The DRC (Disability Rights Commission) recently announced the results of their year-long investigation into the accessibility of 1000 websites. The DRC's report concluded that most websites are highly inaccessible, with over 81% not even meeting basic standards of accessibility.
There's been a wave of publicity surrounding the DRC announcement, with national press such as The Times reporting on the story. The DRC has been campaigning for accessible websites for years and this was their biggest opportunity to really force some change... And they blew it.
The DRC has singled out Egg for their ‘accessible’ website. Yet Egg is one of the websites that makes up the 81% not even meeting basic standards of accessibility! Spinal Injuries Scotland has also been praised for its accessibility - yet it too doesn't meet the basic accessibility standards. The DRC found that just two websites passed the W3C priority 2 guidelines (which are the EU and UK government recommended level of accessibility) - yet the DRC didn't mention the identity of these websites.
The DRC also pointed out that 45% of the problems disabled users faced weren't on the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative checkpoints, implicitly stating that we can't rely on these. The W3C were quick to respond stating that the DRC were mistaken and in fact 95% of user problems were covered by the checkpoints. But the damage has been done: if people think they can't rely on these accessibility checkpoints, currently the most comprehensive available and used by governments and accessibility professionals throughout the world, what can they use?
Another failed aspect of the report was the DRC's inability to separate website accessibility issues with usability ones. Many of the problems disabled users came across could also be faced by non-disabled web users - we all struggle to navigate unusable websites on a daily basis.
The DRC report claims to be an investigation into the accessibility of 1000 websites, when in fact only 100 websites were tested. The remaining 900 were simply run through the Bobby program - anyone can do that and the DRC themselves acknowledge that you can't rely on the results of automated programs. Not too impressive for a year's work...
The DRC has essentially taken a carrot and stick approach here. They're trying to encourage businesses to make their websites accessible using various different arguments, each one seemingly vaguer than the next. For the stick the DRC are using the threat of legal action and have said that every website owner in this country could be liable - is the DRC going to sue everyone?
The DRC are right to take this carrot and stick approach, but they need to do so within the context of business language. It's all well and good to say that it's ethically right to make your website accessible, and that by doing so you'll increase its reach. But where's the hard data and the case studies? "Company X made their website accessible last year, and for an initial outlay of just £1000, have achieved a 30% increase in online sales." Now that would persuade people.
As far as this vague threat of legal action goes, well, that's exactly what it is: vague. The DRC have followed the RNIB's policy of not ‘naming and shaming’ companies. Why on earth not? If a company in my industry was named and shamed by the DRC I'd be on the phone straightaway to make sure my company wasn't next. That kind of negative publicity would take months to shake off.
The DRC report also did little to allay concerns, namely that attractive and accessible websites aren't possible and accessibility is expensive to implement. Both of these are false, but you wouldn't know it from listening to the DRC. One look at the DRC website, as a working example of an accessible website, is enough to put you off the idea of accessible websites for life. It needn't be this way: you can make your website virtually any way you like and it can still be accessible.
Web accessibility isn't brain science. It really isn't necessary to test your website on a variety of people with different disabilities (although the DRC are recommending you do). Web accessibility is all about following design standards and then adding in a few simple accessibility features. It's not just about disabled users being able to access your website - it's about everyone being able to access your website, including people using handheld devices, WebTV and in-car browsers. Any web developer with basic HTML and CSS design knowledge, and a bit of time on their hands, can easily learn and implement web accessibility.