I got a letter from my MP about the questions I asked about the DTI website:
The project to launch a consistantly branded, usable website and implement a Content management System took place over a three year period. The requirement for the new website to comply with Level AA of the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines did appear in the original Invitation to Tender. It is regrettable that at the end of a long and complex phase of delivery of the project, this element was lost.
The Department does recognise the importance of ensuring our web content is accessible to all. We acknowledge that there are some accessibility issues with the new website. An accessibility audit of the site has been commisioned, to identify where the site fails to comply with relevant standards. The recommendations will be used to ensure, subject to cost and available resources, the site meets Level A of the W3C’s WCAG as laid down in the guidlines for UK Government Websites as soon as practicable and Level AA in the longer term.
Despite the acknowledged accessibilty issues, we can confirm the new website is being used on a daily basis by a member of the DTI staff who uses the Supernova speech and magnification system (V6.5). This assistive technology does allow users with visual impairments to navigate the website and access the content of the pages. This demonstrates the new DTI website does not ‘lock-out’ all users with disabilities.
It’s a standard letter, identical to the one Jim Barter received from his MP.
I suppose it’s a result in one sense: the offending site will be audited, and made good (hopefully by someone who knows what they’re doing, which at least rules out the last supplier). So that’s a victory for accessibility.
But it’s something of a pyrrhic victory. The site will be significantly less accessible than if it had been designed that way from the beginning, as the original (ignored) spec required.
It’ll also be significantly more expensive, as the DTI are spending taxpayer’s money on this audit and elastoplast exercise. A private company would learn its lesson from the financial burden this places on them. The DTI don’t give a toss (ignore their absurd posturing about the cost of our Freedom Of Information requests) so it’s entirely plausible that they’ll commission rubbish and mis-manage their suppliers again in the future.
A blind staffer can use it – so it must be accessible!
There’s an interesting statement in the letter from the DTI:
The new website is being used on a daily basis by a member of the DTI staff who uses the Supernova speech and magnification system.
This is a false argument, of course; a staffer who knows the site very well is hardly a representative of the vast majority of visitors. The fact that we’re talking about people with disabilities doesn’t change that; disabled people are people and are not defined by their disability; they are not all the same.
It shows that the DTI top-brass regard their duty as merely “allowing” access; they haven’t thought about the accessibility of the site for a blind member of the public just surfing in for the first time, who doesn’t want to practice daily in order to accomplish their business with the DTI.
A similar argument to this is rumbling through the courts in the USA. Compare this with the NFB/ Target lawsuit. Target have found three screenreader users who say “we can use it, so it’s not inaccessible”, although Jim Thatcher’s declaration to the court suggests to me that it’s hardly doing its best to assist screenreader users who aren’t as proficient as Target’s stooges:
For example, because of missing alt-text on image map areas on the home page, more than 80 percent of the characters found by screen readers were gibberish, like “Ref equal sc underscore iw underscore l underscore 1 601 minus 9748238 minus 9274539? Percent 5 Fencoding equals UTF8 ampersand amp; node=3112881″. All these characters coming from href values of areas without alt-text are not only meaningless but agonizing to listen to. In addition, the numbers are spoken in full by a screen reader, like “nine million seven hundred and forty eight thousand two hundred and thirty eight.” (Source)
The DTI has the same attitude as Target. And it stinks that my government is as unaccommodating as a big yankee corporation.
But I’m tired of the fight now; the long hot summer has worn me out.
Why are you complaining? You’re not blind.
A guy called Charlie left a semi-hostile comment, saying
Have you received any comments or support from people who find the site difficult to use because itâ€™s so inaccessible? … It seems as if the people who really get their nickers in a twist about this are not the people who use screen readers or who are visually impaired … So I just wondered if youâ€™d had any contact from those that you, your co-conspiritor and many others, proport [sic] to be representing and fighting on behalf of?
A good point; no – I’ve had no emails from blind people who are aggrieved at being locked out of websites. This doesn’t mean that I have no right to complain, for a couple of reasons: the first is that I helped pay for this website, and it isn’t a good site. The second is that I help pay the salaries of the people at the DTI who took their eyes off the ball during procurement and supplier monitoring; as a concerned citizen, I have a right to complain about tax pounds being pissed away through ineptitude.
Then there’s the misconception that accessibility is only about the blind and only about screenreader users.
And finally, there’s the suggestion that blind people don’t complain because they don’t care, or they don’t use the Web. They do complain: I’m working with an organisation that are redesigning in consultation with some complainants, but generally they’re not listened to – or they’re heard, and then ignored, like the Target case or by people like Chris Beasley on the grounds that it makes economic sense to discriminate.