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Web accessibility code of practice launched by BSI

UK standards-setting body BSI has published the first British standard on web accessibility. The websites of organisations which follow the guidance will be accessible to users with disabilities.03 Dec 2010

Websites must be built in a certain way if they are to be compatible with assistive technologies such as the text-to-speech software used by some people with vision impairments. The BSI said that it recognised that while website owners might want to make their sites accessible, not all of them knew how.

It was for those site owners that it produced BS 8878, or the Web Accessibility Code of Practice.

"Most website owners acknowledge the need to eliminate existing barriers that keep millions from accessing online services," said a BSI statement. "Yet although they may be willing to implement accessibility, they lack the 'know-how' to do so. BS 8878 demonstrates how to create organizational policies and production processes that identify and remove these digital divides."

The standard is a non-technical one focusing on the policies and processes that organisations should follow when seeking to make their site accessible.

The Equality Act, passed this year, makes the fair treatment of disabled people a legal requirement. It has replaced the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in Great Britain, which contained the same requirement. If a website is not accessible, its provider could be in breach of the Equality Act or, in Northern Ireland, the DDA.

"BS 8878 is designed to be a real-world standard, talking about real issues which are experienced by users of up-to-date web products on the devices on which they use those products," said Jonathan Hassell, head of user experience and accessibility at the BBC, who was the chairman of the committee which produced the standard.

"It provides an end-to-end guide which identifies the key decisions web production teams make which affect whether or not their products will include or exclude disabled and older people," he said. "It advises production teams on how they can best consider their options in making and documenting those decisions. And it details ways of embedding such best practices in organizations to assure accessibility of their web products over time."

"We all recognise that the digital age promises huge benefits – for organizations and consumers alike," said the BSI’s director of standards Mike Low. "It’s also the case, as noted in the UK government’s recent eAccessibility Action Plan, that too many people are excluded from participating fully in these."

"We are pleased therefore that BS 8878 is central to the Action Plan’s aim to update current advice on making public and private sector websites more accessible. BS 8878 provides guidance on how to remove barriers to inclusion and highlights a simple truth: if accessibility is built-in, it’s a win-win for site owners and users," said Low.

The Standard is priced at £100, or £50 for BSI members.