The city I live in, Birmingham, launched a new Council website. It made the headlines because it was three years late, and considerably over-budget. I’ve been reading their post-implementation report Web CMS Project Post Implementation Review – Final Report (PDF, 440K) (check out the humane URL of that document: thank goodness for the new Fatwire CMS!)
One day, I am going to get rich by doing post-implementation reports on public sector websites (if such a thing as “public sector” remains, of course).
From my experience at the Law Society, and reading reports such as this one, I could easily produce a template document citing the usual reasons for the deadline-breaking, budget-demolishing usability atrocities that get commissioned, and then I’d just slot in the client organisation’s name and charge them a few grand.
I would use the Birmingham report as a basis, as I’ve already paid for it with my council tax and it lists (or hints at) all the depressingly usual suspects:
- Scope creep
- CMSs are bought off-the-shelf, massively customised to the point that they’re unstable and no-one knows how they work any more
- organisational disdain for their own employees’ accumulated vital knowledge and experience
- obsessive organisational risk-aversion
- managers with no understanding of how the web works being put in charge of projects
- endemic mis-communication
Joking aside, I’m not qualified to judge how accurate this report is, but it rings true, except for one vital area.
The report’s authors offer advice on enhancing the accessibility of the site. The advice is wrong.
I can’t find the names of the authors to judge their qualifications to pontificate on accessibility but the inaccuracy of terminology of the assertion “W3C rules state that an ‘alt tag’ should be used on all images” makes me uncertain that they really know what they’re talking about (there is no “alt tag” as there is no alt element in HTML).
Section 13.3.2 says
…a visually-challenged visitor should be able to increase the font-size and to change text and background colours to make the site legible for him or her. It is possible for an individual to change the font size using their browser settings but it is not possible on the BCC site to do this on the web pages themselves.
Section 13.3.3 says
… Browsealoud (http://www.browsealoud.com/ ) is recommended by many bodies including the RNIB. Many visually-impaired people use the system and it is enabled on many government and local government websites – including a subsidiary standalone site of the BCC (www.adultcareinbrum.org.uk – see below).
Systems like these allow a visitor to listen to the content of a site, thereby making it accessible to those with visual, literacy, and dyslexia challenges.
We recommend that Browsealoud or another similar system be implemented on the main BCC site.
Browsealoud costs money. It’s basically a plugin that reads text, but has none of the navigational functionality that fully-fledged screenreaders have. The site owner pays to have their web site added to a whitelist contained within the plugin.
Extensions such as Opera’s Voice (select text, right click, “speak”), Firevox for Firefox, built-in screenreaders on the operating system such as Micrsoft Narrator or Apple Voiceover perform this job without requiring the council to spend money, and (most importantly) at greater utility for the consumer. Browsealoud (or similar plugin) requires that the user learn a new way of interacting with this specific website; using the alternatives I list above enhance the user’s experience on every site she visits.
It appears that during development of the site, Birmingham City Council procured four third-party accessibility audits of the website, all of which mention non-resizeable text (but recommend setting it in CSS with relative units rather than coding text resize widgets). None recommends browsealoud or similar plugins.
I hope that Birmingham does not follow the two accessibility recommendations of the post-implementation report, until it can demonstrate that the authors of that report have significantly greater experience and knowledge of accessibility than the authors of the 4 accessibility audits I obtained under my Freedom of Information request.
This is a personal post and not the opinions of my employer, wife, children or hamster.
Birmimgham also features in another of my Usability Atrocities with its legendary Strategy to develop Short Breaks for Disabled Children.