Shaw Trust Prologue

A couple of enquiries from readers of Blether about my relationship with the Shaw Trust have made me realise that a vital part of the story has been missed - the bits that happened before the ClacksWeb audit even began.

Development on the site started in earnest in autumn 2004, with a target completion date of March 2005. The site's development plan had provision for contracting an external, expert auditor preferably to cover usability and accessibility. I recognised at an early stage that the testing I could arrange myself was inadequate in depth, breadth and quality. In the end the budget didn't exist to get any professional testing done at all before the site's launch. That doesn't mean that no testing was done, however.

I'd imagine that like many developers in large organisations, my main usability testing pool consisted of colleagues with differing levels of web experience, selected to try different bits of the site as it progressed. Forms, navigation, colour schemes - these things and many others all got the informal review treatment, and predictably the results were never conclusive. It was a useful format for finding some server-side bugs, but beyond that it was hard to separate subjective preferences from true usability issues.

For accessibility testing I had access to one screenreader (Jaws) user, blind, who was relatively new to computers and new to the web. Whilst his input was valuable at the time, in retrospect I'm certain it wasn't representative of the average Jaws user. He lacked the experience to have developed strategies for using the software to overcome the barriers that exist in even the most carefully constructed site, so many of the problems he experienced weren't necessarily site design issues. Apart from this I read the books (Joe Clark's  (External link) and Jim Thatcher's  (External link)) and tested and retested against the WCAG myself.

And that was it for testing. The site launched on schedule, but like many sizeable web projects (the site has about 1,000 static pages and tens of thousands of dynamic pages), for a couple of months immediately afterwards I fire-fought problems that would have been picked up by better testing, but that I wouldn't have had the time to fix even if I had known about them. It's called a public beta I suppose!

A new financial year brought the possibility of getting some proper testing done. I contacted a number of usability and accessibility testing service providers and received a few quotes. It soon became clear that the option of separate usability and accessibility testing was beyond my meagre budget, so a decision was made to focus on accessibility, and on getting as much as I could for the Council's money. I looked at a number of accessibility audit providers, but the Shaw Trust's pan-disability user testing was the deciding factor. No other provider I found came close to offering the same breadth of user testing:

I also appreciated the Trust's decision to work with a commercial partner, CDSM  (External link), in providing the technical audit. The Trust's primary business isn't the web, but CDSM's is - the combination of expert awareness of disability and expert knowledge of the technical web was unique in my experience.

With the decision made it was a matter of getting more details of the audit process, satisfying myself that it was what we needed, establishing cost, and formally contracting with the Trust. A pre-audit questionnaire provided the Trust with full details of the site, covering areas like:

That completed the audit was ready to start.


This is a great insight into a huge project, Dan. Really impressed with the Clacksweb website - if only all the local authorities websites in the UK were so good!

Posted by: Dave at October 25, 2005 7:30 PM

Thanks Dave, glad you're finding it useful.

Posted by: Dan at October 26, 2005 6:31 AM

Thanks for your insight on that. I know there has been a lot of people saying they do not understand why or how you could make the choices that you did with them. I am very happy that you finally have taken the time to put some of their questions to rest. For some reason, people see one thing that they do not understand and they attack it. I do not know why people do not just ask more questions. I hesitate to do it, but I quote South Park in saying “there are no stupid questions, just stupid people”. These are the people that jump without asking. The ones that attack before they understand. Thank you again for taking the time to reach out to us that felt that we wanted to understand you more. I look forward to your next article.

Posted by: online shopping at September 7, 2007 8:21 PM

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