June 2006 Archive

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June 29, 2006

PAS 78 set free

@ 6:04 PM

PAS 78, a guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites, is now available free of charge from the Disability Rights Commission website (external link).

This is excellent news - if you're the slightest bit responsible for procuring or specifying websites do yourself and your organisation a favour and go grab a copy now. It'll help you tell the difference between the snake-oil salesmen (external link) and bona-fide top-notch web development companies, which can only be a good thing.

June 28, 2006

supply2.gov.uk - DTI fail again

@ 3:28 PM

Launched yesterday by Jim Fitzpatrick, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Trade & Industry, supply2.gov.uk (external link) is described in its launch statement (external link) thusly:

There are now more than 7500 Government contracts advertised on a new business portal which removes the barriers faced by many small businesses to access public sector contracts.

Sadly it doesn't remove any barriers if you browse without javascript enabled, or using a device which doesn't support javascript. And they aren't shy about telling you that you need javascript:

supply2.gov.uk alerts a user to the need for js with a big, obtrusive warning message

Unfortunately the link to the instruction page is broken.

The site's accessibility statement (external link) includes the most confused definition of WCAG conformance I've ever seen:

Additionally the site meets with Bobby (opens in a new window) approved Conformance Level AA in association with the Web Content Guidelines (opens in a new window).

And of course it fails to meet the claimed level of conformance, for various reasons including requiring scripting to be available, for using deprecated markup in a few places, non-contiguous headings, lack of labels for form elements, misuse of the apostrophe, and best of all for introducing a brand new HTML element to the world, <h7> (it's right there on the home page).

This is actually a real shame, because the site is quite nicely built in general, but falls down on the detail. There's also evidence of a rush job in the markup, where the (js dependent) search form is commented out, and a beta statement still resides. I'll email them with these observations, and hopefully in due course it will be made more accessible and we can celebrate a decent DTI website for a change.

Blaze Aware - fire safety for sighted people

@ 12:25 PM

The Scottish Executive launched Blaze Aware (external link) yesterday, a new website aimed at raising childrens' awareness of fire safety precautions. According to the press release (external link) from the Exec:

The Blaze Aware website is designed to be a fun, creative and interactive way of getting the message across.

Shame it wasn't designed to be accessible. There are countless problems with this site, including it being unusable without images (no alt attributes on many images), heavily dependent on javascript for navigation and functionality, barely keyboard navigable (although to be fair there are some bits of Flash with good keyboard support), it contains audio with no textual equivalent, has a table-based layout from the dark ages, there's not a single heading used across the site, pages without titles, and so on.

I love the "low graphics" version, which basically turns off the 460k background image. Except of course it defaults to the high graphics version, so your browser's probably downloaded and cached the image by the time you turn it off. Seems like the DTI have some competition after all.

It's hosted by a company called Civic (external link), who proclaim themselves to be expert in web and digital communication. It's not clear if they were responsible for the development. [Edit: I've been contacted by someone at Civic who has stated that they were not responsible for the design and development of the site.] Bizarrely it's hosted on a subdomain, aphrodite.civiccomputing.com (external link) - visit the root for a giggle, but be prepared to disconnect immediately!

Oh, and it cost £36,000. I'll be making enquiries...

June 27, 2006

Da Vinci Code Trail - not big or clever

@ 4:45 PM

Mona Lisa says be accessibleImagine for a moment that you can't use a mouse or other pointing device. Maybe you're a screenreader user. The reason is immaterial, but you're dependent on your keyboard or voice recognition software to use your computer. You're also a big fan of the Da Vinci Code (the book that is - the chances of someone being a fan of the film and a keyboard user are too tiny to contemplate).

When Sony Ericsson and O2 announce "The Da Vinci Trail"(external link), an entire site of phone offers, content and secrets from The Da Vinci Code, you're pretty damned excited. Apparently you can get free downloads, win a car, and best of all take on the challenge of The Da Vinci Code Trail for your chance to win The Da Vinci Code experience of a lifetime. And to top it all, the Da Vinci Code Trail website is Segala certified - see the press release on the Segala site (external link) (if you didn't receive the same unsolicited email I did from them) for the full details.

Ah, life is sweet. You visit the site, select the html version over the Flash version (feeling a little like a second class citizen, but that's okay, at least the content is accessible), download some stuff, enter a competition to win a car (even though the markup on the competition entry form is still horribly broken, 48 hours after I reported it), and prepare for the big one, the Da Vinci Code Trail itself.

As you may have already guessed, that's when it all goes pear-shaped. See, the good folk at Sony Ericsson and O2 have seen fit to provide a pretty accessible alternative to some of the content on the site, like the downloads and the car comp (about 8 pages in total), but the Trail itself is a multi-stage Flash game, wholly unusable with anything other than a mouse, for anyone other than a sighted user.

I contacted Segala about this bizarre situation - after all the whole campaign is called "The Da Vinci Code Trail", and all that free audio book, download and win a car competition stuff is only secondary to the main competition - and this is the reason they gave for the Segala certification not including the Trail itself:

The Flash game on the site is actually hosted on Sony Ericsson's domain and was developed independently.

Normally I wouldn't bat an eyelid at this sort of setup, but in this case Segala, O2 and Sony Ericsson are shouting about this half-arsed effort at accessibility as:

a great example of how organisations who are now starting to take accessibility more seriously are not building sites that might just look good and have some really great interactive features but that don't comply with accessibility requirements.

No-one should be under the impression that the discriminatory Da Vinci Code Trail website is acceptable, and it certainly isn't anything to shout about.

More questions for the DTI

@ 1:20 PM

Being unhappy with the DTI's response to our recent enquiries regarding the development of their new website, Bruce Lawson and I have put our heads together and asked them some further questions. You can see the full list on Bruce's site (external link).

When we get answers, probably on or around 21st July, we'll post them here and at Bruce's place, where you'll be able to comment.

June 21, 2006

Next stop - East Midlands Conference Centre

@ 9:45 AM

If you work in the public sector and are interested in web accessibility and broader web development issues for government sites, you might be interested in this event:

Currently in production and back by popular demand is a forum to showcase the leading edge of public sector website development highlighting innovation, usability and compatibility. Government Websites 2.0 - The Next Generation  (external link) will be held on the 15th August at the East Midlands Conference Centre (Nottingham).

Not sure about "leading edge", but you'll get to hear me bang on about accessibility for half an hour or so, and participate in the panel, discussing the question "What is the purpose and function of a local authority website?". If anyone knows the answer please email me, otherwise I'll just have to talk bollocks and hope no-one notices...

June 18, 2006

The DTI Responds

@ 1:26 PM

Last month I posted about the disquiet I felt about the DTI's new website (external link). Subsequently I emailed an enquiry to the department, requesting 6 pieces of information about the development of the website. My main concerns were that the site was inaccessible, ignored almost wholesale the government's own guidelines on the development of websites, and subsequently was an example of the mis-use of public funds.

Exactly 20 working days later on Friday June 16th (boy do they know their rights under the FOI legislation) I received a reply. It makes for interesting reading, but for me raises more questions than it answers.

The Q&A

For the record here are the 6 things I asked for and the responses I received, verbatim (with my added links):

The total budget and actual spend for development of the new website.
There was a budget of approximately £200000 for the development of the new website. The spend on website development is estimated at £175000 which includes costs from Fresh01 (external link) and the Department's main IT supplier, Fujitsu (external link).
Whether the website was developed by a team at the DTI or by a private company. If the latter please provide the name of the company.
The website was designed under contract by Fresh 01 (external link). The design was then implemented by the Department's main IT supplier, Fujitsu (external link), into a Content Management System (external link).
A copy of the requirements document for the production of the new website.
A copy of the requirements document is attached. This formed part of the 'Invitation to Tender for rebuild of the website, brief for customer research, design & information architecture, and usability testing phases'. [Download the document - dti.pdf (118kb, PDF format); dti.doc (87kb, MS Word format)]
A copy of any tender documentation related to the production of the new website.
Unfortunately the DTI considered their answer to the previous question to also answer this, despite the mention of a more comprehensive 'Invitation to Tender' document. I'll attempt to secure a copy of this in my next information request.
The basis for this statement on the DTI website: "This website meets the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) AA-level standard."
The statement relating to accessibility was an error. It was removed from the website on 19 May 2006 when we reviewed the site in the light of questions raised.
Details of what quality assurance procedures were followed to ensure the new website met the requirements of the department and satisfied the relevant legal requirements for websites.
Two main rounds of User Assurance Testing were carried out on each template of the Content Management System, using test scripts. There was no formal User Assurance Testing for accessibility.

Accessibility

Let's take a look at the accessibility issues. The requirements document, echoing the government's own standards, specifies that:

10. Companies should note that the final website must comply with the Government Website Guidelines: http://www.e-envoy.gov.uk/oee/oee.nsf/sections/webguidelines-handbook-top/$file/handbookindex.htm and Level AA of the Web Accessibility Initiative (http://www.w3.org/WAI)."

It also states that one of the key objectives of the DTI website rebuild is:

To be a leading example of usable, accessible web design"

Finally, in Annex I, the objectives of the Usability Testing Phase are stated in these terms:

We need to ensure that we provide high quality, usable templates for incorporation into the Percussion CMS. To do this we need a robust programme of usability testing carried out during the design and build phase. This is important in ensuring that the site meets accessibility guidelines for the disabled and other groups, but it is also intended to improve the experience for all users. We need to ensure that users can find what they need to quickly and easily on the site.

We will expect the successful tenderer for this phase of the project to work closely with Percussion and also the company responsible for developing the templates. The results of usability tests will feed into the process of new page templates as they are developed.

Testing should carried out with representative groups of the DTI site's users and potential users. The final website must comply with the Government Website Guidelines and Level AA of the Web Accessibility Initiative.

All laudable stuff, but sadly the reality doesn't match the rhetoric. Why did the DTI:

This seems to be a classic case of a gap between the standards of accessibility a commissioner is stipulating in a requirements document, and their ability to verify that those standards have been met by suppliers. What concerns me is that no-one in the DTI or in any other central government department (the eGU anyone?) seems to have take it upon themselves to fulfil that quality assurance role, and as I've said many times before it's a major failing of many government web projects currently.

Who's to blame?

It's hard to see who comes out of this with any credit at all:

What happens now?

It's fascinating to me how a government department can spend £200,000 in 2006 on such a poor website. There's no shortage of guidance, advice and support for those seeking to produce and commission quality websites today, so why did the DTI and its suppliers fail to take pretty much any of it on-board? What steps will the DTI be taking now they know the website doesn't meet the objectives and requirements they stipulated? I'll be trying to learn more over the coming weeks - I've been directed to make furhter enquiries about the website to the DTI's Response Centre (dti.enquiries@dti.gsi.gov.uk) and of course I'll post what I do learn here.

June 14, 2006

Website Accessibility 2006 thoughts

@ 11:26 AM

Just a very quick post to say a big thank you to the organisers, speakers and delegates at the Website Accessibility 2006 conference which was held in Edinburgh yesterday. As I mentioned previously I signed up to give a talk about the lessons I learned when redeveloping ClacksWeb.

I had a great time, enjoyed giving my talk, met a lot of very nice people who were very enthusiastic about and committed to web accessibility, and I learned a lot too. It seemed that most other people had a good time too, and found it worthwhile (but then I didn't see the feedback forms!). There was good, informed participation from the audience, and a very wide range of organisations represented, including government, charities, the BBC and large corporations. It was very encouraging to see that accessibility was clearly on their radar.

I'm still in Edinburgh, preparing to travel down to London for @media - I'll post my presentation on this site or on ClacksWeb early next week, and will catch-up with those people who requested a copy of my development plan.

June 8, 2006

Commissioner, censure thyself

@ 2:37 PM

The Information Commissioner (external link), the man ultimately responsible for data protection and freedom of information in the UK, has extraordinarily issued a Decision Notice (external link) against himself for the ICO's (external link) handling of a request for information from Friends of the Earth.

What's particularly baffling is that in the first instance the ICO failed to recognise the request as a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act (external link).

There's a very common misconception that one has to "invoke" the FOI for a request to be covered by the legislation - in reality any request for information from any body which falls under the provisions of the Act is required to be dealt with in accordance with the Act. The misconception is perpetuated, perhaps deliberately, by the use of specific FOI email addresses and contact details by many government bodies, the DTI included...

See also: eGovMonitor: Information Commissioner admits he failed to comply with Freedom of Information Act (external link)

June 2, 2006

Beer drinker's guide to WCAG2

@ 2:15 PM

Bruce Lawson expresses in plain, accessible language what I'm sure many of us are feeling about WCAG2.0:

WCAG 2.0: when I want a beer, don't give me shandy (external link)

Comment on Beer drinker's guide to WCAG2 (2)