Background and main objectives
The main objective of the project is to generate practical guidance for Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers on how to construct courses where lived experiences of persons at risk of exclusion can be transformed into skills that are sought after in the labour market. This is a concept that we refer to as ‘user expertise’.
Digitalisation and stricter accessibility requirements
Society is becoming more digital. Services that once involved physical interactions, such as visits to administrative offices, are now being offered digitally. Unfortunately, these solutions don’t always take into account different user needs and some groups run the risk of falling between the cracks, such as persons with disabilities.
Due to this, new accessibility requirements have been introduced at EU-level. Most relevant is the Web Accessibility Directive, which places new and stricter accessibility requirements on all websites and mobile applications operated by public sector bodies in EU and EEA member states.
An increased demand for accessibility professionals
This legislation has the potential to make a huge contribution to more inclusive public services across the EU. In order to implement the legislation, owners of public websites need to have the practical knowledge of what web accessibility implies and how to achieve it. However, the requirements are often technical and difficult for the layperson to fully understand. Taking this into account and considering the sheer number of web interfaces and public and private bodies affected, the demand for web accessibility experts is likely to increase dramatically across Europe. A demand which is not met by a sufficient supply of web accessibility experts.
Users as experts
At the same time, there is an untapped source of expertise on web accessibility that is often forgotten. Persons who regularly experience inaccessibility have acquired an understanding of the practical consequences of the accessibility requirements and are therefore well placed to both pinpoint accessibility issues and test the different solutions.
At the moment, experience and expertise gained by exposure to inaccessibility on the web is fairly atomised and dispersed among individual users. These users often display great ingenuity when it comes to surmounting accessibility hurdles, but the strategies employed are not gathered and disseminated in any systematic way. Moreover, individual strategies for dealing with these hurdles often come at the cost of leaving the system unchanged, without questioning its non-compliance with existing accessibility requirements. The lack of connection between individuals and the organisations in charge of the websites therefore reinforces the status quo and makes for a missed opportunity to improve the overall level of accessibility.
The Users as Experts project aims to create a distinct area of expertise out of the specific competences and experiences of persons with disabilities, focussing on the field of web accessibility. Our expectation is that this will help meet the clear demand that exists in the market, while at the same time providing persons with disabilities with employment opportunities.