No surprises in EU report

As reported on Out-law (external link) and many other sites, a report published by the European Parliament has found that just 3% of public sector websites are achieving WCAG Conformance Level AA. It should be noted that 'public sector' in this report equates to central government and not local government, where the picture is slightly rosier.

It's no surprise to me that conformance levels are so low, at least in the UK. Following my recent mini-rant about visas4UK winning a major award, I contacted the eGovernment Unit (eGU) to ask what their response was to such an inaccessible site being lauded as best practice. They responded (eventually) thus:

The Cabinet Office does provide guidance to both central and local government on the eAccessibility of websites.... However, this is guidance only and it is the practical and indeed legal, responsibility of individual departments and their web management teams on how they interpret and apply such guidelines in order to comply with, eg, the Disability Discrimination Act.

My response:

What pressure or sanctions do departments face if they fail to adopt the guidelines issued by the eGU? It appears that you are not interested at all in whether departments actually follow the guidance, you're simply concerned with making sure the guidance is robust. If the only pressure is the threat of legal action then it's effectively no pressure at all.

Who is playing the essential quality assurance role in this scenario, to ensure that poorly designed, inaccessible sites aren't emerging from departments?

I doubt I'll ever get a reply, but until there is significant pressure from within government, the situation isn't going to improve in the near (or possibly even distant) future.

Comments

Unfortunately I shared your optimism (or lack there of).

I feel that with the number of standards and guidelines eGov sites have to follow I can sympathise a little with the guys procuring the site; in that they put it in their requirements and hope that the supplier has fulfilled the criteria.

Posted by: Richard Conyard at November 30, 2005 12:47 PM

I agree Richard. PAS78 will help those procuring sites a great deal, but when it comes to government what I'd like to see is some centralised quality assurance. It's all very well the eGU saying that it's the responsibility of departmental web teams to ensure they meet the guidelines, but clearly that responsibility isn't being adequately discharged.

Surely better to have a dedicated, expert team who can take on that QA role for all departments and ensure that suppliers are fulfilling their obligations?

Posted by: Dan at November 30, 2005 5:56 PM

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