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Accessibility Initiative

From Wikimedia Usability Initiative

As the Wikimedia Accessibility Initiative (WAI) we want to coordinate efforts towards accessibility globally. This page intends to be the point of contact for people interested in the accessibility of Wikimedia projects. As we understand accessibility as a natural part of usability, we have chosen the Usability wiki to host all our upcoming pages related to accessibility.

Accessibility still has little significance on the agenda of the Wikimedia Foundation. There is no official project dedicated to accessibility. Accessibility bugs submitted to Bugzilla are often assigned a low importance and, thus, are never fixed. From our past experiences we have learnt that local efforts only don’t have the desired impact. The few accessibility advocates are not heard. But if we care about language communities with 10.000 speakers, we definitely must take care about millions of disabled.

Therefore, we established the Wikimedia Accessibility Initiative as the global advocate of accessible Wikimedia projects. We want to set up an active group of experts that provides consistent and coordinated recommendations, rather than providing feedback as individuals with occasional and possibly divergent opinions. We want to collect, document and comment on global accessibility issues, i.e. issues within MediaWiki and within common extensions, and of course provide solutions for found problems. We want to learn from successful local projects and provide best practices for local projects and for developers. We also want to create and then propose a high-level accessibility policy to the Wikimedia Foundation.

The Accessibility Initiative can only be successful, if enough dedicated people participate. Naoko Komura, Head of UX Programs, has once phrased it nicely: We need to build enough momentum. We hope you join our efforts when reading this page.

Importance of accessibility

Why is accessibility of major importance to Wikimedia? Let us give you some statistics. According to the WHO report there are 161 million visually impaired world-wide including 37 million blind. In Germany alone we have 80.000 deaf using sign-language.

A survery of the German Aktion Mensch found that deaf, people with learning disabilities, with mental disabilities or with dyslexia use wikis much less than people with other impairments. Collaboration is even lesser. Wikis are too complicated for them, because they don’t find information in the form they need, e.g. simple sentences or sign-language videos. The fact is: We know too little about what prevents people with disabilities to use Wikimedia projects, and, even more important, to participate.

Even more overlooked are disabled people in the third world. Typically having no AT products at all, they need special support, e.g. a self-voicing Wikipedia (see discussion “Speak to the blind”).

Wikipedia was the third most favorite website for screen reader users in early 2009 (see WebAIM survey).

Scope of work

In the following you find the fields in which we want to contribute. If you have other ideas or comments that don’t fit into this classification, please share them nonetheless.

Strategic planning

We want to analyse the current accessibility strategy within Wikimedia project and within the Wikimedia Foundation, and work out strategic plans for both. This topic was raised during the strategic planning process of the Wikimedia Foundation, see the proposal to create an accessibility committee and the lean category on proposals for improving accessibility. Eugene, of Blue Oxen, asks us to “[…] think at a movement-level. In other words, don’t just think about what the Wikimedia Foundation can do to improve accessibility. Think about what partners, the community at large could do.”

Proposal of accessibility policy

As a concrete goal within developing an accessibility strategy we want to propose a high-level accessibility policy for the Wikimedia Foundation. Accessibility must become an accepted and communicated goal of the Foundation.

Best practices

Best practices: found by local initiatives

Feedback on prototypes

One goal is to provide feedback on the prototypes of the UX team, so we have fairly accessible tools before conducting an accessibility audit.

Feedback on accessibility issues

Accessibility issues: throughout all Wikimedia projects, MediaWiki core code and extensions

What can you do?

Join our initiative.
Let us know you are involved with accessibility. Put your name on the particpants list, or leave a note on the talk page, or visit us in the IRC channel, or get in contact with a trusted particpant.

Spread the word.
Advertise the Wikimedia Accessibility Initative so that people become aware and possible join our efforts. You can write blog postings (e.g. French and German Wikimedia blog), write a note at your local initiatives, talk to people you know who are interested in accessibility etc.

Share your ideas.
Put down and discuss your ideas either on the (talk) pages or in the IRC channel. You can also send an email to the above stated participants. They will be glad to answer questions or to receive your input.

Report issues.
If you are aware of accessibilty issues in Wikimedia projects report them. Only what is known can be fixed. Leave a short explanation on the issue page or contact any of the initiative’s participants.

Fix issues.
If you are able to fix existing accessibilty issues, do so!

Get support.

Propose best practices.
If you have experience from you local accessibility initiatives or from your own efforts, note them down in the best practices page.

Improve these pages.
When you find information gaps, bad wording, poor examples or just wrong spelling or grammar, go ahead and improve our pages. After all, this is a wiki.


We have set up the irc channel #wikimedia-accessibility for internal coordination and questions. If you find no one present, do send an email to one of the participants. Other channels like #wikipedia_usability may be used as well for discussion.


Of course, you don’t have to put yourself in a list to advocate accessibility. But it could be helpful for others in order to find a contact person, for general enquiries, or for support in local projects.

  • Danny, user Danny B.
  • Rodan Bury, user Dodoïste: Rodan is a member of the French accessibility project. He’s sometimes also working on the English Wikipedia. He is interested in usability, accessibility and web standards in general.
  • Samuel Klein, user sj
  • Maria Schiewe, user Lecartia: Maria is an ordinary board member of Wikimedia Deutschland. In 2009 Wikimedia Deutschland’s board agreed on three goals regarding accessibility and usability until 2020. (One objective: Wikimedia is a reference example of web accessibility and usability.) These goals were approved by the general assembly in 2010.
    Maria is an employee of a manufacturer of assistive technology (Braille displays etc.) and currently works as an accessibility consultant for a German public authority. Before that, she was a research associate developing two-dimensional haptic user interfaces. Maria’s expertise and knowledge focuses on blind and visually impaired users. But she also has a strong interest in the needs of deaf users.
  • User Reaperman

Local initiatives

These are the local initiatives we are currently aware of, grouped by language. Apart from a global Accessibility Initiative we need strong local ones. Often local projects fail because there are too few people involved. So please join and support them, if you are interested.

Actions taken

At Wikimania Rodan will gave the presentation “First steps towards accessibility”, summarizing the findings of a French accessibility expert regarding MediaWiki and Wikimedia. Complementary, Danny and Maria run the hands-on workshop “Hear and feel your MediaWiki code at work”.

Maria has nominated the German Wikipedia for an accessibility award called BIENE. The results will be presented in December 2010. Although our chances of winning are low, we will receive an extensive report of accessibility issues found by the expert testers.

Wikimedia Germany is in contact with the German Central Library for the Blind (DZB), who have had a look at Vector's accessibility. Some results can be found at mw:Accessibility.


Recommended reading


Personas allow you to understand the needs of users better and keep them in mind throughout the whole design process. Instead of refering to a dubious “user” you have one or several specific characters.

Assistive technology

It’s a good idea to test with assistive technology (AT) on a virtual machine (VM). Most AT products offer a “demo mode”, i.e. they run fully functional for a specified time, but you need to re-boot your system after this time has elapsed. Therefore, VM come in handy. Don’t install various AT products alongside as they can interfere. Better use one VM for one product. The article Configuring Your Machine For Testing With A Screen Reader explains how to set up your VM and how to configure JAWS, Window-Eyes, and NVDA for your testing.

Screen reader

Screen readers are great to get an idea on how blind users navigate through a page. It's great for demonstration. Be aware however that their implementation vary, and they can't be used to accurately measure the accessibility of a page. Use W3C's guidelines instead.

  • JAWS: JAWS is the most widely used screen reader in North America and Western Europe. It’s current version 11 is available from Freedom Scientific. Without an authorisation code JAWS runs as a 40 minute demo. Be sure to run the “Braille Viewer” alongside to see the Braille display’s output in normal script.
  • NVDA: article by WebAIM Using NVDA to Evaluate Web Accessibility
  • Supernova
  • Window-Eyes
  • VoiceOver, built into Mac OS X and iPhoneOS (iOS).

Screen magnifier

  • Lunar (or Supernova)
  • ZoomText

Testing tools

  • Fangs for Firefox: Fangs is a screen reader emulation that basically mimics the popular screen reader Jaws. It shows the typical speech output of a page as text and also provides a list of headings and a list of links. A very light-weight, easy-to-use tool for basic inspection.
  • Firefox Accessibility Extension for Firefox: includes useful lists for navigation, list of text equivalents etc.
  • Web Accessibility Toolbar for IE5+
  • Vischeck allows to simulate how the page or picture is seen by people with specified kind of color blindness.

See also