I was looking at a website 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 website.
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.
Obviously, a website about quantum physics, addressed to fellow professionals, is not going to be accessible to many people. The point is that it should still not pose an extra barrier to people with impairments, over and above the barrier that its content poses to the population in general.
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 websites 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.