New UK government web accessibility consultation

On Tuesday the COI (Central Office of Information) released a consultation document titled "Delivering inclusive websites: user-centred accessibility". The document isn't yet available online, but I'm told it should be on the Cabinet Office site from some time next week.

The main thrust of the document is that all existing UK government websites should be accessible to WCAG level AA by end December 2008, while all new sites should be conformant before being launched. The main difference between this policy target and the endless procession of missed targets we've seen over the past few years is the explicit threat of the withdrawal of the .gov.uk domain for sites which fail to meet the standard.

The COI (and the Cabinet Office before them) already have this power under the Code of Practice for .gov.uk domains (see Where are the gatekeepers, March 2006) but as far as I know have never exercised it. Whether the threat is real this time remains to be seen.

But it is only a consultation document at this stage, and it's a prime opportunity to lobby the government to adopt a robust stance over non-compliance. If anyone wants a copy of the document please email me and I'll be happy to pass it on.

Here's the text that accompanied the document:

The Central Office of Information (COI) would like to invite you provide feedback on the attached document, Delivering Inclusive Websites (TG102), by end of business November 13, 2007.

This guidance is an update of Chapter 2.4 of the Guidelines for UK Government Websites http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/e-government/webguidelines/

In order to meet European objectives for inclusive e-government and so that the UK public sector meets its obligations with regards to disability legislation, we have stipulated that all government websites must meet Level Double-A of the W3C guidelines by December 2008. Failure to satisfy this requirement will result in initiation of the process to withdraw the .gov.uk domain name used by the website.

Government websites are strongly recommended to develop an accessibility policy to aid the planning and procurement of inclusive websites. This includes building a business case, analysing user needs, developing an accessibility test plan and procuring accessible content authoring tools. The guidance covers some of the design solutions to common problems faced by users but is mainly aimed at strategic managers and project managers to assist with planning and procurement.

Please send comments to webguidelines@coi.gsi.gov.uk

Comments

Definitely looks interesting - I'd like to see that.

However, while I'm happy to see the government look to enforce Accessibility, this plainly isn't the same as WCAG 1.0 at level AA.

Would it be appropriate to remove a gov.uk domain from someone simply because they used a valign attribute? Of course not.

Yet this is what mandatory compliance with WCAG 1.0 AA would mean. This is why we need to ensure that the standard we're expected to be measured against is correct before switching to use the stick instead of the carrot.

Posted by: JackP at October 8, 2007 9:49 AM

Absbolutely right Jack, and I'll be saying the same in my response to the consultation. The real measure could be as wooly as "demonstrating reasonable consideration of accessibility", which presents its own difficulties but avoids the impossible target of requiring WCAG AA conformance.

The timescale is unrealistic too, IMHO it would be much better aligned with the EU target agreed in Riga of end 2010.

Posted by: Dan at October 8, 2007 11:46 AM

What would also be nice would be some sort of Government-backed accessibility accreditation with the RNIB/ AbilityNet/ Shaw Trust or someone like that so developers could get a professional accreditation in accessibility.

This would also encourage organisations either to employ people with those recognised qualifications or to train existing people up...

Posted by: JackP at October 8, 2007 1:23 PM

I've been reading this document today and I agree with Jack - it needs to lose the checklist mentality, extend the deadline (I understand that the author probably had to put some date there) and get every website tested by our friends at RNIB / AbilityNet / Shaw Trust / Nomensa using some kind of joined-up (consistent) testing scheme. I might have missed a few other big players out there but the point I really want to make is I don't want to see .gov.uk sites get sucked in by snakeoil salesmen.

Oh, and we must have a badge. :p

Posted by: Karl at October 9, 2007 5:16 PM

I have posted my thoughts on my UK Web Focus blog at
http://ukwebfocus.wordpress.com/2007/10/14/all-uk-government-web-sites-must-be-wcag-aa-compliant/
which I think echo the views given above.

Brian Kelly

Posted by: Brian Kelly at October 14, 2007 3:28 PM

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