Da Vinci Code Trail - not big or clever

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.

Comments

I briefly met the Segala guys at the WWW Conference in Edinburgh, and they seem a cool bunch of guys. I think they need to be careful to make sure their "Segala-certified" sites are very well engineered and really are accessible, otherwise any reputation their kite mark has will lose all its clout. It's a shame there aren't more people trying to do interesting and exciting things in pure XHTML/CSS that look incredible on screen for people with all the javascript gubbins going, but are totally accessible.

Posted by: Dave at June 27, 2006 6:59 PM

I agree completely Dave, and from my correspondence with Segala this week they are clearly switched on. I'm not trying to get at them, or commenting on commercial accreditation schemes in general, but I do share your fear that allowing sites like this to be certified undermines the value of the trustmark. O2 also have a very positive attitude to accessibility, which makes this all the more baffling.

Posted by: Dan at June 27, 2006 7:10 PM

Dan, I received an unsolicited email from Segala regarding the launch of some Content Label thingy. What grated me was the statement: "Please reply to have this email address removed from receiving any further communications from Segala.", to which I replied to Andrew Gerrard: "Andrew, please refresh my memory - where did I opt this email address into your mailing list?".

I've received an apology, and the mere fact that you've received a further unsolicited email from them indicates they just listwashed their mailing list rather than organise one properly with a confirmed opt-in. You'd not be wrong labelling this as spam - its both walking and talking like a duck.

Segala seem to be making a ton of mistakes out in the public light. I'm a little concerned about this organisation.

Posted by: Isofarro at June 27, 2006 8:11 PM

I echo Iso's concerns. The last thing we need is yet another pseudo-certification service for Web accessibility, let alone one that hasn't tested with actual users to fish out issues like the one with the Flash game. Publicising these sort of misrepresentations/misconceptions of accessibility is no good to anyone.

I too have begun receiving unsolicited mail from Segala - hardly a good vibe from them. I can see Mr Gerrard getting a whole host of unsubscribe requests.

Posted by: dotjay at June 30, 2006 4:56 PM

In view of the comments and opinions expressed here, I would like to state for the record that Segala is not connected or involved with www.sonyericsson.com or any of its sub-sites, this includes the DaVinci Code section of this site. Segala has not audited or certified this website for accessibility and has made no claims to that effect.

Segala was not responsible for the design or build of the www.davincicodetrail.co.uk website, nor indeed the decision to provide one version in Flash and an alternative HTML version. The Segala certificate clearly states which URLs it has certified.

The decision to create the http://www.davincicodetrail.co.uk/ website and the hosting of the Flash game on a separate URL was in no way influenced by and beyond any control of Segala.

Our press release states that we certified http://www.davincicodetrail.co.uk/. We would like to point out that it does not allude to or suggest that we certified the flash game or any other elements on www.sonyericsson.com, however we do acknowledge that the wording may have caused some confusion as to whether or not we certified the flash game on which the O2 website is centered around. For this we apologise and we thank you for pointing this out to us. We sincerely did not intend for this Press release to be misleading and we have taken the decision to amend our press release to clarify the issues raised.

Unfortunately, the flash site/elements were already built before Segala was engaged to audit and certify the accessible alternative. I must point out that with the exception of the game (which is now clearly marked as inaccessible to some) the HTML alternative provides exactly the same information as the flash site. So, although I agree it is best practice to create one site that is accessible to all, in this instance the best alternative was to create an accessible HTML version of the site.

We could have been less enthusiastic in issuing the PR for this particular site, but we are keen to help move the industry forward from what it currently perceives as "accessibility extremism" by demonstrating how some companies embrace accessibility for the long haul and are embedding it into their strategies, brand marketing and development guidelines. However, even those companies that take their responsibilities seriously sometimes have difficulty in releasing fully (what is that anyway!) accessible sites all of the time? BUT let's not shoot them right away or we'll turn them away from accessibility altogether.

In an ideal world, every new site developed would be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, but in reality it's important to realise that this may not happen for some time. So, whilst I think it's valuable to highlight the failures of some, I also think we need to recognise and support the efforts of others.

If you would like to know more about my own personal philosophy and belief that underpins Segala's long-term vision of where the industry should be heading, please take a look at my post on E-consultancy.

I would welcome anybody to get in touch with Segala (or me) directly if they have any further comments or concerns.

Paul Walsh, CEO, Segala

Posted by: Paul Walsh at June 30, 2006 6:21 PM

Thanks for this Paul. I think you may have misunderstood my main point though, which is that the user doesn't give a stuff which domain the Flash game is hosted on. And why should they? Your PR even calls it "the Sony Ericsson The Da Vinci Code Trail website", and the Flash game forms part of that. There's no issue with the HTML versions of the other Flash pages, as I clearly stated in the original post.

we are keen to help move the industry forward from what it currently perceives as "accessibility extremism" by demonstrating how some companies embrace accessibility for the long haul and are embedding it into their strategies, brand marketing and development guidelines.

Whereas what you actually demonstrated was a willingness to ignore serious accesssibility failings for the sake of some good PR. What is the value of certifying the minor pages of a website when the main attraction is inaccessible? What is the point of certification if it isn't user-centric? The user isn't going to trawl your certificate to see which URLs it covers. If O2 chose to align themselves with Sony Ericsson for this promotion they should have ensured that the other company shared their commitment to accessibility.

However, even those companies that take their responsibilities seriously sometimes have difficulty in releasing fully (what is that anyway!) accessible sites all of the time? BUT let's not shoot them right away or we'll turn them away from accessibility altogether.

I hope you're not making me out to be the bad guy here. Nobody is "shooting" anyone - would it be better if we turned a blind eye to problems like those on the site in question, or are we better making our concerns known to those responsible, in the hope that next time around things might improve? Perhaps the best way of avoiding these sorts of incidents in future would be for you to be more selective about the sites you certify, and more circumspect about the gushing nature of your releases.

Posted by: Dan at June 30, 2006 8:00 PM

Paul Walsh wrote: "The Segala certificate clearly states which URLs it has certified"

According to the certificate - one URL was tested. That seems clear to me. However, this certificate is linked to from multiple URLs that make up the Da Vinci code, which suggests all these URLs have been tested. Two clear contradictory statements, that doesn't strike me as being "clear".

The press release doesn't metion either a single URL or a list of URLs, but to a particular site called the Da Vinci Trail - as such, the Flash file is part of this site, hence the ongoing conclusion.

That's three separate views from the PR organisations. Guys, get your story straight before issuing the press release.

Posted by: Isofarro at July 4, 2006 3:48 PM

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