A dissertation evaluating the awareness of web accessibiility amongst UK small businesses.
Student Andy Higgs has written an excellent dissertation on 'Web Accessibility In UK Small Businesses'. While his research has been (necessarily) limited, his findings and conclusions illustrate one thing clearly: that the cause of web accessibility in the UK is failing. It will continue to fail unless serious and immediate action is taken.
Web Accessibility In UK Small Businesses
As he writes in his abstract, Andy set out to learn more about awareness of accessibility issues among small businesses in the UK and questioned thirty such businesses by questionnaire.
Very little is known about the level of knowledge of web accessibility and web design standards in UK SMEs (Small/Medium Enterprises). Thirty small businesses were surveyed to measure their awareness about accessibility issues and assess their knowledge of their legal obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act (1995).
The result of the online questionnaire for SMEs was that the majority of businesses are not aware of the current legal requirements or even the concept of website accessibility.
It was concluded that the cause could be attributed to three main problems; lack of publicity in the media, poor communication by the government and web developers refusing to update their skills set.
Following the discussions, the evidence seems to indicate that the current level of knowledge on the topic of web accessibility in UK SMEs is poor. [...] As yet, public opinion does not seem as conscious that discriminating websites are just as bad as discriminating physical facilities.
The failure of government
While web accessibility has the attention of some of the brightest minds in our industry; people who are not only well intentioned but are knowledgeable about the needs of real people and who are committed to solving their problems, our masters in government are doing nothing.
To quote directly from our Labour (sic) Party's constitution.
[The UK Labour Party] believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few. Where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe. And where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.
And yet they are doing nothing to inform businesses or other organisations about their responsibilties to people with disabilities. Nothing to create a wider understanding of web accessibility among the general public. Nothing to help educate the web industry by putting pressure on educational establishments to include accessibility in web related courses. Nothing to help established designers and developers re-train and nothing to help them acquire the testing tools necessary to their job properly.
In an interview for Accessify back in November 2005, I wrote that,
There are now so many web sites, blogs or publications devoted to helping people learn standards and accessible techniques that there are now no excuses not to work with semantic code or CSS. Those people still delivering nested table layout, spacer gifs or ignoring accessibility can no longer call themselves web professionals.
I stand behind this comment and also behind my reasons for writing that
I believe that there should not be laws governing web accessibility and that such laws hinder the cause of wider web accessibility rather than help it. But now it is time to extend the focus of our attention to the role and responsibilities of government, praising them for their successes and bringing them to account for their failings.
In relation to web accessibility, the UK government should hang their heads. For a government that we elected in 1997 on their social agenda, their lack of action relating to web acessibility is shameful. People deserve better.