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BSI consults on first British Standard for accessible websites

A British Standard will give business owners and marketing managers new guidance for building and maintaining web content that is accessible to disabled people. A draft version of BS 8878 was released for public comment today.01 Dec 2008

Julie Howell, chair of the cross-industry committee responsible for the draft Standard, said that awareness of the importance of web accessibility is high. "But there is an almost universal failure to create web experiences that can be used by disabled people," she said.

The 46-page draft Standard explains the business case for accessibility, how to allocate responsibilities within an organisation, the impact of the Disability Discrimination Act, how disabled people use websites, how to choose technologies and how to contract with web developers or vendors of content management systems.

The draft also contains text which can be extracted and used in an organisation's accessibility or procurement statement.

Howell was the technical author of BS 8878's predecessor known as PAS 78, Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites. A PAS is a Publicly Available Specification, a document that is not a full British Standard but developed using a similar process. PAS 78 was downloaded more than 60,000 times.

BS 8878, Web accessibility – Building accessible experiences for disabled people – Code of Practice, is similar to, but "better and clearer" than PAS 78, according to Howell. "BS 8878 puts responsibility on the right people," she said.

The draft says that the CEO of a business "should ensure that a department or specified role is responsible for the organization's compliance with BS 8878." That person or department should also understand how disabled people access and use web content, it says.

Howell said that the guide also differs from PAS 78 in talking about enjoyment of web experiences.

"Access, use and enjoy are the three terms we use," she said. "Access is about the ability to reach the content; usability is about the ability to complete a task; and enjoyment is about having an enjoyable user experience and wanting to go back to that site. In the past we thought very functionally about what disabled users wanted."

The draft Standard also addresses the legal issues of making user-generated content accessible, an issue that PAS 78 did not consider.

"For sites that deal with high volumes of user-generated content, it will be impossible to ensure the accessibility of each item of content without excessive cost or a fundamental change to the nature of the service," it says.

But it suggests that it will be appropriate to make such content accessible in some cases.

"For example, an organization might exercise editorial judgement to select and promote the 10 best user-generated videos from a collection of 10,000," it says. "Captioning 10,000 videos is likely to be prohibitively expensive; but it is likely to be reasonable to expect the organization to caption 10 videos."

The draft recommends involving disabled people in the planning, development and testing of a site. It suggests commissioning tests by people with different disability profiles, though Howell said the nature of the testing will depend on an organisation's budget.

"An investment in testing is required," she said. "There are diminishing returns if you do too much testing, but testing with one disabled person is better than testing with nobody at all. You always have choices."

"The language of the Standard is 'should', not 'must'," she said. "The Standard is intended to be helpful – it acknowledges that every organisation is different," she said.

Comments are invited until 1st February 2009. The final Standard is expected to be published in summer 2009.

IST/45, the BSI committee responsible for BS 8878, comprised representatives from: AbilityNet; BBC; British Computer Association of the Blind; British Dyslexia Association; Chartered Institute of Marketing; Employers Forum on Disability; Equality and Human Rights Commission; IBM; Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG); Lloyds TSB; Mencap; Opera; Pinsent Masons; Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID); United Response; University of Salford; University of Southampton; Usability Professionals Association (UPA); Web Standards Project (WaSP).

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