In this article the author delves into an investigation about the use and effectiveness of Web accessibility statements.
An investigation into the use and effectiveness of web accessibility statements.
A brief history of web accessibility statements
Web accessibility is still in its infancy where many attempts are being made to make the web a more accessible place. I believe accessibility statements have good intentions; however as no official guidelines exists everyone has their own interpretation to what they should be. This has led to questions being raised at how effective they really are.
Now, you may think it would be easy to do a search and find the answer to this, however, it's not so simple. Have you tried searching on "accessibility statement" lately? I got over 12 million results!
So I decided to take another approach – speaking to real people and through communications on the web. The most popular response I got from the online community was that the issue is covered in PAS 78. However, web accessibility statements have been around alot longer than PAS 78, so that did not add up.
Fear of prosecution
The use of web accessibility statements seems to be linked to the Code of Practice from the DDA (http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2002/20020720.htm). It appears that the fear of being sued over inaccessible websites led to the mass introduction of accessibility statements. This made it appear that people were making an effort to make accessible sites.
Word gets around easily on the web and this resulted in accessibility statements being implemented on many sites (probably around 12 million), usually copied and pasted from on site to another (as no official guidelines existed). The excuse was that they would help users, but time has proven that the actual practice of implementing accessibility statements has not gone according to plan, they are usually:
- Too long
- Technically orientated
- Focused on displaying of adherence to standards
This means they have forgotten about their target audience–how would the above benefit a disabled user who just wants to get on with things?
The PAS 78 states that accessibility statements should be used as contact place and for stating accessibility features such as access keys. I say there is no point.
- Most websites have a contact page anyways, why duplicate things?
- There is trend for not implementing access keys as they are believed to not be much use in practice.
- What other features are there to most websites? Increase font size? Tab order? Are these features–or just common sense practice? Why state the obvious?
Afterall, if there are a stairs in a building, you wouldn't provide a statement which tells someone how to climb them. (Right leg up, left leg up...!)
People keep saying we need it
Most websites are pretty straight forward.
- Do we need to state that standards and tests have passed?
- Do we need to educate a user on how to use a website?
We need to remember that the web is a different and a unique place. Once software is customised to your own needs, a user uses the same actions to perform similar tasks for any website. For example, if you use 'CTRL +' to increase font size for one website, it will be the same for the next website you go to–unless you change software/browser purposely. Surely we cannot be responsible for educating each user?
The trend for accessibility professionals
This has contributed to another factor. It appears accessibility is the trend. It's a bit like the agile development movement. Everyone is agile now, people won't hire you unless you state you are agile. It doesn’t matter if you are not, it's a badge that people will believe.
So now we have accessible developers, accessible designers, accessibility and usability professionals. Perhaps if I gave myself 'accessibility software tester' title, the world would see me in a different light.
Has the concept of 'web accessibility' been taken too far?
I do agree, for more complex and interactive sites, there may be a requirement to offer assistance, but why not have it in a help area which addresses multiple issues. You could call it 'help', 'using this site' or 'about', it would be a central area of help and still be easy to find and of use to everyone who is interested.
Campaign against accessibility statements
A Google search returned over 12 million results for "accessibility statement". I am campaigning to get this number down by half. Is it possible? Is it daft? Who knows, but I believe that the web will be a more accessible place once we stop bragging about our accessibility greatness.