Problems with WCAG
Version 1.0 of the current Web Accessibility Initiative (WCAG) came out in May 1999. Version 2.0 is currently a working draft. City University conducted its research with reference to Version 1.0 and called for the WAI to revise its guidelines to encourage a reduction in the number of links on a site and to ensure that genuine and necessary links are clearly identified as such, to preserve links to the home page, to improve search design, to eradicate excessively deep site structures, and to ensure that page titles are informative.
City University also called for elevated prioritisation of the need to ensure that foreground and background colours have sufficient contrast, the need to identify the target of each link, and the need to ensure that pages work when scripts and applets are not supported.
The DRC has decided against "naming and shaming" on this occasion. However, it made clear that it finds the current state of web accessibility to be "unacceptable".
The DRC explained:
"Our report contains a range of recommendations to help website owners and developers tackle the barriers to inclusive design. However, where the response is inadequate, the DRC will not hesitate to use its legal powers - from 'named-party' Formal Investigations which can lead to sanctions against the owners of inaccessible websites, to support for test cases brought by individual disabled people - to ensure the web becomes fully inclusive to disabled users."
DRC Chairman Bert Massie added: "The situation revealed by this investigation is unacceptable but not inevitable. The DRC is determined to ensure that this powerful new technology does not leave disabled people behind."
"There has to be a change in approach at the heart of the Internet industry and website developers must involve disabled users from an early stage in the design process. Existing best practice initiatives such as the guidelines set down by the World Wide Web Consortium are valuable here, but as our investigation has shown, not enough to ensure genuine access to disabled users."
Massie said that raising the skills and understanding of web access by promoting a formal qualification for web designers and developers "is now an essential requirement."
Helen Petrie, Professor of Human Computer Interaction at City University, said:
"In addition to better use of the Guidelines, the most effective thing web developers can do is involve disabled users in testing their websites. This will not only improve accessibility but also usability for everyone - non-disabled users were almost 50 per cent slower when using low-accessibility websites in comparison to high-accessibility sites."
Dr Jon Dodd of usability and accessibility specialist Bunnyfoot Universality welcomed the idea of a formal accreditation process. But he warned that this "must not be a technical specification."
"It should involve actual use testing by real and representative people, including those with disabilities. The results of the DRC investigation support our experience that mere adherence to technical accessibility guidelines does not produce sites that actually work in practice," he said.
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