A key new accessible websites standard is ready for review

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Accessibility

BSI, British Standards, is inviting all interested parties, and in particular marketing professionals and disabled web users, to review and comment on the draft of a new standard on accessible websites. DPC BS 8878 Web accessibility—Building accessible experiences for disabled people—Code of Practice is applicable to all public and private organizations wishing to offer accessible, usable websites to their customers.

DPC BS 8878 can be viewed at Removing road blocks to accessibility‘. It informs organizations of their legal responsibilities in relation to web accessibility, calling on them to appoint a specific person or department to oversee activity. Responsibility could fall within the Marketing, PR or External Relations departments which typically look after the organization’s website, or it could be Operations staff, Product Managers, HR Managers or others who are responsible for internal web applications.

The draft standard stresses the impact that an organization’s choice of technologies can have upon its audience and gives guidance on how to assess this. It also includes guidance for considering the needs of web users according to their specific disability, for example, people with physical impairments or people with learning disabilities.

DPC BS 8878 also contains text which can be extracted and used in an organization’s accessibility or procurement statement.

Julie Howell, Chair of the committee responsible for drafting DPC BS 8878, commented, “Once published, this standard will be a fantastic tool for organizations wishing to understand their responsibilities in enabling disabled people to use web content. DPC BS 8878 encourages the enhancement of the overall user experience—a much more holistic approach than we have seen previously and one that I hope will yield exciting results. Right now we want to encourage as many people as possible to read and comment on the draft standard to ensure it is as relevant as possible.”

Initial Comments
All of the content is relevant and important but I have the following concerns:

  • Accessibility is just one of the requirements of a good website. This document should explain how the accessibility requirements and processes are integrated with the rest of the development process. This is particularly important during the testing phases where usability testing and accessibility testing need to be closely aligned to gain the maximum benefit at the minimum cost.
  • One of the major sections of the document is titled: ‘Involving disabled people in the planning, development and testing of a business’s or organization’s website’ whereas it is really should be titled: ‘Planning, development and testing of a business’s or organization’s website to ensure that it is accessible to disabled people’. Involvement of disabled people is an important part of these processes but other processes are required such as automated testing and validation tools. These are mentioned in this section but do not really fit under the current title. I understand the need to ensure disabled people are involved but this involvement needs to be in the context of creating an accessible web site.

I have other comments on some of the detail which I will submit to the committee but I felt that the two previous comments were important enough to raise in this open forum.

On a side note I am delighted to see that the BSI have formatted the document as an accessible PDF and hope that this will now be the norm for all BSI documents. Having said that I will also be making some suggestions as to how the tagging could be improved to make the document easier to read using assistive technologies.

Please can my readers review DPC BS 8878 as it is a good and useful document now but with your help it could become an excellent and essential document for all website commissioners and developers.