How can everyone else be expected to achieve website accessibility, if the experts can't?

07 Jul 2005

LONDON, 07.07.05 [Sitemorse Technologies Limited] It seems that every company in the field of website delivery is promising compliance with the standards and specific services to ensure that legal and moral requirements are met - Sitemorse once again tested the ‘leaders’ of the field to find large gaps in what these companies claim to be their expertise and in their own capability to deliver – the question to ask is:

‘If the experts cannot get their own house in order, then how can companies be expected to meet such highly published requirements?’

The Sitemorse survey provides a six-monthly review on the websites of companies that are focused on accessibility. Once again we saw poor performance from a number of the service providers. Following on from the previous report, RedAnt again came top with Fhios bottom, every page on the Fhios’s site failed accessibility A and AA tests, the Disability Rights Commission Site had even more images without alt tags, failing both A / AA again (even after their own damning report at the end of last year). The RNIB showed improvement since last time. A copy of the full report is available at no charge – please email acc3@sitemorse.com.

No one at Sitemorse is saying that automated tests are the Holy Grail, simply if you cannot pass the automated tests and, for instance, have basic descriptions missing on images, how can you hope to achieve compliance?

A spokesperson for Sitemorse comments further on an article by SciVisum which appeared on BBC News Online and in The Register; the article slammed top sites for a lack of standards compliance, yet their own site fails the tests miserably.
“The Disability Rights Commission have once again failed to meet even the most basic requirements. All of this continues to occur after an attack on Sitemorse around 12 months ago, when we produced the first report. The DRC’s chairman, Bert Massie, then claimed that ‘The ink was hardly dry’. He was referring to the launch of the DRC’s new site. Since then, Sitemorse’s tests continue to show that basics such as alt text for images (text describing what the picture is) have been continually left out.” No one from the DRC's Media was available for comment.
Sitemorse reveals that a number of providers, or experts in the field, fail both the mandatory accessibility standards of A and AA.:
• www.webcredible.co.uk - who say they are ‘The web usability, credibility and accessibility specialists.’
• www.usability.uk.com - who believe that they are ‘The leading UK Usability and Accessibility Company’;
• www.scivisum.co.uk - who says that they perform ‘In-depth Accessibility Testing’, and who featured in the BBC News Online article about accessibility and the problems with the open source Firefox browser for the disabled;
• www.bunnyfoot.com - claims to be ‘Driving interactive behaviour through usability and accessibility’;
• www.fhios.com - is perhaps more modest, ‘The fhios User Research service, offering includes Accessibility Audits’.

Sitemorse’s spokesperson said that he wonders whether SciVisum shouldn’t get its own act in order before “pointing the finger at others.” Meanwhile in the article, Deri Jones, chief executive of SciVisum claims that web developers will gain more than friends among the alternative browser community by using W3C compliant coding. He also says that such a browser would be easier to use, but adds that developers have begun to “to misuse the original standards created for the web to create websites that look great to you and I, but are confusing to a disabled person using a screen reader which needs to make sense of the content.”

With reference to this, Sitemorse’s spokesman comments: “In looking at his own site, there are errors on virtually every page (specifically HTML problems that were the focus of their own article) .The article then talks about accessibility; a testing service offered by his company, only to find that SciVisum’s own site once again fails with many examples of A (Priority 1) failures, and every page fails the requirements of AA (Priority 2).”

Following requests we added a number of other sites to the report, including GAWDS ‘Guild of Accessible Web Designers’, which had one of the best ever results for a first time site test.

“All of this poses some real questions for those looking to embrace the entire web community: who really does understand accessibility? If so many of them and the bodies in place looking to promote it fail even basic testing, then how can we expect to see websites’ quality improve and therefore make them accessible for everyone?”

Sitemorse offers some basic pointers for those looking to deliver well performing, functioning and compliant websites:

• Ensure that content editors understand the reasons why sites need to be accessible;
• Do not allow CMS systems to accept images unless provided with alternative text;
• Build in basic page reviews;
• Remember that automated tools assist, but they are not the complete answer;
• You must ensure you have pre-release quality assurance procedures in place that test all web templates in both live and off line environment.
• And when contracting for services state specific standards to be achieved (not specifically product based Bobby / Sitemorse) WAI - WCAG P1, etc.;

Sitemorse also stresses that if a site scores 100% in its automated tests, then this indicates that it has not failed the automated tests, however manual testing is also needed to achieve compliance. It seems that each organisation highlighted here by Sitemorse has some work to do, and that the general feeling is that companies should practice what they preach.


ENDS


For further information contact the Sitemorse press office, Nicholas Le Seelleur (nleseelleur@sitemorse.com) 0870 759 3300

About Sitemorse™
We offer a range of website testing services to ensure that your website is performing, functioning and complaint (Metadata/ HTML / Accessibility / eGMS etc) – we also offer monitoring services to ensure that you are alerted to any problems (function, performance and compliance), We also provide are range of load and stress testing tools to test the capability of your site, ensuring it can meet changing traffic demands.

We also produce the well established UK Government, FTSE and Finance Sector website ranking and benchmarking.

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