Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

You might imagine that accessibility specialists are slightly odd folk. Close your eyes and imagine them sitting quietly in the corner of a pub, sipping mild and wearing Hush Puppies. On a crazy night they might break out the box of dominoes and make remarks about how wonderfully accessible those little blighters are. They might even grumble quietly about how inaccessible a bag of pork scratching is, but I digress.

These normally quiet accessibility fellows have got themselves in a bit of a tizzy in the last couple of days over the subject of automated accessibility tests and in particular the activities of a company called SiteMorse, whose automated software-based checks are aggressively marketed to public and private sector bodies through a campaign of regular PR.

How can everyone else be expected to achieve website accessibility, if the experts can’t?

With their latest press release, SiteMorse have made many accessibility fellows spit out their beer by publically criticising many UK based accessibility specialist companies.

SiteMorse once again tested the ‘leaders’ of the field to find large gaps in what these companies claim to be their expertise and in their own capability to deliver.

Their press release names names in what has been seen by many as ungentlemanly conduct. Several subsequent articles have shown the depth of feeling against SiteMorse, their product, testing methods and marketing/sales strategy.

Holding hands across the table

I do not intend to comment either on SiteMorse, their product or their testing methods, although I will say that I find their negative marketing to be very much against the spirit of cooperation so encouraging within the accessibility community.

Many commenters have raised concerns over the secretive nature of the SiteMorse tests. As Mike of Isolani explains,

The SiteMorse product isn’t publicly visible. There’s no mention of pricing on their site. The website itself makes a series of unsubstantiated claims. Also, there’s very little sign of the tool being peer-reviewed by accessibility experts. The SiteMorse product itself looks to be closed source, so its impossible for experts to analyse the logic to determine how accurate its automated test functions really are. The expertise of the developers is limited to a cluster of superficial questions to Usenet groups.

While I can fully appreciate the importance of a commercial entity to protect its intellectual assets, it is also important for specialists of all kinds and vendors to work together towards a more accessible web. In the WaSP Accessibility Task Force (ATF) we are seeking to work with all vendors towards this worthwhile goal.

In the spirit of cooperation I publically invite SiteMorse to get in touch and to work with the ATF with the aim of working with and providing developers and their clients more accessible solutions. I’ll be waiting for the call.

Cross post

This is cross-posted to my site to take your comments.

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