accessibility working groups, we go out of our way to make sure that we have stakeholder representation from different sections of industry and government but also different user groups. So, we have a lot of people with a lot of differing priorities and also a lot of different amounts backgrounds all trying to talk together. So, it's a challenging environment. There are, we are always working on, you know, strategies for improving the conversations, the evolution of technologies, collaborative document editing tools and you know, internet based chat tools, things like that that are creating new possibilities but you know, sometimes W3C tends to be an organisation that is you know slightly behind the times, you know, that's perhaps partly because technologies generally are invented in the field and then they come to us for standardisation. Accessibility technologies like Aria have been an exception. But we've done that because basically nobody else was going to and we couldn't make HTML accessible enough without it was what it came down to. So, in terms of how do we track all of the moving parts. I don’t know I think that's part of what makes my job difficult but interesting. We do have various procedures. One of our roles in the web accessibility initiative is to perform what we call horizontal review and check that other W3C technologies have the accessibility features that they need, don't introduce new accessibility barriers etc. So, the accessible platform architecture's working group routinely reviews all of the technologies that are going on and then engages with groups as needed. It has also been doing some of the research questions task force and putting together a series of accessibility user requirements documents that gather knowledge that we can then bring to other groups and pull that information together. So that said, moving parts, I think that is one of the things I would like to see us getting a better handle on going forwards, as we get ours reorganised. And, you know, as far as how can community and community organisations help us, there are a number of ways. One is, I think it's very important that we are you know working together towards the common goal of web accessibility and accessibility in the world in general and actually even in that statement, you know, the web accessibility overlaps with real world accessibility in increasing ways. Web accessibility applies to mobile devices in a way that it didn't in the beginning. Internet of things have web accessibility considerations now. So you know we need to work with all of these organisations. You know, we of course need, you know people who are interested in the actual work. Many people are intimidated about participating in W3C because they see it as an elite organisation. And, you know, in some ways it is but people can join the organisation and bring their expertise to it and be welcomed. So you know, we probably should do better about making the path that people can commune that way but that's a very important way that organisations can help us and beyond that I think that we need to be co ordinating on technical and policy levels about what are the pressing issues in the accessibility community? What are the policy efforts? And how do we think various bits should come in? And you know, in terms of education advocacy, we find in W3C, in a way that you know, if we don't do you know some amount of our own advocacy and you know, training materials tutorials, you know people won't understand how to follow our guidelines. But, I also believe that other organisations are doing that kind of work and we should be collaborating on that, you know, making all of these projects support each other. So, you know those are some of the ways right now, I can think of for organisations to support it.NEIL:
I have a comment and I know Antonio has been champing at the bit. I don't think that what Debra was saying was necessarily meant to be a criticism, we were awkward as a co group and I have a different perspective, five or six years down the line now as the person that is globally responsible for all of the programmes within my organisation, about the complexity of compliance and why some of the things that benefit me, as a user are difficult to standardise, especially when we are looking at legal compliance and stuff like that. So, I respect the delicate balance that you have to strike when you're doing some of this work and I can understand, perhaps better now than I could when I was on the other side of the fence, creating user requirements the conniptions that it would cause for some of the people on the other side that were focussed on compliance and in fact, their businesses are compliant and finding ways to consistently test and all of the rest of it because a lot of the stuff that we want isn't necessarily consistent and defining things like, you know, usable or understandable you know is a really difficult thing. So, I just wanted to sort of make the sort of observation that you have some more now than I spent some time working on both sides of the fence.MICHAEL:
Yeah, and I'll just say I didn't take offence to Debra's observation. I think people in this audience will have experienced or heard that W3C is difficult to work with so, I do want to acknowledge that we know that and we are trying to be better with that. I will say that WCAG3 is trying to solve that issue your working on, the current exploration is what we're calling procedural tests, where the accessibility outcome that's desired, we don't have a way of testing was this outcome desired because it's not something directly testable but we can say well, there are procedures that you can follow that will bring you to that outcome and if you can assert that you have followed those procedures then that can count as part of your informant claim. So, there is are a lot of questions about that but it's a way that we are trying to open the door to new, to additional types of accessibility guidance.NEIL:
Yeah, and the other thing is that because we are all neuro divergent we are unsuitable to the ways of working and especially the ADHDers amongst us for sitting on long calls, discussing things and being the experts of each other and not stepping on each other and blurting stuff out. So, just you know, we're innately unsuited to the patience that is required to standards creation in general.ANTONIO:
So Michael, you mentioned that you started working with organisation your organisation in 2006, in if I'm not mistaken. There was no iPhone in 2006. It came in, in 2007. So, I'm sure the young Michael was not expecting the boom of the mobile world at the time. What I want to ask you reflect on in your career and see what type of advice would you give to people who are joining today to work in the space of accessibility because we need more people, definitely. And what advice would you give them and how could they engage with W3C as well because we need to renew the people that are in the different panels and are able to count it but what are your takes in these topics?MICHAEL:
Yeah, so we didn't have, I'm not sure what the state of mobile phones was in 2006. Mobile phones were on our radar, but I don't think any of us predicted that they would be used in the way they are now. Certainly not so quickly. And you know, that's for me as a professional, it's always fun to see how things evolve. That's one of the exciting things about being involved in this work and this organisation, as you're seeing the evolution of technology and perhaps contributing to it. You know, I personally think I came into the job with a pretty strong knowledge of you know, web accessibility techniques of the day and technologies of the day. And, you know from that knowledge I would say that I had a strong knowledge of you know, what I call principles of accessibility. What are the sorts of issues that could become accessibility challenges and over time I've relied on that knowledge more and more and less and less on my specific technology knowledge of what is going on in the world right now. I try to stay on top of it, you know, but there is a lot going on you know and there is a lot of interesting engineering going on. For people getting into the field, you know, I do think that that is a reason that is an interesting field to get into. You know, there is continual evolution both on how we can solve accessibility challenges but how we address new accessibility challenges, you know which are, there is always continuing work in that and web accessibility work, you know also you know brings a greater reach to the web. So, I think it's something that a lot of people should see value in working in. Education and training are really important, you know, we know in the accessibility field we have been trying to get accessibility work into curricula and there have been some efforts towards it but it's not as widespread as we would like. So, you know, my advice to people first of all is to seek programmes that offer that and to work with programmes that you're in to build that and I think that will have the greatest single impact in approving accessibility competence in the industry and that in turn will circle back to you know awareness and work in advancing the field going forward, I believe.ANTONIO:
Just to follow on that Michael, let's say when you were meeting people in 2006 and when you meet people today, what evolution have you identified when you have to explain what you do?MICHAEL:
Well, you know most people are not going to understand any technical explanation of what I do, so I just say I work to make the web accessible to people with disabilities. But if somebody does press for details, you know I think at the time I would have talked a lot more about the importance of WCAG2 and you know, about the importance of paying attention to accessibility from the ground up in the site design because of the difficulty of doing it after the fact. So, it would have been, I think very technical focused. If I'm trying to tell somebody my job now, I can talk about all the interesting technologies that we have been looking at with an accessibility angle, we have looked at amens and vehicles and you know, web of things. You know machine learning, you know, it's fascinating. And you know, we have you know specific pieces of guidance related to all of that. You know, I can also say that you know back in 2006, somebody who was very much a part of the web accessibility community would say oh, W3C I've heard it or you're working on WCAG that is cool. But, you know, now I can say I've worked on the web accessibility guidelines and people can say oh yeah I remember seeing your name at the top of there. So you know, people, there is a lot more awareness just in general of the work that we do. I think probably because in part of the stick of the legal side but also I think due to a lot of successful outreach from various parts of the community. So yeah, maybe that's one of the biggest differences.NEIL:
Excellent. I mean, I think yes, the world has changed significantly. You mentioned AI and machine learning and obviously, Chat GPT has just arrived in people's consciousness, potentially has huge implications for all kinds of technologies, including accessibility so, I think that there is a tonne of stuff to be looked at there. I came across something yesterday that looked really interesting for supporting people with needs that was based upon space braiding. So, this was a brilliant idea, so, some astrophysicist had been working on communications, interplanetary communications. So, the delay that you have when you are in near space orbit is not too bad. You can have a conversation on the moon, it's still just about okay. Mars is impossible. So, they are looking at ways of doing that and they actually found that also when developed this braiding technique for having conversations, it also worked for you know, for making conversations for introverts and people with cognitive accessibility needs and so on. So, I think that the joy of working in accessibility and in our field is the fact that we get to play with all of these new things. At the same time, we had the challenge of trying to make all of these new things accessible because you know quite often, you know, I don't think people, we were designing Chat GBT were particularly thinking about accessibility when they were doing it. So, I think there is a whole sort of need to inculcate the need to think about this stuff still in the way that we teach people and encourage people to design tech.MICHAEL:
Yeah, and the authoring tool accessibility guidelines connects to that, they went to a recommendation, I don't remember the year but sometime after WCAG2.0 and then we haven't had scope to update them since then. But, that is something that's on our radar as needing further work. But, we don't know exactly how that might happen. But, you know, there were a number of sites that you know incorporated those principles at the time. But were another generation or two later and a refresh is probably needed.NEIL:
Yeah, excellent. I agree that actually ATAG is the lesser known of the accessibility standards but one that has such a huge impact, if people implement it. So, yeah and does that also fall under your remit that you're working on at the moment or is it something that you're sort of side working on you know aligned with.MICHAEL:
How W3C makes its decisions so, it's something that we see that there is some work needing to be done on. But work to be done in W3C has to be done in a working group that sees a charter that is voted on by the advisory committee which are representatives of the members of the consortium and basically some years ago they declined to recharter the authoring tools working group and we have kept a sort of an ember of scope by saying in the accessibility guidelines working group charter that we may touch that space at the very least, we might publish a rata for ATAG. And there is an ember keeping it alive in the space and we, I think would like to fan the ember. But I'm not sure when or how at this moment.NEIL:
Okay and that's a tough question and good answer. So, we have reached the end of our time. I think it's been a super interesting chat. We are really pleased to have you on and look forward to the engagement on Twitter with the community. We'll be using Axschat account to provide your answers because you're not on Twitter anymore. Some people have migrated to other platforms. We need to thank Amazon and MyClearText for keeping us on air and captioned and look forward to joining you on Twitter shortly. Thank you, Michael. It's been a real pleasure.