eGovernment has become a primary trend in the information revolution and almost every country in the world has been part of it [Tayl07]. Given that eGovernment is an important area of information technology (IT) and information systems innovation, governments have been attempting to incorporate eGovernment into their existing information system applications and government processes [Alsh10]. The development of eGovernment capabilities is an important undertaking since it is not only rapidly changing the way governments supply information, deliver services, and deal with the public, but it is also becoming an integral part of government strategies [Zhan14].
In September 2011, Spain was among the ten most advanced countries in this area and ranked fifth at the European level in terms of both availability and sophistication of online public services [SIPA11]. The progress of eGovernment in Spain has undoubtedly been favoured not only by the greater awareness and predisposition to engagement shown by potential service users but also by the planning and legislative efforts made by the public sector in the last few years [Gonz07]. The Law on Citizens’ Electronic Access to Public Services passed in June 2007 supported the commitment towards eGovernment implementation. The main objective is that “Citizens can access all public services and handle administrative paperwork using internet, from anywhere, at any time”. It was applied by autonomous communities and local authorities with the objective of providing eGovernment services (eServices) accessible for all citizens [Cega12].
The legislative actions are based on accessibility standards such as the one proposed by W3C, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 [W3C12]. These standards deal with web navigational issues of people with disabilities. In order to meet the varying needs of this audience, several layers of guidance are provided including overall principles, general guidelines and testable success criteria with techniques. These techniques for WCAG 2.0 include specific authoring practices and examples for developing more accessible web content. There are “General Techniques” that describe basic practices that are applicable to any technology, and technology-specific techniques that provide information applicable to particular technologies (HTML and XHTML, CSS, WAI-ARIA). The professionals that use WCAG vary widely and include Web designers and developers, policy makers, purchasing agents, teachers, students as well as web professionals working at government organizations.
Nevertheless, evidence suggests that compliance to these accessibility standards does not necessarily guarantee a satisfying user experience on the Web. Studies that corroborate such evidence state that websites compliant with the guidelines can be inaccessible for users in specific situations. The other way around also applies: non-compliant websites do not necessarily have to pose a challenge to users. For instance, Petrie et al. [Petr04] conducted a user study with 51 participants with disabilities, where the authors observed, identified and classified the difficulties that users encountered. They found that 45% of the observed problems were not related to any violation of WCAG 1.0 checkpoints. Power et al. [Powe12] conducted an empirical study about the problems identified by 32 screen reader users on the Web. Results revealed that only 50.4% of the problems encountered by participants were covered by WCAG 2.0 success criteria. In addition, Web 2.0 technologies are creating new types of barriers not yet considered in such standards [Zajy07].
Personalization of web content according to users’ needs seems to be an effective method for overcoming the accessibility barriers and ensuring a satisfactory experience on the Web. eGovernment can highly benefit from this method in order to develop services that are accessible, effective, simple to use, shaped around and responding to the needs of all citizens.
The systematization of meeting requirements, ensuring mobility from the abstract user interfaces to different devices (multidevice) and various technology platforms would highly benefit the development of eGovernment services. This systematization and sustainability provides quality and cost savings for the public administrations. All these challenges are possible to achieve if eGovernment stakeholders are provided with a methodological framework with a strong architecture for the development and integration of services. This is one of the main goals of our proposal. It is an ambitious goal but with the cooperation of the various teams and background it is feasible to carry out the proposed objectives.
Data mining and user modelling
Techniques to model user navigation become of the utmost importance in the field of eGovernment because they allow not only predicting interactive behaviour but also assessing the appropriateness of the content of a link, information architecture of a site and design of a web page [Vigo13]. Web-usage mining [Fuji11] can be used to extract knowledge from observed actions, as a previous step to user profiling [Schi09]. Semantic Web technologies like the Resource Description Framework (RDF) [Lass02] or RDF Schema (RDFS) [Bric02] provide us with appropriate modelling constructs to model and represent the domain of resources, the resources themselves, as well as users and links. Ontologies are nowadays widely used to build user models, because they provide a common semantic conceptualization [Dolo07]. The use of such methods for user profiling will ensure the interoperability of different eGovernment services with the user models developed in this project and will improve the integration of different services which is a key aspect in eGovernment [Gugl05].
Web personalization technologies
Several approaches for personalizing websites according to users´ particular characteristics have been developed in the last few years. Most of these are focused on improving web navigation experience for users with disabilities, for instance, a system for websites adaptation for blind people is presented in [Lunn08], automated adaptations for people with limited mobility are proposed in [Gajo10], web personalization techniques for elderly people can be found in [Rich04] [Kurn06] [Nian02]. These works are based on informational websites. E-learning systems can be thought of as more complete adaptation systems; the techniques applied are mainly based on the level of knowledge, expertise level or preferences of users [Brun07]. Personalization of eGovernment services has its own particularities as the services are more complex than informational websites and require much interaction. Aspects such as users’ needs, expertise level and preferences will be considered in this project as well as the devices’ features for developing user-tailored multidevice accessible eGovernment services.
The eServices can be accessed from multiple platforms and, potentially, in a multitude of environments. While the provision of interfaces for the multiple devices can be tackled by following a model-based approach [Pate00], there is still the need to guarantee that the interface meets accessibility standards in every device. Modern mobile phones and mobile gadgets enable users to access a wide variety of information and communication services anytime and anywhere. These devices provide people with disabilities new opportunities to act independently in the world. However, they have their own accessibility challenges [Kane09]. To complement the aforementioned WCAG 2.0 guidelines, the W3C provides also a set of Mobile Web Application Best Practices (MWABP) and Mobile Web Best Practices (MWBP) [MWBP]. While these are useful, they do not solve the accessibility problems that disabled users face [Cleg14], which require the exploration of further techniques to address this issue, such as context-awareness [Bett10] or adaptation [Akik14].
Natural Language Processing
Language related technologies are also important in the field of inclusive eGovernment. During the last years several research efforts have been devoted to apply language technologies to text customization for readability and legibility in different application domains (newspapers, health, finance, etc.) [Bott12][Sagg11]. Information is not equally accessible to everyone and the main reason is that people with disabilities (deaf and blind people, people with reading difficulties (e.g., dyslexic), people with cognitive limitations, older people and others) as well as second language learners and people with low-literacy require adapted contents in order to improve access to information in different media. Moreover, disability increases with age; in 2025 9% of Europe’s population will be over 75 years. Although there are some examples of promoting accessibility in websites, such as Discapnet with easy-to-read news (www.noticiasfacil.es), the Journal of Inclusion Europe with easy reading access to news summaries (www.e-include.info), and a simple English Wikipedia (simple.wikipedia.org), there is much room to improve mainly in electronic administration services.
WCAG 2.0 provides four principles that are required to guarantee Web access and use to anyone. All of them are directly related to text content (perceivable and understandable) (e.g., Guideline 3.1 Readable: Make text content readable and understandable), [Brud08][Rell12]. These guidelines are complicated requirements to carry out in web applications and websites, especially in large-scale websites. Despite the complexity to comply with these accessibility requirements related to the text, there are technologies from different disciplines that can be used to support these requirements of the accessibility standards [Mbpi09]. To comply with the requirements for the text covered by the WCAG 2.0 and implementing the techniques for WCAG 2.0, it is required to use NLP techniques. We propose in this project to apply consolidated research in NLP such as summarization [Spar07], topic detection [Pons07], abbreviations recognition [Okaz06], language identification [Bald10] and text simplification [Bott12] [Drnd12], which can provide support to comply with the guidelines regarding to the text in web content.
This project proposes a formal and methodological framework supporting the development of accessible eGovernment applications from the perspective of Web engineering. To guarantee the systematization of accessibility requirements and customization, sustainability throughout the life cycle, plus getting benefits such as multidevice and multiplatform, the model-based development (MBD) and model-driven development (MDD) approaches have been taken into account because they can address these challenges.
MDD allows to separating the platform-independent design from the platform-specific implementation of applications, delaying as much as possible the dependence on specific technologies. Moreover, because the accessibility requirements can be integrated in the modelling, this approach facilitates the design. Considering MDD, different methodologies based on models are found, for instance: Cameleon Reference Framework [Calv03] [W3C05], IDEAS (Interface Development Environment within OASIS), OOH (Object-Oriented Hypermedia), TRIDENT (Tools foR an Interactive Development ENvironmenT). The user interface development is based on models and uses high-level specification languages. These languages, called User Interface Description Language (UIDL), are used by MB-UID to describe the models in a formal way. Among these languages, one can distinguish: UsiXML (USer Interface eXtensible Markup Language) [UsiX11], UIML (User Interface Markup Language), XIML (Extensible Interface Markup Language), XUL (XML-based User-Interface Language), MARIA (Model-based lAnguage foR Interactive Applications).
Background. Other finished related projects
Both research teams have been involved in previous projects related to the topics of this proposal: the EHU participated in ModelAccess, DATACC, EVALEU, INREDIS, and AmbienNet. On the other hand, the UC3M participated in TRENDMINER, MULTIMEDICA, DISUIPA, BRAVO, and MAVIR.
Among other results, the EHU research team has carried out several works related to automated evaluation of web accessibility such as the ones presented in [Abas04] and [Aizp11]; others related to automated accessibility evaluation of guidelines for the mobile web interfaces [Vigo09]; and also works regarding the personalization of web accessibility [Vigo07]. Recent works are focused on studying users’ navigational behaviour on the web in order to select and apply appropriate personalization techniques. One of these works is a general and non-invasive web-mining system using only the information stored in a web server [Arbe13]. It has been refined in a subsequent publication, where the researchers employed an ad-hoc system to infer user models from people with cognitive disabilities and detect possible navigation difficulties [Arbe14]. In addition, this research team developed an automated system for user-tailored generation of accessible interfaces for ubiquitous services [Abas11] as well as an automated adaptation system for informational web interfaces [Vale13].
UC3M research team has experience in applying NLP techniques to information systems in different application domains. To cite some research related to this project, [Pabl13] describes an approach to name entity recognition and classification in texts using a bootstrapping algorithm that could be adapted to different text genres and languages. [Segu14] describes how to extract relevant entities and relations among them to build summaries from health social media (user posts from forums and Twitter). These works can be applied in this project to semi-automatic content adaptation/presentation related to WCAG 2.0 in topic detection, text summarization and lexical simplification. Concerning the inclusion of accessibility requirements in the development life cycle of web applications, [More13] introduces a methodological approach to manage accessibility in web developments and [More11] provides an overview of tools and standards related to web accessibility.
Recently, EHU and UC3M research teams have cooperated in several works, mainly in the areas of detection of accessibility barriers for specific user groups, integration of accessibility into model-based development approaches and study of web navigation strategies applied by users with disabilities. The results have been published in several international conferences and journals: [Miño14], [Pere14], [Vale14], [Gonz13], and [Miño13].
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