Involving people with disabilities in the standardisation process

Chapter 3 - Writing the standard

People with disabilities can influence the content of the standard in various ways, although there always remains the problem of knowing that a standard is being developed on a specific topic until it is too late to have any influence:
Elderly lady using a mobile telephone

  1. Submitting written comments to the Committee or Working Group especially at the draft for public comment stage. This can also be done directly to the convenor or secretary but is best done via the national committee. Some working groups hold open meetings and publish draft proposals on a website, but this is not the norm.
  2. Attending a meeting of the Working Group and making a verbal presentation. This is probably best done after submitting written comments. When a standard approaches its final draft, the Working Group meetings may only discuss material submitted in writing in advance.
  3. Getting appointed as a member of the Working Group. For European and international standards, the initial approach should be made to the chair of the relevant committee (or mirror group) of the national standards organisation. However, all members of the Working Group need to represent a wider interest than just their personal viewpoint and so any member must be prepared to consult with others to ensure this is the case.
  4. Undertaking any research needed to provide scientific data on which to base the standard.
  5. Participating in a specialist task force (in some cases this may be funded by the European Commission).
  6. Acting as editor for the standard. This role should not be taken on lightly since it calls for special expertise and is likely to prove time consuming.

The level of influence will be determined by which approach is taken. Membership of a committee or working group will incur costs for travel and subsistence as these are not normally reimbursed, except in special circumstances, and could incur an annual charge, but this is often waived for disability organisations. There may also be a fee levied by the organisers for attending a particular meeting, which is in addition to the cost of travel, accommodation and meals.

For most standards bodies, the usual form of communication is email with some organisations providing the facility to download the documents from a website. During the development phase, most documents are in Microsoft Word with some being in Microsoft Excel or PDF (Adobe Page Description Format). The standards bodies normally have a template they require everyone to use for submitting comments to a public draft.

The final standard will usually be published in print and PDF , although a few standards that are aimed at people with disabilities are also available in large print. Copyright belongs to the standards organisation who usually charge for the purchase of individual standards. Sales of standards is often a significant source of income for the standards body and the potential volume of sales can influence whether a standard is developed or not.

An elderly man in a mobility scooter at an ATM

Often standard documents include tables and sometimes diagrams (varying from showing how dimensions are measured, to the design of an icon, to a complex flow chart). Tables can prove difficult to read non-visually, and the diagrams may be too complex for an alternative text description to be viable. Another problem is that some committees and working groups produce enormous quantities of working documents. The numbering of documents is sometimes complicated with international and national bodies using different references. An index is not always provided nor are the keywords required to search for a document obvious. Current templates for standards preparation (typically in Microsoft Word) are not designed to be accessible in electronic form. All this makes it harder for a disabled person who has difficulty in reading printed documents. Some standards organisations are prepared to produce key documents in alternative formats such as large print, audio and braille. The production of alternative formats can be contracted out.

Last updated: 04.08.2009   © Copyright reserved    Website design: Digital Accessibility Team