Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

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.

Skip to comment form

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 Andy Hume replied:

I’m all for guidelines, checkpoints, or whatever else you want to call them, if they help to enforce good practise and increased awareness of accessibility. But at the end of the day, they are nothing more than a mark of compliance to a fixed set of rules dreamt up mainly by people who know not much about what they speak.

I fear a day when companies and organisations begin to hide behind these symbols of compliance and use them as an excuse not to carry out real user testing or to react to user feedback.

“I’m sorry you can’t use our site, but it does comply to WCAG Level AA, so I’m afraid we can’t help you”.

I don’t think we should be asking if a government website conforms to a set of guidelines, but if they have carried out sufficient user acceptance testing with the disabled and users of assistive technologies.

#2 On June 27th, 2006 7:06 pm WaSP Member lloydi replied:

A valid point, Andy. In fact, in Bruce’s post (linked to above) he asks the DTI representative what assistive technology was used in the testing phase. The answer: “No assistive technologies were tested against the site.”

#3 On June 27th, 2006 7:26 pm Andy Hume replied:

Thanks Ian – so the suspected and disappointing answer was right in-front of me. I think this is going to be the real problem in the long-term.

It won’t take too long for these people to work out how to reach an acceptable level of compliance, but does ticking all the right boxes neccessarily help anyone?

I hope we’re not backing ourselves into a corner with all these guidelines, checkpoints, and success criteria, and there doesn’t come a time when they are used against web accessibility. Those that live by the sword, etc…

#4 On June 28th, 2006 1:23 am Roger Johansson replied:

I got that PR thing from Segala as well. Had a quick look, then trashed it.

#5 On June 28th, 2006 3:41 am Robert Whittaker replied:

Rightly or wrongly, I think we need formal ‘accessibility guidelines’ in order to achieve movement in the right direction on many business and government sites. Whilst box-ticking certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all of accessibility, it’s something project managers con understand, and something that can be written into contracts and requirements documents, and tested.

Where would we be without guidelines? We’d have a handful of activists moaning individually about various aspects of sites which cause problems, and managers not knowing which bits they should take seriously, and how much effort they should go to. With guidelines we can at least point to something concrete, and say “this is what you should do to make your site accessible”. Even if they’re not perfect, compliance will normally be a step in the right direction, and should at least raise awareness that accessibility is something that needs to be considered.

Once more sites are taking accessibility seriously, and more managers and developers are aware of the issues, then we can worry about whether rigid compliance with guidelines is the best way to make sites accessible. Unfortunately, judging by the efforts of the DTI, I still think this is a little way off…

#6 On June 28th, 2006 3:47 am Isofarro replied:

Robert Whittaker wrote: “With guidelines we can at least point to something concrete, and say “this is what you should do to make your site accessible”. Even if they’re not perfect, compliance will normally be a step in the right direction, and should at least raise awareness that accessibility is something that needs to be considered.”

Sounds like PAS 78 to me.

#7 On June 28th, 2006 4:25 am Dan Champion replied:

Robert, echoing Isofarro, we’ve got PAS 78 and WCAG – what more guidelines do we need?

I also don’t think that in the long-term site commissioners should have to understand or specifically ask for accessibility. When I commissioned a company to build my house I didn’t have to specify compliance with the fire, building standards and other regulations – they were professional enough to take that for granted, and that’s the situation we should be aiming for with web accessibility. If a company is taking £200k to build a website you should be able to expect the same professionalism from them.

#8 On June 28th, 2006 5:02 am Martin Kliehm replied:

Roger wrote: “I think we need formal ‘accessibility guidelines’ in order to achieve movement in the right direction on many business and government sites.”

When evaluating a websites accessibility, I don’t use the WAI guidelines or WAI technique paper, because they don’t have much detailed information of the processes involved. They consist of only very brief descriptions with a lot of room for interpretation.

Instead I usually use a website based on the German law implementing the WAI guidelines, the “Barrierefreie Informations Technologie Verordnung” (BITV, Accessible Information Technology Act) Short Test ( It has very extensive documentation of all steps involved for evaluation, with detailed information about how to test, why to test, and a discussion in case there could be different interpretations (like “what should be used in an alt-text for images, images as links, or images in a navigation”).

Also there is a nice rating system. All 54 testing requirements have a “severity” attribute, like minor, medium, and major. When you test a website, you start with 100 possible points and substract 1, 2, or 3 point respectively for each missed criteria. If a criteria is partially fulfilled, half this value is reduced. Eventually you get a final rating which is excellent for comparison. 95-100 points has very good accessibility, 90-94 good accessibility, 80-89 limited accessibility, and below 80 points has poor accessibility. So you know eBay got 74 points, GMX 83.5, and they both suck, but eBay sucks a little more than GMX. The German Ministry of Justice got 91.5 points, which is good, but not as good as they ought to be.

I would suggest that when building a German team of the WaSP group, one of their first priorities should be a translation of the BITV Short Test and the testing requirements, including experience requirements for the testers.

#9 On June 28th, 2006 6:42 am bruce replied:

My pessimism may be premature (because Dan and I haven’t had responses from the DTI), but I can’t help feeling that the situation would have been worse if WCAG 2 were the guidelines.

Although WCAG 1 might be musty and yellowing round the edges, at least most of the checkpoints are well-documented and easily understood.

#10 On June 28th, 2006 12:33 pm Dennis replied:

All website should be accessible!

#11 On June 28th, 2006 2:57 pm Small Paul replied:

I had a chat with a guy from Segala at a presentation thingy a few months ago. What I understood from Segala is that their trustmark does not indicate that they’ve audited the site in question. I never quite got my head around how the mark was going to work – no fault of the nice chap I was speaking to.

The problem of providing authentication of web site’s claims is a hard one. Most claims that web sites make that are of interest to humans – e.g. accessibility, type of content – aren’t easily validated by automated processes. And as the relative fortunes of Yahoo! and Google’s approaches to organising the web have shown, human-powered processes can’t keep up with the web.

#12 On June 29th, 2006 8:38 am Sophie Dennis replied:

Doing a little digging I noticed that neither of the main design/build agencies used – Fresh01 and Fujitsu – are on the new official Central Office of Information (COI) digital media roster. (The COI is the official UK Government department which “provides advice, procurement and project management on every aspect of communications” to other govenment departments. The roster is essentially a list of pre-approved suppliers for government communications projects). Leaving aside the issues with how the hoop-jumping required to get on the roster effectively excludes smaller agencies, the DTI fiasco is surely exactly the kind of thing the COI and their roster exist to prevent?

So I’d suggest a couple of other interesting questions to add to Bruce and Dan’s list:

1) Did the DTI use the services of the COI when commissioning the website?

and one for the COI:

2) Were agencies’ capabilities in producing digital media which complies with the DDA and W3C standards a criteria used when compiling the roster, and if so, how were the agencies’ capabilities in these areas assessed?

#13 On June 29th, 2006 8:54 pm nortypig replied:

I’m also concerned that from a managerial standpoint the only thing the powers in these companies may actually know about accessiblility comes across their desk in a memo. They rely on a technical department to advise and serve them and often you might find these people not only lacking but unwilling to admit there is something in the world of web development they may not be the best in the world at doing.

So web guys / girls say its AAA and manager signs piece of paper and sends off to PR guys / girls and the show begins.

Either that or I’ve had the exact same experiences with a number of agencies and a major CMS developer who are just bold faced liars. I’m not sure which is scarier.

#14 On June 30th, 2006 11:25 am » Blog Archive » DTI website replied:

[...] Again this is something I saw on the WaSP site. [...]

#15 On June 30th, 2006 12:10 pm Paul Walsh replied:

In view of the comments and opinions expressed here, I would like to state for the record that Segala is not connected or involved with or any of its sub-sites, this includes the DaVinci Code section of this site. Segala has not audited or certified this website for accessibility and has made no claims to that effect.

Segala was not responsible for the design or build of the website, nor indeed the decision to provide one version in Flash and an alternative HTML version. The Segala certificate clearly states which URLs it has certified.

The decision to create the website and the hosting of the Flash game on a separate URL was in no way influenced by and beyond any control of Segala.

Our press release states that we certified We would like to point out that it does not allude to or suggest that we certified the flash game or any other elements on, however we do acknowledge that the wording may have caused some confusion as to whether or not we certified the flash game on which the O2 website is centered around. For this we apologise and we thank you for pointing this out to us. We sincerely did not intend for this Press release to be “misleading propaganda” and we have taken the decision to amend our press release to clarify the issues raised.

Unfortunately, the flash site/elements were already built before Segala was engaged to audit and certify the accessible alternative. I must point out that with the exception of the game (which is now clearly marked as inaccessible to some) the HTML alternative provides exactly the same information as the flash site. So, although I agree it is best practice to create one site that is accessible to all, in this instance the best alternative was to create an accessible HTML version of the site.

We could have been less enthusiastic in issuing the PR for this particular site, but we are keen to help move the industry forward from what it currently perceives as ‘accessibility extremism’ by demonstrating how some companies embrace accessibility for the long haul and are embedding it into their strategies, brand marketing and development guidelines. However, even those companies that take their responsibilities seriously sometimes have difficulty in releasing fully (what is that anyway!) accessible sites all of the time – BUT let’s not shoot them right away or we’ll turn them away from accessibility altogether.

In an ideal world, every new site developed would be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, but in reality it’s important to realise that this may not happen for some time. So, whilst I think it’s valuable to highlight the failures of some, I also think we need to recognise and support the efforts of others.

If you would like to know more about my own personal philosophy and belief that underpins Segala’s long-term vision of where the industry should be heading, please take a look at my post on E-consultancy.

I would welcome anybody to get in touch with Segala (or me) directly if they have any further comments or concerns.

Paul Walsh, CEO, Segala


#16 On July 16th, 2006 1:27 am Tim replied:

You guys have problems, but Australia is in the dark ages, the peak body in Australia the Australian Government Information Office AGIMO made awards for excellence to these broken websites.

My review of some UK governmenet sites:

Keep up the good work


#17 On August 3rd, 2006 10:50 pm Ashley Bowers Blog replied:

Crying Foul on Accessibility Claims…

Crying Foul on Accessibility Claims
Or how not to waste tax-payers’ money on inaccessible sites or make grand claims on accessibility that you cannot fully back up.
By Ian Lloyd
This has an interesting list of ten things to do and a piece on tru…

#18 On August 3rd, 2006 10:51 pm Ashley Bowers Blog » Crying Foul on Accessibility Claims replied:

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

#19 On September 4th, 2006 8:16 am Kary Lawson’s Blog » Crying Foul on Accessibility Claims replied:

[...] By Ian Lloyd [...]

#20 On January 1st, 2007 9:19 pm » Internet Buzz Words » GermWorks - Web & Multimedia replied:

[...] AAA Web Accessibility Rating: Yes you can get different so called levels of accessibility for a website. The way I see it is that the website either meets the standard or it does not. Hear is two links for information on Web Accessibility Rating (One by Steel Technology and one written by [...]

#21 On January 3rd, 2007 7:37 pm Internet Buzz Words - JP2 Designs - Web and Print Development - Perth, Western Australia replied:

[...] AAA Web Accessibility Rating: Yes you can get different so called levels of accessibility for a website. The way I see it is that the website either meets the standard or it does not. Hear is two links for information on Web Accessibility Rating (One by Steel Technology and one written by [...]

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