The scrutiny began earlier today when a fellow WaSP posted the URL to a BBC article, Website owners face prosecution. The article discusses how the Royal National Institute for the Blind is beginning to crack down on Web sites not conforming to accessibility guidelines as described by the DDA and other U.K. legislation. In the article, BBC reporter Andrew Sinclair opened wide and made the claim that “Some get it right: the BBC website is considered to be one of the best for people with disabilities . . . ”
Making self-congratulatory commentary about one’s own publication is no problem if you’ve got the stuff to back it up. Unfortunately, from a standards perspective, the BBC falls short of the mark. But before I point out what and where, I do want to enter this disclaimer into record: I’ve always enjoyed the BBC’s Web sites, and often use them as examples of excellent globalization and multilingual site development. So with all true, blue, and heartily due respect to what the BBC is doing right, here’s a bit about what can be improved.
Using the article page as a sample, I first tested document conformance by running it through the W3C validator. I found a number of problems. To begin with, there’s an HTML 4.0 Transitional
DOCTYPE declaration on this particular page, and the document is written (for the most part) as if it were an XHTML document. Oopsie!
Dollars to donuts and pounds to pickles, just changing that
DOCTYPE will get this page, and the numerous others I tested on the BBC site, a lot closer to conformance. Add the
xmlns attribute to the opening
<html> tag, write event handlers in lower case, and close those non-empty elements and the page is well on its way to validation as an XHTML document.
Accessibility-wise the BBC has much further to go then Mr. Sinclair apparently realizes. As I went through the document, I found that there are very few
alt descriptions on the page. While the
alt attribute appears numerous times, it’s often empty. There’s no use of any additional accessibility-related markup: No
title attributes, no
acronym elements, no
label elements for form controls, and no table summaries.
I then ran the page through the Bobby validator for WCAG compliance, and found it to be a no-go. Problems galore from Priority Level 1 on down. I went ahead and listened to the page with JAWS, and was treated to the typical problems found when screen readers access table-based pages. The right-hand table cells with links to other points of interest were read as part of the primary text, making it all very confusing. What’s more, while they have a low-image version available, finding it is difficult, even for a person like me with 20/20 vision. The contrast between the link and the background color of the cell in which it resides is incredibly low. Getting to the more accessible page from a mobility standpoint was a bit arduous as well. There’s an interstitial page in between the two versions that serves no real apparent purpose.
The BBC does get big points for having eliminated a lot of presentational markup such as
font tags and other crimes against markup typically seen on news and portal sites. In general they’ve done an okay job of lightening up their use of tables, too. With a little more care to detail, reduction (or elimination) of tables, and the addition of simple accessibility features via markup, the BBC site could quite easily become a flagship of transitional, accessible, global, and attractive design.
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