Be Competitive, comply with Website Accessibility Standards

From: SiteMorse Technologies
Published: Fri Feb 11 2005

Nicholas Le Seelleur, a director of SiteMorse, feels that too little is done to enforce and promote better website accessibility standards for the benefit of Britain’s 8-10 million disabled users. Many organisations still declare compliance when evidence proves they are not compliant. So how can compliance help you to sustain a competitive advantage?
Even in its early days, The Body Shop made a play on ethics with regards to the testing of cosmetics on animals to promote itself, and some other organisations still do just the same. So by creating websites that meet and surpass the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act and the W3C’s Website Accessibility Initiative (WAI), you can create and sustain a competitive advantage over those who’ve not yet quite understood the ethical and potential economic, financial and legal implications of not being compliant. So is your website truly accessible and not just usable?
Where Confusion Begins
Even though the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) has said that companies could potentially face prosecution for discriminating against disabled users, that is if their websites were found to be inaccessible, it recently caused some confusion about whether there is a legal duty to meet accessibility standards. In fact the WAI standards were dismissed as simply just guidelines. Usability to a degree, it seemed, comes higher up on the organisation’s agenda, even though it is not the duty of the DRC to promote this aspect of good web design and practice. If the DRC is confused, how can anyone else be expected to understand the requirements of compliance?
Alan Mather of shows why there should be more leadership from the DRC and other bodies with a vested interested in promoting website accessibility. The DRC’s position seems to promote a lack of clarity, he explains:
"Tom Adams, at eGU, speaking at a recently Parliamentary Internet Group said that there needs to be some reference to standards. The DRC doesn't agree. So companies and public sector bodies are left to do what they think is right, whether it's A, AA, AAA, LocalGov LAWS standards, RNIB, RNID, Bobby, DDA, DRC guidelines or whatever. Plainly that's daft! Meanwhile, there are greater than 200 disability rights groups watching to see what happens.’
"I spoke at a Public Sector Forums conference on Accessibility back in July at my almer mata, City University. I too was worried about the lack of clarity on which standard to follow and that if we want real "Universal Accessibility" then a single widely-endorsed standard was required along with accredited test tools and a full awareness campaign. In my list, that doesn't include the threat of legal action unless someone persistently shows a lack of attention...’
Recent tests by SiteMorse, which produces monthly accessibility compliance league tables, show that even the DRC fails some of the very basic A and AA requirements. The suggestion that the organisation needs to improve, even though it claims to be compliant, was met with a frosty reception. The point is that the DRC and the other standard bearers for website accessibility should be doing their utmost to clarify the legal duties for compliance by enacting them in practice. They should not claim to be fully compliant when evidence shows that improvements are required. Test for usability: yes, but at least pass the basic website accessibility standards.
Be Top of The League
On the other hand, if your website is fully and demonstrably compliant, you have a great marketing and P.R tool to shout about. You can promote your company or organisation as an ethical enterprise and one that welcomes the custom of disabled users. You never know it may even have a positive impact on your marketing efforts and brand image. So being at the top of a website accessibility compliance league table (e.g Red Ant Design) is a good thing for your business, and although automated testing is frowned upon by many of those who fail compliance, it does work as explained by Red Ant Design’s Gavin Massey:
"We are obviously very pleased with this result. SiteMorse testing is a key part of our development process. We have always had the policy 'to practice what we preach' and have found SiteMorse reports to be essential when aiming for WCAG AA+ for the mandatory 'valid HTML' testing. Other popular products just don't offer this.’

"Red Ant work with a number of disabled internet users to ensure our websites offer the highest levels of accessibility to everyone. We encourage the competition and awareness that these league tables bring and are looking forward to seeing the report.’

Stay Ahead of the Game
To stay ahead of the game and to make sure that you are compliant, you need to choose the right tool. The problem is that there are a number of tools out there that simply aren’t up to the job; they provide misleading information. Furthermore, there’s the problem that many web design and development consultancies may unwittingly mislead their clients. This, again, is in part down to the tools they use. On top of that there’s even a lack of awareness of the legal duties and requirements. Some companies are either unaware of the standards themselves, or elect to ignore them in favour of a more glamorous web design.
However, this shouldn’t be an option. By making sure that your goods, services and information are accessible to the 8-10 million disabled users of the web, you ensure that your company or organisation has access to a potentially profitable market. From a public service point of view, every taxpayer has the right to access information about the Government, and their local councils. So either way non-compliance is not an option.
The DRC may claim the vanguard, but it clearly isn’t leading the way with any such clarity of thought. That doesn’t mean that you have to follow the same path as them. You should aim for the highest standards of website accessibility, and therefore take the lead. There are benefits for all waiting to be snatched up, and these can even help you to sustain a competitive advantage.
Researched and produced by Graham Jarvis for

Company: SiteMorse Technologies
Contact Name: claire blasi
Contact Email:
Contact Phone: 02074704710

Visit website »