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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Another kick at councils on accessibility

E-access Bulletin has another go at council web site accessibility, citing SOCITM's annual Better Connected Review. It claims that this had shown minimal progress and therefore there's a "a gloomy picture".

Several colleagues on twitter have reacted badly, as well they might. Government in general is the only sector which actually has policy to implement the Disability Discrimination Act online and it's not like all disabled people access is government. Who knows, they might just want to buy stuff or play games!

Commercial websites have never been seriously challenged by the accessibility industry, despite it being a much more lucrative sector to potentially target.

What gets me is that they then say the following:
It is not all bad news this year, however. Some encouragement can be drawn from the implementation of a new additional qualitative assessment system, carried out for Socitm by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), and designed to give an overall picture of council website accessibility. The system used its own 0-3 rating, with 0 representing a frequent absence of accessibility and 3 representing a site that was functionally fully accessible. Under this system, 136 councils (33%) were rated by the RNIB as satisfactory or excellent; a far more encouraging statistic than the 8% who achieved WCAG Level A.
Now WCAG is the international standard. It was replaced in December 2008 by a revision which takes into account the developments online as well as a much wider interpretation of disability. All measurement against WCAG 1.0 was therefore carried out (last November) against - effectively - a deprecated standard. In WCAG Level A context is irrelevant, it just gives a (literal) machine score on which councils are judged.

What using someone like the RNIB to give 'qualitative' feedback tells me is that the machine does so much but here's some actual disabled people putting things in context.

It's striking in its absence that much of the industry selling 'accessibility' to government is not disabled people. What their actual needs are isn't the key selling point - it's 'meeting a standard'.

To my mind this lets people off the hook. All councils have the ability to engage with actual disabled people about their websites but instead they're encouraged to keep a distance and follow some coding requirements. So no-one actually knows whether this is actually helping actual disabled people.

For example, is this correctly coded content of any use? Or can the key tasks which disabled people have on sites be easily performed?

These are the same sorts of issues sites should consider for others so why when it comes to disabled people do we take another approach?

Surely that is the very definition of discrimination.

Just as with usability, it pays massive dividends if the coders and designers come out their cubicles and engage with the audience (not that councils do usability well either but hey-ho ... ).

Bim Egan, Senior Web Access Consultant at the RNIB, told E-access Bulletin: "we noticed a significant improvement in the real accessibility of most of the websites we assessed. Unfortunately that doesn’t always show in a strict conformance check.”

The key concept here being 'real accessibility'.


NB: reedit following JackP's comment.


  1. WCAG 1.0 isn't "about to be" replaced. It was replaced in December 2008.

    All measurement against WCAG 1.0 was therefore carried out against - effectively - a deprecated standard.

  2. shit, that's what happens when you rush and don't re-edit :[

  3. With WCAG 1.0 officially outdated, and with Council's barely given time to digest WCAG 2.0, any results based on either of those would have been flawed. The RNIB's own rating is clearly the more relevant one here, so it's a real disappointment that reports are focusing on the WCAG results.