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Crying Foul on Accessibility Claims

By Ian Lloyd | June 27th, 2006 | Filed in Accessibility

Or how not to waste tax-payers’ money on inaccessible sites or make grand claims on accessibility that you cannot fully back up.

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It’s an accessibility moan double-bill, folks. First up, there’s the story of the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), a governmental department that recently had a Website redesign that should, according to their own specifications (let alone any Disability Discrimination Act requirements) be accessible. But you know how governments are for saying one thing and then doing another …

Bruce Lawson and Dan Champion have pulled the DTI up on this and asked for some answers, some of which have already been forthcoming  because of a little thing known as the Freedom of Information Act. How about this gem:

Catriona [from the DTI] responded to my question “Who will meet the costs of repairing the broken accessibility” with the answer:

If further changes are to be made to the website the cost will be met by DTI.

No they won’t, Catriona; the DTI doesn’t have any money. The money you have flushed down the toilet on this website is the taxpayers’. You are using money taken from my salary to build a website that discriminates against people with disabilities.

Bruce and Dan haven’t stopped there and have gone back to the DTI to ask even more hard-hitting questions which I’m repeating here as an example of how not to take things lying down:

  1. Did the DTI take legal advice on what level of WCAG conformance constituted compliance with the DDA? If yes, please provide a copy of the advice received.
  2. If no legal advice was taken, what was the rationale behind specifiying WCAG level AA conformance in the original specification?
  3. Please provide a full copy of the document referred to in the response to my previous enquiry – ‘Invitation to Tender for rebuild of the website, brief for customer research, design & information architecture, and usability testing phases’.
  4. Tendering: was the decision to award the contracts made on price alone? Please provide copies of all DTI reports/investigations during the tendering phase of all shortlisted suppliers’ ability to deliver an accessible website conforming to WCAG level AA. Please list the qualifications and experience of commissioning accessible websites of those who picked the successful suppliers.
  5. What provisions existed in the contract for a contractor failing to adequately satisfy the deliverables specified in the requirements document?
  6. How did the DTI monitor deliverables against the specified requirement of WCAG level AA, and the validity of the code? How regularly were these checked during the project? What processes were followed by the DTI to assess the completed website against the deliverables in the requirements document?
  7. At which point in the project did the DTI drop the requirement for AA conformance? Please provide documentation on why this decision was taken, and whether legal advice was taken.
  8. The Usability Company (now Foviance) claim to have been employed as the accessibility and usability agency for the redevelopment of the DTI website. What was this company’s precise role in the project, what was the value of the work they carried out, was this included in the costs of £175,000 quoted in the response to my original enquiry, and why was the company not mentioned in the response to my original enquiry?
  9. Are Fresh01, Fujitsu, The Usability Company (Foviance) or Percussion still on any list of the DTI’s preferrred suppliers?
  10. Has the DTI amended its processes for procuring web design work since Fresh01 were commissioned? Is there an organisational requirement to use PAS78 as the basis for any future commissioning work?
  11. What action is being taken to address the deficiencies of the new DTI website? Who will bear the financial burden of this remedial work, and what is the estimated value of the work?

It’s about time that government departments started following guidelines set by their own masters and not wasting our money. It’s even more shocking and unacceptable when the specifications clearly stated that accessibility was a requirement (120k PDF). Somehow that requirement went right out of the window.

Trustworthy Trustmarks

The second item that caught my attention was a press release I received from Segala. It was personally addressed to me (I got two copies at different addresses), so it was a targeted bit of PR regarding The Da Vinci Code Trail web site, but one that immediately got my ‘snake oil salesman’ alarm bells ringing:

All of O2′s websites developed either directly in-house, or by any 3rd-party agency on  behalf of O2, are mandated to be fully compliant with O2′s strict web accessibility compliance requirements to WCAG 1.0 level "AA" and 3 checkpoints in "AAA". The Segala-Certified trustmark to indicate this is displayed on all relevant pages of the website and it links to the certificate that verifies the website conforms to the requirements.

So, I checked out the site, did the usual thing of disabling images, disabling style sheets – quick, instant tests to see how the site faired – and it seemed to be in order. It was only when I actually tried to take on the challenge and do the quiz that I realised all was not as it seemed. The site that carried the ‘Trustmark’ was purely informational, basically covering the competition details. A simple site with a handful of pages really that anyone with a modicum of accessibility knowledge could put together. But if you believe the press release, the launch of the site is nothing short of revelationary (a bit like the film, perhaps); the actual game itself is Flash, and has no keyboard access at all. But – and here’s the rub – the game is hosted on a different domain, so the Trustmark really only applies to those simple-to-do informational pages. Isn’t that terribly convenient? Dan Champion (mentioned above) has also cried foul on this (his post gave me a nudge to write about my experiences/feelings, which are pretty much identical to his).

A little tip for Segala, Sony and anyone else considering sending out PR like this – if you are claiming that a site is a great example of accessibility and cross-corporate working relationships, make sure that it truly is. If it’s not, though, don’t go sending said PR notes to people who are deemed to be experts in the field of web accessibility as they’ll surely pick you up on it. For me, a Segala ‘Trustmark’ is now associated with misleading propaganda – probably not the result they were after.

Your Replies

#1 On June 27th, 2006 7:00 pm