Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

The British Standards Institution (BSI) has invited two members of the WaSP, Bruce Lawson and Patrick Lauke, to join the drafting committee for the first British Standard for Web Accessiblity.

Two years ago, the BSI was sponsored by the Disability Rights Commission to write a Publicly Available Specification (PAS) called PAS 78: Guide to Commissioning Accessible Websites. Publicly Available Specifications are written quickly and “expire” after two years, but because of the popularity of PAS 78, the BSI have decided to update it to become a full British Standard.

We’ve just started work on the draft, which doesn’t yet have a title, although our working title is “encouraging the development of fantastic user experiences for disabled people online”.

Consequently, it’s too early to say what will be in BS8878, which will be released next spring. I can say that it will not tread on the toes of whichever version of WCAG is live then, as it’s a document to help site owners rather than developers. Like PAS 78, it will encourage adherence to current web standards.

Neither can I say who else is on the committee, except that it’s chaired by Julie Howell, and there are representatives from all over industry—broadcasting, banking, legal, education and (crucially) representatives of disability groups, including groups working with those with cognitive disabilities.

Patrick and I gratefully acknowledge our employers, Opera Software and the University of Salford, who are supporting us by paying our travel expenses and giving us time off to attend meetings and write the drafts. They have nothing material to gain by supporting us, and are exercising no editorial control, but are helping to make disabled people’s experiences of the web better.

As a procedural footnote, now that Derek Featherstone has moved role within WaSP to be Group Lead, I’m working with Patrick to be co-lead of the Accessiblity Task Force. Our main projects will be the British Standard, continuing to work with the microformats community testing various date-time patterns with screenreaders, and monitoring the developments in HTML5.

Your Replies

#1 On July 11th, 2008 6:06 am Andy Mabbett replied:

Congratulations, both (are you collecting new jobs, Bruce?) and kudos to your employers for their enlightened attitudes (or do they just want to be rid of you ;-) ?).

#2 On July 11th, 2008 7:47 am Joe Clark replied:

It’s nonsensical that a publicly available standard should be developed by a group whose membership, apart from three people, is a secret. That’s worse than anything WCAG WG ever did.

#3 On July 11th, 2008 9:10 am JackP replied:

While I can understand what Joe is saying- I’d prefer that this was discussed in a public forum – it seems a little odd for this argument to be coming from the ‘Secret Samurai’ :-)

Good luck, have fun playing with it, and if the BSI are at any stage looking for reviewers/commenters, make sure to tell us how we can stick our oar in!

#4 On July 11th, 2008 10:32 am WaSP Member blawson replied:

it’s not a secret, it’s just not completely determined yet – we’re still discussing who else to invite.

Plus, if the other individuals want to announce their part in it, that’s their prerogative, but it’s not my place to “out” them.

#5 On July 11th, 2008 1:24 pm goodwitch replied:

Bruce, Patrick, how exciting! I can’t wait to see how your British Standard will compare to the US 508 Update that is in progress…and how they all might potentially harmonize with WCAG.

#6 On July 11th, 2008 1:59 pm WaSP Member blawson replied:

Jack – thanks. When the first draft is ready, we’ll be putting it out for full public consultation and soliciting reviews from anyone who’s interested (not just invited reviewers). We’ll blog that here, and on personal sites.

goodwitch – as far as my memory serves, section 508 was an attempt to define how the Americans with Disabilites Act would apply to websites, and so gives technical advice. The British Standard won’t, it’ll simply point to w3c recommendations, because it’s not for techical people, it’s for site “owners” (crudely: those with the legal risk from inaccessibility).

#7 On July 13th, 2008 7:38 am Todd replied:

Congrats to both of you, I am looking forward to reading more about your work with this soon. I’d like to see where both standards are going UK & US.

#8 On July 13th, 2008 8:01 pm Dominic Shiells replied:

Good luck,
I realised they have a site just up from where I live?

#9 On July 15th, 2008 4:14 pm Edward Clarke replied:

I had the good fortune to stand in front of over 200 small, local businesses in my little seaside town, all with websites, many selling goods online and I asked them if they’d heard of PAS78. None had.

How will this differ? I’m all for this but do hope the BSI make more of an impact than the DRC.

#10 On July 16th, 2008 9:57 am Dave Harris replied:

Interesting news – Please attempt to make sure that the standard has some kind of inclusiveness tactic for those with learning difficulties. EG those people whose prime communication is via icons rather than text (and not spoken text either). Attempting to include those people now (and there are plenty of them) seems to break standards.
It’s a difficult area because they can’t necessarily use much text but can cope with graphics – but in the world of standards something like a graphic for a house in one country can mean something else in another. I’d like to be able to have some input into this ‘off thread’. Dave

#11 On July 16th, 2008 12:31 pm James replied:

good luck guys- I’ll look forward to when you’ve passed the finish line so to speak!

#12 On July 16th, 2008 5:03 pm Dušan Smolnikar: blog (Alive and kicking) replied:

[...] influential British people started laying out a standard for accessibility. Hooray for that. I wonder how many referendums we would need to get that in Slovenia [...]

#13 On July 17th, 2008 7:44 am Vectorpedia(Rick) replied:

Bruce – we appreciate your dedicated work on the drafting commitee to better the experience of disabled people online.

#14 On July 17th, 2008 9:07 am Stuart Johnston replied:

All solid processes start with some sort of standard and it’s unlikely be be an overnight hit so none should feel disheartened, Edward. You’ll be able to tell the grand-kids you were there.

Development of guidelines and standards should be in the hands of invited experts and it requires real commitment – good for you chaps. I don’t think that it matters which group you belong to – as long as you’re informed, open to cooperation and your motives are correct. That’s all.

I’m sure we’ll all carry on doing our best in the meantime, with what we have, and look forward to establishing good practice in line with other “grown-up” industries.

Good stuff and good luck with it.

#15 On July 19th, 2008 4:17 pm Sander Aarts replied:


BTW. I guess I’ve missed a couple of posts… when did the Group Lead shift take place?

#16 On August 7th, 2008 9:33 am Simon Frost replied:

It’s great that the PAS78 standard has been recognised as being worthy enought to be upgraded to a full BSI standard, but I agree with Edwards Clarke’s comments – at the moment, for most web development companies, accessibility is barely an afterthought and perceived as an expensive one at that.

If this new standard can make accessibility a cost-effective part of web development, it will have a much greater chance of being included in projects from the beginning, rather than being a bolt-on at the end.

#17 On August 15th, 2008 7:51 am sven replied:

I agree with simon. Most web development companies haven´t even realize that e.g. 7-10% of male users have a red-green color blindness. A standard would help to raise awareness for the whole accessibility issue.

#18 On August 17th, 2008 5:12 pm mark evely replied:

Regarding your working title – encouraging the development of fantastic user experiences for disabled people online
I feel this shows a total lack of understand of the issues, and presents a patronising and offensive view point.

Why? Well because standards on the web are not about being ‘disabled’ it is about accessibility and usability. I have a specific learning ability which is covered by the disability act, but I am not ‘disabled’ I just process information differently. It does not alter my IQ, which is considerably higher than most of the population at 130 ish. I also wear glasses and the quality of my eyesight has diminished with age, but I am not ‘disabled’.

I suggest you first understand that it is about presenting information in ways that is clear and easy for all, irrespective of age, and whatever some ones physical, aural, visual or cognitive capabilities are. Good usability and accessibility produces good websites that every one can use comfortably with few restrictions.

#19 On August 29th, 2008 9:36 am Rick replied:

Kudos to ‘the team’. Lets hope that when the new spec is in place, it is received and acted upon – rather than languishing with half-hearted efforts as it has here in the States.

#20 On September 11th, 2008 4:32 pm Raimond Wills replied:

Bold steps, and good luck with your first draft. The accessibility interested community is wider than legally bound public service and institutional bodies. Hope you provide an unambiguous interface spec for haptic devices.

#21 On September 11th, 2008 4:34 pm Raimond Wills replied:

Well, perhaps not in the first draft, but this is a British Standard..

#22 On September 26th, 2008 2:00 am DeniDe replied:

I absolutely agree with Simon. This standard is necessary for all World. I am very glad.

#23 On October 4th, 2008 10:56 pm Johnny Gaze replied:

Congrats to Bruce Lawson and Patrick Lauke.I wish you all the luck there.

BTW it is interesting to see it’s the first British standart for Web Accessiblity…


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