Delivering Inclusive Websites

The COI released a consultation document some time ago called “Delivering Inclusive Websites”, which basically consisted of their recommendations for accessibility best practice in public sector websites, along with the concept of a stick – that the domain names would be withdrawn for sites failing to meet the minimum conformance level.

The consultation period is now over, and presumably they are collating all of the responses and trying to work out a way in which to improve the document. In my role of chair of the PSWMG, we produced a response to the consultation document, which I’m not going to go over here (read it yourself), but what I am going to say is that I sympathise with the position the COI find themselves in.

The COI recommend the use of WCAG 1.0 to level AA. Yes, yes, I know. I’ve been here before, haven’t I? I know WCAG 1.0 is out of date, you know WCAG 1.0 is out of date, the COI know WCAG 1.0 is out of date. But their problem is that WCAG 2.0 has not been formally published yet. It hasn’t even made it to the W3C Release Candidate stage.

It’s technically just a working draft. So how can you use that as your current standard? You don’t know what it’s going to evolve into. Yet the options are equally unpalatable: use a document which is out of date and progressively less relevant to modern web design (WCAG 1.0) or design your own web standards, in which case everyone is going to criticise them anyway.

I don’t envy them the decision, or how to ’sell’ whichever decision they have made widely; but I do hope they manage to avoid going with a set of standards that are already out of date.

Everyone I have ever spoken to in the public sector who develops websites understands the importance of website accessibility, and they are keen to ensure that we do deliver inclusive websites. This would rather suggest that all public sector websites should be perfectly accessible – which isn’t necessarily the case.

There are other problems: managed content can only be as accessible as the relevant content management system allows it to be – for example unless there is a specific facility to include quotations, you won’t be able to mark quotations up using <q> and <blockquote> — and therefore you’ll not comply with WCAG 1.0.

Similarly, it can be difficult to make some features (particularly those which include mapping tools) just as accessible to every user. How do you cope with this? Are you allowed to include content which cannot be made perfectly accessible, if you’ve done the bits you can?

(Note that I’m not specifically saying mapping tools can’t be made accessible; I don’t have enough experience with them to know this; I’m simply saying I’d expect it to be an area where you would encounter difficulties in making it accessible).

So I don’t envy the COI their task of trying to draw everything together to introduce a standard which is practical, enforceable and ensures that websites aren’t discriminating against people on the grounds of disability. But as Chair of the PSWMG I offered our hand to them: our members deal with public sector websites on a day-to-day basis. We have “field experience” in the area, and if we can help, we will, because getting this set of standards right will be of benefit to everybody.

Of course, I know they’ve got plenty of experience themselves, too…!

And then of course we have the proposed new standard PAS 124 (link to Bruce’s site) which is to look at web standards, including brand standards, legal standards, accessibility standards, SEO standards, usability standards and technical standards.

Like Bruce, I’m not entirely sure we need another standards document, but more important than that, if we are going to have one, we need to know whether it’s going to be something the Public Sector will be expected to comply with – in which case it might be worth lobbying to get a representative from the PSWMG (whether me or someone else) on the review panel…

5 Responses to “Delivering Inclusive Websites”

  1. Nick responds:

    Hi, it might be a silly comment but are the WCAG Samurai’s errata not usable by anyone? I haven’t really followed the discussion so don’t know if they’re disputed. Are they not used as a stop-gap simply because they are not endorsed by the W3C? We do need an end to this limbo, it just drags on and on.

  2. Mike Cherim responds:

    I think the WCAG 1, though officially out-of-date, still seems applicable and fairly accurate on most checkpoints. The thing is, regardless of the rules one adheres to, the outdated WCAG 1 or the larval WCAG 2, the needs of those who require accessibility are constant. Individuals should understand these needs, then compliance become a matter of meeting visitor requirements. If it’s not the needs of those who require accessibility and their technology that we’re meeting, if it’s a set of guidelines (to be official I guess) then we’re catering to the spec and we’re always going to a step or three behind. Right now we contend with AJAX and whatnot. By the time the WCAG 2 comes out as a recommendation, it’ll be TIDE or FEDEX, or some other acronym’d technology. Accessibility specs, if they’re going to change and support current implementations, then they need to need updated almost annually.

    I think we almost need two: One for the basic stuff that doesn’t change (a well thought-out and edited WCAG 1 base version perhaps) then annual updates to incorporate new technology.

    As far as the who… I think any non-private, commerce, business, government, educational, or institutional site should be mandated to comply. Not tying to say they can’t have a cool Flash thing or some other basically inaccessible content, they just need to back it up in a way that is accessible.

  3. JackP responds:

    I’ve got to say that the Samurai Errata are certainly an improvement on WCAG 1.0. Again the problem there is that these aren’t really “official” standards - and I don’t think they are perfect either, but I’m not going to nit-pick here as I’ve already nit-picked elsewhere and on the whole Joe et al have done a bloody good job.

    My personal vote would be for UK public sector guidelines on a site which were regularly reviewed and updated at least yearly, as per Mike’s suggestion. Failing that however, I’d probably go towards WCAG 2.0 as one of the …

    …darn. I didn’t want to nit-pick. Sorry Joe.

    …one of the things with the Errata is that they penalise poor standards (i.e. layout tables are banned). I agree that it’s wrong to use layout tables, but when you’re talking about a standard that must be achieved otherwise the domain is taken away, I think you need to be concentrating on those things which specifically penalise disabled users rather than those things which aren’t good practice but aren’t necessarily harmful.

    But for a standard to aim for, the Errata aren’t bad at all; and they’d certainly be a better set to use than the standard WCAG 1.0. I just wouldn’t necessarily look to censure sites that fail to live up to this…

  4. Chris Hunt responds:

    It’s technically just a working draft. So how can you use that as your current standard?

    Presumably the same way we used CSS 2.1 between August 2002 and July this year. I wish I could get away with working as slowly as these web standards guys.

  5. TaylorMade » Blog Archive » Sitting on the Fence responds:

    [...] for the position and response from the PSWMG. Later I gave more thought to this as I re-read Jack Pickard’s blog entry on this very same [...]

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