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Accessibility and UK small businesses

By Derek Featherstone | April 29th, 2006 | Filed in Accessibility, General

Take a look at the latest study coming out of the United Kingdom examining the attitudes and perceptions of small business toward accessibility.

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Andy Higgs has published “An enquiry into the acceptance of accessible web content and web design standards by UK small businesses” as part of his undergraduate studies. The 9000 word dissertation sets the stage with a brief Literature Review and continues with a survey of 30 small businesses in the United Kingdom to assess their knowledge of web accessibility and their legal obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act. We often see reports that assess accessibility and/or standards compliance – this is a little different in that Andy is not looking at compliance, but directly at attitudes and awareness of accessibility, accessibility initiatives and organizations, as well as attitudes towards the cost and responsibility for accessibility.

Sadly, the results of the survey were not surprising. Here is an excerpt from Andy’s abstract:

The result of the online questionnaire for SMEs was that the majority of businesses are not aware of the current legal requirements or even the concept of website accessibility. Four high profile designers with access backgrounds were questioned to help understand the reasons. It was concluded that the cause could be attributed to three main problems; lack of publicity in the media, poor communication by the government and web developers refusing to update their skills set.

Designers and SMEs were both split over who should be taking responsibility for ‘substandard’ sites, but it was established that a joint responsibility was the most pragmatic solution. The data gathered on the awareness of the DDA was compared to government data from 2002 and it was discovered that there had not been any improvement in four years.

No improvement in four years? As always, we’re interested in hearing your thoughts – what is it like in your area in terms of awareness and attitude towards accessibility in general, cost, and responsibility? Have you seen improvements in the last four years?

Your Replies

#1 On April 29th, 2006 12:19 pm Paul replied:

Sad indeed. But this lack of public awareness doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve got the impression that only webdevelopers – and then again only the ones who are motivated to update their skills – are aware of the accessibility problem. I’ve talked a lot to people about accessibility and I always get the same reactions. Oh…never heard of this…interesting though. Or…yeah…the disabled…but this is minor problem in e-business, isn’t it?

I’m currently working on a memorandum to analyise the legal aspects of accessibility as part of my master in law (but only French law).

#2 On April 29th, 2006 12:49 pm Jake Archibald replied:

What’s worse, some companies that examine a website’s usability and accessibility know very little too.

A report was done on a site I created and they slated it for not using external stylesheets. It did, it’s just that I used @import rather than ‘link’ and they didn’t know what was going on.

The future isn’t bright.

#3 On April 29th, 2006 10:59 pm Pig Pen - Web Standards Compliant Web Design Blog » Blog Archive » Accessibility And UK Small Businesses replied:

[...] Accessibility And UK Small Businesses – Andy Higgs’ 9000 word dissertation. WaSP have an article on it and I notice Andy Clarke is onto it too. [...]

#4 On April 30th, 2006 9:16 am Nick Toye replied:

Many of the SME’s that I have approached have basically brought their decisions down to money, if they can get a bedroom designer to do it for free on front page, or if the boss of the company has bought into these clone-esque type sites for £200, they tend not to even think about the legal implications.

I even worked for an agency who had a client that purposely didn’t want any product that had any remnants of accessibility about it. He didn’t care about the reprecussions.

Ask the Sydney Olympics web team if they wish they had paid more attention to accessibility.

#5 On May 8th, 2006 3:28 am Anthony Otyehel replied:

I think what comes across more than anything is that there is nothing in black and white (so to speak) that states where the responsibility lies and what the legal implications are.

What IS compliant? How many of the checkpoints in WCAG 1.0 are subjective (alternative descriptions for one).

I agree that SMEs look at accessibility as low on their priority as it seems overcomplicated and costly – and puts more onus on them ‘thinking’ about their content and taking some responsibility. When this is passed onto some agencies, even the agencies turn a blind eye and use the ‘well, the client never asked for it’ excuse.

I’d like to think that the more professional of us will take the view that we should be building accessibility into our solutions as a given, and not compromise.

Having come up to speed with creating accessible websites myself, I cannot go back. I would find it irresponsible to create anything new that was’t compliant.

We also need to look at the responsibility of adaptive technologies moving with the times and having standards that they work to as well.

Web design is still young, and as long as the technolgies keep changing and shaping the online experience, this subject will always be playing catch up.

At least with printed media, nearly every possible combination and use of ink on paper and finishing has been explored – with the web we haven’t even scratched the surface.

#6 On May 10th, 2006 7:47 pm Tim Anderson replied:

UK government websites are a little better on aversage than Australian government sites. I work part-time for a major University publisher who have a shockwave movie on their homepage, they don’t use the tag or provide any alternatives to the shockwave home page movie. They looked at me like I had two heads when I submitted a report on how they are breaching the Australian Disability discrimination Act 1992.

#7 On September 25th, 2006 1:18 pm Mark replied:

I feel that the main point is slightly different. As Jake replied What’s worse, some companies that examine a website’s usability and accessibility know very little too, this pulls it down to one thing “Leraning”.

There are too few resources that actually teach correct accessibility development. Resources found within the web are too few and some of them are very hard to understand. There are naturally sites out there that tutor using working examples, but the majority of developers dont have the resources to test working projects.

Using w3c standards with CSS and XHTML are the most relevant items at the moment, when a developer can get to grips with these elemnets then they should go further and think about creating the site with the correct mark-up and add the extras to create a site that is accessible.

#8 On September 30th, 2006 1:10 pm Asp_net_2_0_Rocks replied:

very sad indeed, it has to be properly educated and more importantly enforced to some extent.

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