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 for the sponsorship of a conference, some of which will have gone towards developing an inaccessible website . 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 , Canadian Heritage and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation , 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 .
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 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.