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:
- an inclusive approach.
The business case for web accessibility
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Well-structured content will make the site more usable for everyone.
- Accessible sites will work with different browsing technologies, mobiles, tablets and so on and appear higher in search engine ratings.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- They may also help avoid Human Rights complaints which can be costly in time and resources.