Affiliate program gives Accessibility Trustmark credibility

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Segala’s affiliate program should turn an interesting concept and technology into a world beating solution.

To substantiate that view I need to explain the background. Segala was founded in 2002 in Dublin. It provides services to review web sites for conformance to accessibility standards, such as Section 508 and WCAG, and to issue a certificate of compliance to those that pass.

There are a number of organisations that provide this type of service but Segala created a package which I believe is unique:

  • A visual trustmark on every relevant page.
  • The visual trustmark is only available from the Segala authority server site. This ensures that it is a valid and authorised use of the mark.
  • The logo is a hyperlink that provides more detail about the certificate including: the valid to and from dates, the claims of the guidelines complied with (and hence those not complied with), and which areas of a site are compliant. The granularity of the certificate enables a process of continuous improvement to be implemented.
  • Crucially the certificate also provide a method to ‘report misuse of the Trustmark’; anyone finding an erroneous claim can report it to Segala who will investigate and, if it is upheld, will report back to the website owners.
  • Segala have defined a process to validate a web site against the relevant standards. This process may use automated testing tools but will also include human verification. The results are provided to the owners in a document that could be used in a court of law if required.
  • The Trustmark is machine-readable. This mean that search engines can incorporate it into their algorithms. As an example Segala has developed a prototype browser extension that will highlight result pages with the Trustmark.
  • The technology is supported by new standards that are being developed with the active support of Segala.

These are all excellent concepts and technology and Segala customers, such as O2, have benefited because it provides a way of ensuring that companies sub-contracted to develop websites and content comply with the standards.

However, for a trustmark to be really important it must be widely used and recognised across the web. Segala, by themselves, are not capable of creating that mass acceptance for the following reasons:

  • Segala is a relatively new and small company that cannot generate the worldwide PR and marketing.
  • Segala could not grow fast enough or wide enough to support a mass certification of websites worldwide.
  • There is a perceived conflict of interest if one company is the validator and the certificate authority. It is believed that you can only get a certificate if you spend a lot of money on consulting.

This is why the affiliate program is so essential. The program enables website designers, developers and accessibility agents to become affiliates and then issue certificates. Segala will ensure the continuing quality of the certificates by running spot checks and monitoring feedback. If an affiliate is seen to be issuing sub-standard certificates it could eventually loose its affiliate status and hence its ability to issue certificates.

This model allows the Trustmark to become pervasive across the web because:

  • Demand for validation can be met by increasing the number of affiliates.
  • The cost of validation will be kept down, by competition between the affiliates, and may be included in the development cost.
  • The individual affiliates will generate PR and will use the certification process to improve their marketing.
  • Existing accessibility agents can continue to provide their consultancy and even their own logos and in addition provide the Segala Trustmark; so there need not be a conflict between them and Segala.
  • A significant affiliate community will persuade search engines, browsers and other specialist technologies to recognise and take advantage of the Trustmark.

I believe that all website owners, website developers and accessibility agents should consider the use of Segala as the accessibility certification authority.