Monthly Archives: June 2012

The ten point business case for web accessibility

At the risk of being typecast as a curmudgeonly blogger I am forced to wonder how serious the commitment to government web standards and accessibility really is. Government is indicating that more and more services are to be offered online which means a strong business case for accessibility is necessary.

What is particularly worrying is the plethora of government and quasi-government public service related web sites which are not core government departmental sites. They are not held accountable or required to meet government web standards, and, in particular, accessibility standards.

Many of these sites have a public education, information or public participation function and may be more relevant to many people than the corporate sites of their parent government organisations. Yet many of these sites evidence a complete lack of consideration of any accessibility features and are exclusive of some of the people who may most need the content they contain.

This is an indication of the compliance mentality, the lack of development of a business case for accessibility and a limited understanding of the value of accessibility that leads to a minimalist tick box approach.

Accessibility is about:

  • attitude
  • audience
  • an inclusive approach.

The business case for web accessibility

  1. The business case for accessibility is linked closely to organisational purpose and function. Integration of web accessibility into communication and business plans and strategies is fundamental and should be linked to other accessibility policies, projects and programmes.
  2. Understanding the audience/s is critical. It is a given that older people and a variety of disabled people with accessibility requirements beyond screen readers will be part of that audience.
  3. Accessible sites – and particularly sites that use CSS effectively – will be easier (and therefore cheaper) to manage and maintain because they are well structured and because changes to the appearance of the site can be made globally with changes to a single line of code in one file.
  4. Well-structured content will make the site more usable for everyone.
  5. Accessible sites will work with different browsing technologies, mobiles, tablets and so on and appear higher in search engine ratings.
  6. Accessible files tend to be smaller, which has two impacts. First, download time will significantly improve, which is important because people will leave if a site is too slow to download. There is still a number of users who access the internet via dial-up.
  7. Accessible sites are not limited. Using rich and diverse means of communication within a web site will create different ways of communicating the same information.
  8. General usability will be enhanced. Good publicity may be a spin-off, but perhaps one of the most important considerations is that accessibility will increase the site’s reach to include previously excluded audiences. If a site works well for disabled people it will work well for everyone.
  9. For government, accessible sites will contribute to the implementation of the Disability Strategy and the Convention of the Rights of Disabled People (CRPD.) They will assist people to participate in e-government, and its development in New Zealand.
  10. They may also help avoid Human Rights complaints which can be costly in time and resources.

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Filed under Information Accessibility, Web Accessibility

Website Awards in focus

In his blog post entitled “Why award-winning websites are so awful” Gerry McGovern  says “Practical and functional websites rarely win prizes for design but they do win sales and make profits, … The Web is a functional, practical place. A great website drives the customer to act… The shiny surface wins awards. Real substance wins customers.”

Sadly, the same goes for web accessibility awards as for other web awards.
We have noticed that in reality accessibility of web sites that win awards is not always perfect. While awards are offered to encourage accessibility in design and build of web sites as well as reward those that are truly accessible must be attention given to accessibility standards and best practice.
We were therefore surprised and disappointed to see the , ALGIM accessibility award winner, the Rangitikei District Council with a site that was far from accessible. It seems that there are still some misconceptions around accessibility. Giving a nod in the direction of accessibility will just not do.
This reflects a wider problem of a lack of understanding that disabled people and others who face information barriers are customers and users of web sites. For some it may be the only, or the best way of finding information they can use.
Accessibility is still not taken seriously enough by some, it is seen as a lightweight consideration, a “nice to have” if time, energy and resources permit, but not important. The effectiveness, elegance and plain common sense of universal design principles are still not widely grasped.
Some examples of fundamental accessibility errors from the winning site are;

  • Lots of “read more” links which with no information for a screen reader user tabbing through links
  • Inaccessible CAPTCHAs on the form for collecting information for a community organisation database and the fix-it form
  • Incorrectly marked up tables for layout on several pages
  • Headings are used for formatting rather than for syntactical structure and there is incorrect heading hierarchy structure
  • Accessibility statement with the access keys is only findable using the site map.
  • The location map does not meet the colour contrast standard.

If this is the best there is, and no sites are of a sufficient standard then it would be best if no award was made.

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Filed under Web Accessibility