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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Excusing Exclusion

Members of ‘exclusive’ corporate club Knexus Community have been having a bit of a grumble about UK accessibility legislation:

Some FTSE 100 companies receive three or four complaints every week saying that their web sites are not accessible, according to a corporate forum which this month attacked the lack of guidance to accompany the UK’s disability rights legislation.

One member, described as a leading provider of business services, said: “We have provided the facility so customers that visit our web site can get our information either through a telephone number or request it in an alternative source.”

The unnamed member added: “I would question whether we are going over the top to ensure that everything has to be made [available] on-line.”

A cynical person might read the essence of their comments to be:

Tell us the exact minimum we can get away with, so we can sort that out then forget about the whining cripples.

OK, so even I’m not that cynical, but their level of concern isn’t justified based on what’s happened so far. The law’s deliberate vagueness offers businesses leeway and hasn’t yet been enforced, giving everyone years of notice. All any sensible business has to do is:

  1. Get past the misguided idea that accessibility is about building virtual ramps to let in a few disabled people, and start treating ‘access for all’ as a basic necessity with real benefits (e.g. improved search engine optimisation, broader browser compatibility, etc.).
  2. Hire individuals and businesses with sufficient awareness; any good web developer should be able to readily discuss the issues and techniques involves in building accessible sites.
  3. Progressively and pragmatically improve access as part of the process of reviewing and improving the site to meet business objectives. Any company web site which isn’t undergoing continual review had better sort that problem out first.
  4. Seek out, listen to, and keep track of comments and complaints. You do need to be careful though and understand the underlying issues. For example, I know that if you get complaints about text being too small then you have to bear in mind a significant percentage of those people are Internet Explorer users who’ve set their browser to Smaller or Smallest, often by accidentally moving their scroll wheel while holding Ctrl (they blame a particular site as so many others are built to not allow IE to resize text).

Instant perfection isn’t being demanded of anyone, just the willingness to acknowledge the issues and take steps to improve.


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