Web Accessibility Woes

I was looking at a web site that has a web accessibility page. It describes how the site is accessible to people with various impairments.

I googled for whether such a page is a legal requirement. I don’t think it is, but what is a legal requirement in the UK under the Equality Act 2010 is not to discriminate by preventing impaired people from accessing services. I see there are similar provisions in the US, and no doubt in other countries.

It’s easy enough to understand what discrimination is when it’s a set of steps leading into a shop, and people in wheelchairs can’t get in – but maybe it’s not so easy for people to understand how websites can discriminate, and how web accessibility is important for the impaired.

So how can web accessibility go wrong?

Websites can discriminate by using fonts that are hard to read against the background colour.

They can discriminate by not having a text explanation for images that are used on the web site.

They can discriminate by using high-level language that stops some people understanding what the site is saying or stops them understanding how to do what they want to do on the site.

They can discriminate by having complicated menus that some people find difficulty in negotiating.

And the list goes on.

So with that understanding, I pasted a chunk of the text into Google. I pasted a chunk of text from the statement I had seen on the accessibility page of the site I was looking at.

I pasted in:

recognises the importance of providing a website that is accessible to all user groups, including the disabled, the visually impaired and those with motor deficiences and cognitive disabilities.

And I got ream after ream of websites with the same standard text about how they care about accessibility, and what they’ve done to make their websites good examples of accessibility.

It’s depressing. Not that I am claiming anything wonderful about me or web sites I am involved with – it’s just the way that someone’s idea of making the Web a better place for the impaired has been turned into a endless pages of standard text.

Well maybe not. Maybe the websites are built to good standards, and it is just the accessibility pages that are a bit ‘off the shelf’.

So I ran a couple of prominent sites through a web accessibility tool.

The UK Government website page on the 2010 Act threw up 29 errors and 91 alerts.

Marks and Spencer had 12 error and 227 alerts.

WordPress.com returned a creditable 2 errors and 30 alerts.

WordPress.org returned zero errors and 6 alerts.

No More Pencils (this site) returned 4 errors and 6 alerts. (Good for me, but I think it’s just because this site is built in WordPress which is good on that score, and I chose a theme made by a developer who writes beautiful code).

The Social Media Honey Pot

Well, we thought about our digital privacy, but then nothing bad seemed to be happening – so we stopped thinking about it.

Some of us controlled what we made public, but everyone realised that everything we did online added to our profiles.

Information was gathered when we used social media. It was gathered when we bought things. It was gathered when we booked holidays. And it was gathered when we searched for anything online.

We knew that all that information would eventually go to build a picture of us and that the data analysts would understand us.

If we even thought there were people who were swayed to vote this way or that, we consoled ourselves by believing that the people who were swayed were marginal people.

It was the rednecks without a brain cell or the knee-jerk liberals – anyone except us.

When it came to serious stuff like our voting patterns, we believed we were complex and intelligent – too bright to be played – and the danger didn’t apply to us.

The thought that we were or might be so predictable that we could be played was such a distasteful thought that we didn’t want to think about it.

When we learned that Governments used mass surveillance to track us we were appalled and we complained, but the law was tweaked to allow mass surveillance to continue.

We needed to keep coming back to the honey jar for more social media and searches and for things to buy and holidays to take – so we just gave up.

Some people worried that if real bastards got into power they would have all the data to know who were a danger, and get rid of them.

It has been done before.

When we did think about it, we said that while some Governments were bad, our Government was pretty good on a worldwide scale, so the people in power wouldn’t do anything that bad with mass surveillance and all that they knew about us.

In 2009 I wrote

It doesn’t take much of a look back in history to see that the law has been used to turn people’s eyes away from things that needed looking at.

Of course the government of Britain would say that of course this couldn’t happen here. We are men of integrity. You have no reason to worry that the law will be used by us to curtail freedom. But even accepting that, what about the next government, or the one after that?

Where the law is in place, the danger of it being subverted to curtail democracy is more present.

The Social Media Honey Pot

But back to where we are now, the thing that really surprises me is how badly Facebook has handled this.

Were they so incompetent that they didn’t see this coming? They let huge amounts of data out into the wild. It should have been clear as day to them that sooner or later it was going to come back and bite them.

Were they so ill prepared for that?

Or do they know how this is going to play out and how we will react over the longer term?

Do they know it will all settle down, and we will get back to important business of buzzing at the social media honey pot?

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