Where are the gatekeepers?

I'm a great fan of standards. They provide a constant point of reference, an ideal to measure yourself and others against. Not just the standards that are set for us by the W3C and their ilk, that have far-reaching and universal benefits, but also those we set for ourselves. Without standards how can we know for sure that we're achieving the levels of quality we aspire to?

It seems to me to be a lack of standards that has led Feather to post about the (mis)use of significant wads of public money  (external link) for the sponsorship of a conference, some of which will have gone towards developing an inaccessible website  (external link). He asks:

What if our provincial and federal governments made web accessibility a requirement for actually recieving the sponsorship money? What if organizations that get any funding from the government had to have accessible web sites? Would any of that help awareness? Would it make a difference? Is it simply that accessibility wasn't a requirement on the project, and so it just didn't happen?

My gut feeling is that awareness of web accessibility issues is still next to zero outside of the small but steadily expanding web standards clique. We are getting there, slowly, but when the websites of the agencies Derek cites, the Ontario Media Development Corporation  (external link), Canadian Heritage  (external link) and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation  (external link), aren't accessible, what hope is there that the websites of projects they are sponsoring are going to be held to higher standards?

Here in the UK we're no less guilty. In recent months I've covered the brand new and in many cases horribly inaccessible websites of agencies either partially or wholly funded by our national government, and expressed my frustration at their disregard for (or ignorance of) the government's own standards  (external link).

The question I keep asking is where are the gatekeepers in these scenarios? Setting standards is only effective when someone is doing the measuring at the sharp end, fulfilling the quality assurance role that gives practical foundation to the commitment made in the standards. Or you could call it putting your money where your mouth is.

I'd like to see an enforcement of standards for all new .gov.uk domains, with domains only allocated to projects once they have demonstrated the necessary commitment and follow-through on accessibility and other standards. Currently the conditions for use of .gov.uk domains  (external link) states:

When you are using a .gov.uk domain name to deliver a web presence you are reminded that websites should comply with the e-Government Interoperability Framework, the Guidelines for UK Government websites and Framework for Local Government particularly on such issues as use of metadata, PICS labelling, accessibility and security.

Excuse my language, but screw "reminding" them, that's all just a bit too afternoon tea and bowler hats for my liking. If they don't comply then don't allocate the domain, or if it's already been allocated then withdraw the domain, after a warning shot if you want to be soft. I'm sure it would concentrate the mind wonderfully.

Comments

screw "reminding" them.. If they don't comply then don't allocate the domain

I couldn't agree more...

Posted by: Blair Millen at March 26, 2006 5:42 PM

Spot on. Enough "do as we say", I'm always frustrated at having to link to .gov.uk sites for services and features visitors to my site need which aren't accessible (most recently from the ODPM no less). And the bewildered responses to the question "do you plan on making this link accessible" are astounding eg "have you tried enabling javascript?"

Posted by: Doug at March 27, 2006 9:50 AM

I couldn't agree more Dan. I think that instead of paying some of the upper brass imbeciles 80k a year for pushing paper the money would be a lot better invested in a skilled workforce at the "chalkface".

The problem is the real web designers won't work for the councils and school as they have no actual idea about how much to pay these people. Not only that but there is a complete ignorance of the govt standards in most councils/departments as I found when doing training for the LEA. It's time a few asses were kicked to show people that they are serious about this.

Posted by: Andy Saxton at March 28, 2006 11:30 PM

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