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With the extensive media coverage following its launch, a large number of businesses, education establishments and government agencies with a stake in the UK online market should be aware of PAS 78 – Guide to Good Practice in Commissioning Accessible Websites. Partly due to the cost associated with this document, though, they may not have actually read through it…which is probably what the PR office of BrowseAloud are counting on – otherwise it would be blatantly obvious to any reader that this little news item on the BrowseAloud site, issued two weeks after the official launch of the PAS, is somewhat stretching the truth:

Texthelp is recommended in PAS 78 for their text-to-speech software product Browsealoud, that addresses those with Cognitive & Learning Difficulties.

Now, try as I might I cannot find any particular endorsement or recommendation of their product in the PAS – and rightly so, as it’s meant to be a fairly neutral, non-vendor specific document. There is only one passing mention of Texthelp (developers of BrowseAloud) in “Annex A (informative) – Suggested user profiles” under the “Cognitive and learning” section (page 36):

Users with medium dyslexia, eg users who might change site colours and text formatting, and who in many cases might supplement this with text to speech software for reading sections of text (such as TextHelp).

So, is this going to be the new trend for marketing accessibility products and services in the UK for the coming years? Boosting one’s credibility by making references to the PAS, even going as far as claiming a recommendation? Well, I guess it’s a bit more respectable than planting fake users such as Dyslexic Duncan on forums to extoll the virtues of your product…

Incidentally, on both occasions I’ve contacted BrowseAloud for an official response…but to no avail.

And while we’re on the topic, a word of advice to web design agencies: you can stop amending your lists of services to include “websites that are PAS 78 compliant”. The PAS is not a new set of accessibility guidelines. It’s a document aimed at people who commission websites. It’s completely nonsensical for a company that develops websites to claim that their products and services comply with the PAS. At a pinch, you could say that your development processes are in line with some of the recommendations of the PAS, particularly the user testing aspects. But even that is really stretching it, in my not so humble opinion. Stick with claiming WCAG compliance. Heck, the PAS itself has the following to say about companies claiming to create sites that are “DDA-compliant”:

9.1.1 It is not possible to provide a definitive specification for a fully accessible website which will satisfy the requirements of the DDA. Website commissioners should therefore be sceptical if contracting companies declare that they will create websites that are “DDA-compliant” or “compliant with the law”. Conversely, website commissioners should not require a web designer to design a website that is “DDA-compliant” or “compliant with the law”. Until case law has been established such claims cannot be made or honoured.

If that is the general advice given with regards to companies claiming “DDA-compliance”, I’d imagine that site commissioners should be even more skeptical of companies claiming “PAS 78 compliance”.

Your Replies

#1 On May 12th, 2006 4:11 am Robert Wellock replied:

Nice write-up I also find is fairly bemusing why certain companies claim to follow such Recommendations though state them like they were endorsements or as full Standards. Just for the sake of raising their profile by saying odd things like we are DDA compliant, etc.

I’ve seen quite a few sites lately that claim such compliance or heavily weigh on PAS 78 as if it were some form of accreditation.

#2 On May 12th, 2006 5:31 am Mel Pedley replied:

I do find myself wondering what the response from BSI or the DRC might be if they became aware of PAS 78 being used in this manner. The document was certainly not meant to be used as a list of recommended suppliers, or solutions, and, as I understand it, great pains were taken to try and avoid references that might imply an endorsement.

However, there will always be those who may try to misrepresent even the most neutral of documents for their own promotional ends in the hopes of impressing Joe Public who, although he may have heard of PAS 78, almost certainly won’t have actually read it. The end result could be described as the “Chinese Whispers” marketing approach. If direct pressure doesn’t have any effect, the only other response may be to reiterate what PAS 78 is and what it isn’t and draw attention to specific possible misrespresentations – accidental or otherwise.

Which, of course, is exactly what this article does. Nice one!

#3 On May 12th, 2006 6:06 am Patrick H. Lauke replied:

“I do find myself wondering what the response from BSI or the DRC might be if they became aware of PAS 78 being used in this manner.”

I actually copied in the DRC’s press contact on my first email to BrowseAloud on this, but got zero response from them as well…

#4 On May 12th, 2006 6:50 am Jon Gibbins (dotjay) replied:

To echo the other comments, great write-up, Patrick. It’s quite depressing that this kind of thing is happening again, this time with PAS 78, but I guess it was to be expected to some extent.

Such misrepresentation could be down to misunderstanding the document – but as you point out, Pat, where is this specific recommendation of their products? It’s one thing to claim compliancy with something that isn’t a standard, but to falsely claim a recommendation, as appears to be the case here, is blatant, dodgy marketing. Alas, perhaps not blatant to the general public.

In my mind, though, such misrepresentation serves to oust companies of questionable practice/intent from the industry by its peers. The question is whether that is more damaging to such companies than the benefit of questionable practices.

#5 On May 12th, 2006 9:00 am Andy Mabbett replied:

No doubt Julie Howell or one of her colleagues will be writing them a polite but strongly worded letter, advising them to remove that claim from their website.

#6 On May 16th, 2006 4:02 am bruce replied:

Interesting perspective on browswealoud from Alistair Campbell, an accessibility consultant chappie.

#7 On May 17th, 2006 6:09 am Gareth replied:

Agreed. I’m still interested in what penetration the PAS 78 doc is achieving? Anyone who how many they have got out there, ideally not including all of us buying a copy :-)

#8 On May 27th, 2006 2:59 pm BrowseAloud respond - The Web Standards Project replied:

[...] Many thanks to Martin McKay, Technical Director and one of the founders of Texthelp (developers of BrowseAloud), for responding to my previous post All aboard the PAS 78 gravy train. [...]

#9 On May 27th, 2006 3:01 pm WaSP Member plauke replied:

Martin McKay, Technical Director and one of the founders of Texthelp, has since responded to this post.

#10 On August 20th, 2006 3:58 am Helen Price replied:

False marketing isn’t a crime less it’s regulated by law….

#11 On January 19th, 2007 4:24 pm Accessify: latest news / All aboard the PAS 78 gravy train replied:

[...] Cross-posted over on the WaSP. Please comment there. [...]

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