Makoto Ueki is a web accessibility expert based in Tokyo, Japan. His company Infoaxia provides a wide range of accessibility consulting services with full support for compliance with Japanese Industrial Standards.
How did you get started in accessibility?
When I joined a web usability consulting firm in Tokyo around 2001, my boss assigned me to a Japanese localization project of an add-on software for Macromedia Dreamweaver. The software was an automated testing tool for web content accessibility. That was the first time I heard the term “accessibility.” To be honest, I had no idea what accessibility meant. There were no people with disabilities in my family, relatives, friends or acquaintances. Actually I hadn’t met a person who had any disabilities in my life.
I joined the consulting firm because I wanted to be a web usability expert. But I became in charge of the project and came to know what accessibility was. I was totally blown away when I met a person who was blind for the first time. He was a newspaper reporter. I saw him using a screen reader to interact with websites. I already had experience as a web director and web master, but I had never imagined that people who could not see were able to use the PC and access websites.
The Web is amazing! I got motivated to let every single web professional know accessibility and the potential of the Web. That has been and will definitely be my mission.
In your work with Infoaxia, you are able to provide clients with expert advice regarding inclusive design and compliance with web accessibility. Describe your experience developing Japanese accessibility standards. What is an example of a project you are most proud of?
We have the Japanese national standard for accessible web content, which is called “JIS X 8341 part 3.” The standard was published in 2004 for the first time. I joined the JIS X 8341-3 working group in 2003. I was also participating in the working group for the 2nd version which was published in 2010. And I was the chair of the committee and the working group for JIS X 8341-3:2016 which is the latest version of the standard.
I’m proud of the international harmonization at the WCAG working group for developing WCAG 2.0. WCAG 2.0 was published in 2008. I joined the working group to harmonize JIS X 8341-3 with WCAG 2.0. The JIS standard had several requirements which were not seen in the working draft of WCAG 2.0. We thought some of them were Japanese language specific. But I tried to make all of them involved in WCAG 2.0. Success Criterion “1.3.3 Sensory Characteristics,” “3.1.4 Abbreviations,” “3.1.6 Pronunciation” and Technique “C8: Using CSS letter-spacing to control spacing within a word” are examples which originally came from JIS X 8341-3.
And I’m also proud of contributing to make JIS X 8341-3:2016 identical to ISO/IEC 40500:2012 as the chair. WCAG 2.0 was approved as the ISO/IEC standard in 2012. We can say that JIS X 8341-3:2016 is the Japanese translation of WCAG 2.0. I didn’t want to have double standards. Japanese global companies are able to use the same set of Success Criteria globally to make their web content more accessible.
You travel frequently and have given many presentations in the US and Canada. What are some of your observations about North American accessibility compared to Japanese?
What I’m feeling is that the mindset is totally different. In Japan, we still don’t have any legal obligations and pressures in terms of web content accessibility. On the other hand, North America has the laws and the regulations which require web content to be accessible. Especially in the United States, the number of lawsuits against inaccessible websites and mobile apps is increasing dramatically.
I’ve been attending the CSUN conference every year for last 15 years. I see most of presentations are about “Case studies” and “Practice in the organizations” while we are still in the stage of “Awareness” and “What and Why?” in Japan. For instance, there are so many automated testing tools available in North America (i.e. in English) and those kind of tools are evolving year by year. But only a few tools are available in Japanese. I want to see the Japanese version of more tools! Most of my clients are Japanese global companies and they are actually looking for tools that they can use globally, both in English and in Japanese.
I’m also interested in the term “Inclusive.” In recent years, I’ve seen many presenters are using “inclusive” rather than “accessible” at the conferences and webinars. I understood that accessibility is originally about people with disabilities, but I believe it is more than that. So I’ve been promoting “accessibility” by showing the benefits for all users who are using the Web. For instance, Japan is the most rapidly aging country on this planet. Older people are more likely to have difficulties when they see, hear, understand and interact with web content. Besides, every user could have the same kind of challenges situationally or temporarily regardless of disabilities and aging. If it is more accessible, then it is more usable for all. I’m very curious to know the reasons why accessibility experts like to use the word “inclusive” instead of “accessible.”
What is an accessibility barrier that you would like to see solved?
I’d have to say the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. That’s why I’m participating in the Silver Task Force of the W3C Accessibility Guidelines working group (AGWG). “Silver” is the code name for the next version of the guidelines. It is really tough for me to follow the discussion in English every week on the conference call and read a bunch of documents written in English though.
I’m giving my talk at open seminars in public and the in-house trainings for my clients. Once attendees get interested in web accessibility, they will look for resources on how to make web content accessible. Then they will find the established guidelines such as WCAG 2.0 and JIS X 8341-3. But soon or later, they will also find that it is very difficult to understand the requirements and criteria. In many cases, they give up! What a huge opportunity is missed in order to make the Web more accessible. Really!
When the JIS working group translated WCAG 2.0, it was really hard and time-consuming for us to understand and translate it into Japanese. It must be a big problem for international adoption of the guidelines. I’ve heard that it is hard to understand WCAG 2.0 even for people who speak English. I’d really like to change this unfortunate scenario. I think that the most important of basics has not changed for many years. Actually I’ve been pointing out almost the same issues all the time on my audit reports for different web pages, like ALT text for images, semantic markup, color contrast, descriptive link text, keyboard operable, etc.
However, I do see improvement. In Japan, “accessibility” is becoming a hot topic among web professionals and there are more advocates who are passionate with spreading the word about it. At the same time, it seems like most web professionals still don’t understand what to do, how to do it and even why they should care about. It is absolutely essential and crucially important to make the guidelines easier to understand and implement. I was interviewed by the Silver Task Force before I joined them and also have attended the design sprint. I made some requests. Using plain language for the guidelines is the top on my wish list. It will allow more people to get involved in making web content accessible. I’m going to make it happen!