Customer Service Excellence not excellent
I told myself a while ago that I'd retired from bashing government websites. The DTI apart it never seemed to do much good, and I was getting reputation for being a zealot (which couldn't be further from the truth - I'm really a very pragmatic developer and know that at every turn in a web development project there are compromises to be made).
When the Cabinet Office's Customer Service Excellence website appeared last week I had a dig around, wasn't very impressed by what I saw and left it at that. But since then there's been a nagging voice at the back of my mind, urging me to think a little harder about this.
This bit of the site I found particularly hard to swallow:
The Government wants public services for all that are efficient, effective, excellent, equitable and empowering - with the citizen always and everywhere at the heart of public service provision.
So, let's consider the evidence and you can help me decide whether the Cabinet Office deserve to be hauled over the coals for the CSE website.
Firstly this is the same Cabinet Office that last year issued a consultation document, Delivering Inclusive Websites, which suggested that any government website that failed to conform to WCAG level AA by December 2008 could have its domain withdrawn, and that all new government websites should conform on launch.
So, as you'd expect, being brand spanking new the CSE website states proudly on its accessibility page:
In general, the site conforms to WAI double AA rating where HTML is used. Where documents are made available in other formats, conformance has not been achieved.
I think it's reasonable to have some documents in other formats which don't conform, so we'll overlook that.
Sadly, as you may have guessed, the rest of the site falls some way short of level AA conformance, and indeed some way short of level A conformance. I spent 15 minutes testing a few of the pages and found enough to satisfy me it was a bit short of the required standard. For example the home page features not a single HTML heading and lots of pictures of text without alt attributes. There are lots of other failings but the developers clearly need an accessibility 101 refresher.
The site isn't very good, and when you consider that:
- this is a government website produced in 2008
- for the government's new Customer Service Excellence standard
- by the department responsible for setting standards for government websites
- which is recommending that new government websites conform to WCAG level AA
- and which in 2006 contributed to the BSI's PAS 78, Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites
- and the site has serious accessibilty failings
…you can probably understand why I've come out of retirement.
I've made enquiries to the FOI team at the Cabinet Office. If you're tempted to do the same please don't - we had problems with the DTI dodging difficult questions because too many people were interested, it would be a shame if that were to happen again.