Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

Government Web Site Failure – Is It So Shocking?

By Ian Lloyd | March 31st, 2006 | Filed in Accessibility, General, Validation, Web Standards (general)

Report reveals poor pass rates for standards in UK government web sites.

Skip to comment form

Yesterday the BBC reported on a study released by Southampton University in the UK that found a 60% failure rate in UK government websites where standards compliance is concerned. Since that report on the BBC I’ve noticed a bit of commentary on it and received a few emails along the lines of "have you seen this?" from shocked individuals. The biggest shock for me is, frankly, that people are shocked and surprised at all.

The BBC report certainly highlights an important issue but it also blurs some important points when it says:

"Some 60% of UK government websites contain HTML errors"

Then it later quotes the author of the study as saying:

"Although 61% of sites do not comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guide, the 39% which do is encouraging."

Is the 60% failure figure one of HTML validation issues, as the first quotation above suggests, or is it a 60% failure in terms of accessibility pass/fail ratio? If it’s the latter, this is a little more worrying. As for the former, well, we all want the sites to use to validate, but with the general mush of various layers of in-house web development, outside agency involvement and hideously bad content management systems (CMSs), quite honestly I’d be amazed if the validation rate were anything even close to 40%.

For my money, this story tells me largely what I suspected about UK government sites (but couldn’t be bothered to go out and collate the figures for myself). The best part of the story, I think, is the finishing quote from an anonymous ‘spokesman for the Cabinet Office’:

“One difficulty is that many authoring tools do not generate compliant HTML and make it difficult to edit the coding … This is an issue that the IT industry must address and we are working with them on that.”

It’s refreshing to see a government official correctly identify that the authoring tools are often to blame here (cough, ATAG, cough!) . But just who is ‘them’ in that sentence and who are the ‘we’ in that sentence (given that the source is unnamed). If you have any further light to shed on this story – specifically about what those figures actually relate to – and also what action is being alluded to towards the end, I’d love to find out (use the comments please).

Your Replies

#1 On March 31st, 2006 4:02 am David Dorward replied:

Section 3.2 of WCAG requires that documents be valid, so any document which is not valid automatically fails to follow the guidelines.

I suppose it is possible that every valid document also conforms to the other guidelines, but it seems a bit unlikely.

#2 On March 31st, 2006 4:03 am Robert Wellock replied:

It doesn’t surprise me in the least they are flouting legal requirements/recommendations. From reading that synopsis it seems like they were mainly talking about accessibility. The 60% seemed to refer to the syntax errors and was more than equalled in accessibility issues – though it doesn’t explain how they tested either.

#3 On March 31st, 2006 4:32 am Pig Pen - Web Standards Compliant Web Design Blog » Blog Archive » UK Government Website Failure replied:

[...] UK Government Website Failure to adhere to Web Standards – I wonder what the statistic is in Australia? I know there’s research but can’t locate it. [...]

#4 On March 31st, 2006 5:27 am Kanashii replied:

Oh don’t even bother looking at Australian Government sites. You’ll be extremely disappointed. Try A.T.O. and yes, they are using a javascript menu. >.>

#5 On March 31st, 2006 5:50 am Martin Smales replied:

I am not sure who is “we” and “them”. Perhaps someone from the Cabinet Office?

Keep up with the awareness of “shock and awe” people out there even though it doesn’t surprise us a little bit, that web standards are generally poor in Government sites.

#6 On March 31st, 2006 5:59 am Simon Jobling replied:

I forwarded this news article around the office yesterday when I read it. Working for a local Fire Service, we fall under this category and we strive at every point to meet all the W3C Guidelines as much as possible.

That comment about blaming the tools is kind of demeaning in my opinion – I’m sure most of us developers have a preferred tool for development but I doubt there are many who actually use WYSIWYG editors for code. All the web developers in our team handcode (yes, in Dreamweaver) and rarely delve into “Design View” due to its poor its lack of semantic support.

I think the eGIF requirements are certainly pushing gov’t websites in the right direction but unfortunately the application is taking far too long to be implemented.

(For those interested, the website is the West Midlands Fire Service and occasionally markup can become invalid due to the CMS. It’s constantly being developed so bare with us.)

#7 On March 31st, 2006 6:25 am Dan Champion replied:

What’s equally concerning is that 77% of UK local government websites claim to be more accessible than they really are. While those responsible are blissfully unaware of the problem the situation’s unlikely to improve.

#8 On March 31st, 2006 6:53 am Dan Champion replied:

Sorry, that should have been “77% of UK local government sites that claim a certain level of compliance fail to achieve it”.

#9 On March 31st, 2006 7:39 am Danno replied:

This news feature was also quite ironic, given the state of the code in the BBC’s own site. Run that page through a validator and see what happens.
People in glass houses eh, BBC?!

#10 On March 31st, 2006 7:51 am Sarah replied:

One of the most frustrating facts of life is that the majority of local government organisations rely soley on automated testing to assess accessibility, and very few check the validity of their sites.

I work in this sector and before our sites go live we validate every template and page with in the site. But most organisations buy software from a number of different suppliers, and from experience, the quality of these add ons are sometimes questionable.

I know that we’re working towards ATAG, and that other people in the industry are too, so maybe there will be improvements soon with respect to validity. But until people place more emphasis on human (rather than automated) testing, I doubt we’ll see any significant accessiblity improvements .

#11 On March 31st, 2006 8:25 am Joe Clark replied:

Indeed, *has* anyone read that report? I can’t even find a homepage for the claimed author.

#12 On March 31st, 2006 10:18 am Lee replied:

Although that a lot of government sites aren’t completely standards complaint, I do know that they are working towards it. If this report is carried out in say 6 months time I’m sure the percentage would be different.

#13 On March 31st, 2006 10:19 am Mike Cherim replied:

Though my experience with the [US] gov pertains to accessibility, this is no surprise to me. About a year ago I contacted the EFTPS, or Electronic Funds Transfer Somethin’-Somethin’ (the Internal Revenue Service’s electronic business tax payments interface) about an important but simple-to-fix accessibility/usability issue.

I called them as contacting the webmaster from the site is no easy feat (strike one right there). I waited on hold for 45 minutes or so and ended up after all that having to leave a voice mail message. This was all on my dime, by the way.

As it turned out, they never responded to me or fixed the problem. And what was this big problem? Well, they have some checkboxes and I asked them if they could put the accompanying text inside the label so I could click on the text instead of having to target the little checkbox with my mouse. I asked for too much perhaps.

For a site that is supposed to comply with Section 508 guidelines, the fact they didn’t act on my rather simple request is a real travesty.

The point: Governments [al of them probably] can sure talk-the-talk, but they don’t seem very capable of walking-the-walk.

#14 On March 31st, 2006 11:28 am Tom Simcox replied:

Working for a Government Department in the UK (heavily involved in the Direct Gov site) I too am unsurprised by these figures.

From personal experience I know that a lot of time and effort has gone into raising awareness of Accessibility, Web Standards et all from a grassroots level but the problems come with gaining buy-in at a Senior Management level.

There is simply a lack of knowledge and awareness at this level, particularly of the fundamentals of the web as an information delivery platform. My suggestion would be for Government Senior Management to work with groups such as Wasp to gain the awareness that is needed from an authoritive source, rather than the renegade junior web developer (i.e. Me :-)).

#15 On March 31st, 2006 4:01 pm Steve M replied:

Although 61% of government websites in the UK are inaccessible, it could be far worse. In the Netherlands, a 2005 report showed that 96%(!) of government websites were inaccessible and 98% of the website did not validate. And this is a government that just put legislation like the US Section 508 in working and even has guidelines for building accessibile websites.

#16 On March 31st, 2006 4:16 pm Digital Media Technologies » Blog Archive » Accessibility matters replied:

[...] Accessibility matters Just for a little fun so I try to use the google to search what will come up by enter keywords “css april 1″ and I’ve found this Buzz Archives – The Web Standards Project web site which contains sort of a news area as well as place for people to discuss about things such as accessibility, CSS, DOM, HTML/XHTML, usability, web standards, etc. The latest news that draws my attention is Government Web Site Failure – Is It So Shocking? which a study has found a 60% failure rate in UK government websites in which they have not made the content well enough to cater for people with disabilities. What if this problem is also happening in Australia? That will be a signifiant matter as I have this impression that the Australian Government is so concerned about accessibility for everyone. [...]

#17 On April 1st, 2006 5:29 pm Keri Henare replied:

I love the New Zealand Government sometimes.

#18 On April 2nd, 2006 6:30 pm Andy replied:

Most sites I look at are not valid, especially those generated with wysiwyg editors like Frontpage or Dreamweaver.
7 out of 10 sites I’ve looked at have no ‘DTD’ and most so called web-designers/developers don’t even know what it is let alone what it is for!

If you cannot open notepad, write sematically correct and accessible html to the latest standards as set out by W3C, which is by the way xhtml/css, then go learn your trade correctly.

The fault here is with the ‘Goverment’ run training courses heavily influenced by the likes of microsoft, one of the major culprits in problems created in web-development. Box Model anyone? (and thats just for starters – what a nightmare).

People though it seems are learning and companies like the above mentioned are having to really sort themselves out. Microsoft has just seen a major in house reshuffle over Vista. Not going to help them with macs now Operating on pc based intel hardware.

Major drives in open source browsers such as Firefox have gone a long way to improving standards and microsofts I.E. has been forced to follow suit. They had no choice, people were switching to stand alone browsers that worked and they could help develop.

I’m waiting for some disabled groups to take class actions against these non-compliant/non-accessible sites, it will be most fun to see what happens…

#19 On April 3rd, 2006 10:50 am Steve Ferguson replied:

Considering the content development tools that most people struggle with, I’d say that 40% is quite high too.

The Failed Commitments posting at the W3 points out that maintaining quality is even harder than developing it.

If you want to maintain the quality of sites you have to find a development/publishing/testing process to verify your work without crippling you ability to add and modify content.

#20 On April 25th, 2006 7:03 am Matt Williams replied:

While I firmly believe in the use of validators, I wonder how many of these failing websites actually receive complaints from real life disabled website visitors? How many of them present real life obstacles?

#21 On May 5th, 2006 6:06 am Britney’s Blog » Government Web Site Failure - Is It So Shocking? replied:

[...] Government Web Site Failure – Is It So Shocking? [...]

Return to top

Post a Reply

Comments are closed.

All of the entries posted in WaSP Buzz express the opinions of their individual authors. They do not necessarily reflect the plans or positions of the Web Standards Project as a group.

This site is valid XHTML 1.0 Strict, CSS | Get Buzz via RSS or Atom | Colophon | Legal