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media:Fw: Finding a way round cyberspace Carefully designed sites are essential for disabled internet users - and make sound economic sense anyway

From: David Poehlman <poehlman1@comcast.net>
Date: Tue, 15 Jul 2003 20:13:15 -0400
Message-ID: <002701c34b2f$123f99d0$6501a8c0@handsontech>
To: "wai-ig list" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Steve Pattison" <srp@bigpond.net.au>
To: <gui-talk@nfbnet.org>
Sent: Tuesday, July 15, 2003 9:30 AM
Subject: Fwd: Finding a way round cyberspace Carefully designed sites are
essential for disabled internet users - and make sound economic sense anyway

From: Adam Morris awmorris@bigpond.net.au
To: vip-l vip-l@softspeak.com.au

Finding a way round cyberspace Carefully designed sites are essential for
disabled internet users - and make sound
economic sense anyway


They've got a lie-detector at Bunnyfoot's Oxfordshire headquarters - a big,
shiny old polygraph just like the FBI uses in
films. Jon Dodd, the company's research director, uses it to measure stress
when volunteers attempt to navigate their
way around websites under investigation: "We encourage them to swear," he
says, helpfully. And they do.

The fact is that most websites are neither particularly accessible nor
usable. This is despite having apparently met the
demands of the UK's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the 65
rules set out in 1999 to ensure that
everybody can benefit from the internet. But the rules were not drawn up as
precisely as they might have been. Dodd
and Bunnyfoot co-founder Robert Stevens are sharply critical of what they
describe as "box-ticking", where a site can
appear to meet the guidelines but remains inaccessible and difficult to use.

The guidelines apply to any site offering goods or services, including
information. They are advisory rather than
mandatory but failure to meet them would count against a site owner in any
legal challenge under the Disability
Discrimination Act. They exist in theory to ensure that the blind, the deaf,
the dyslexic and the physically handicapped
are not barred from the internet. Tags, for example, must be embedded in web
pages to allow screen reading software
like "Jaws" to dictate the text aloud.

Earlier this month the Royal National Institute for the Blind confirmed it
intended to support a number of people in
discrimination claims against several companies.

Dodd and Stevens refuse to accept that accessibility and usability are
problems limited to those with special needs:
"Accessibility isn't just a disability issue - it's the future," they say,
giving three reasons why.

First, they argue that "disabled" does not mean "less able", pointing to the
example of a blind individual capable of
listening to a screen reader while entering data with one hand and checking
Braille output with the other, while talking
on the phone: "Hands up who can do similar things all at once?"

Second, they point out that the number of people who can be disadvantaged by
poor site design is much larger than
might be expected - certainly much larger than the registered number of

Third, and most important, a site that is designed well for those with
special needs will be just as well designed for the
able- bodied. Companies with well-designed websites will see financial
benefits out of proportion to the effort involved.

Bunnyfoot - the name was chosen in a whimsical moment - is one of a group of
organisations, including the Usability
Corporation, Nomensa and Systems Concepts, which take a psychological and
scientific approach to website testing
and design. They are consultants who do not physically develop websites but
offer their services to ensure that the
actual creators avoid pitfalls.

Bunnyfoot's research reveals faults in some well regarded sites. Tesco, the
supermarket chain, set up a special site for
the blind and partially sighted, winning a RNIB "See it right" award in the
process. Yet a blind volunteer scanning the
site in Bunnyfoot's laboratory voiced a litany of complaints: "You don't get
the special offers"; "You can come to a
product that just says Soup of the Month"; "It doesn't sell the whole range
of products that Tesco does"; Double Club
Card points don't apply to the site". A letter from Stevens to Tesco's
marketing director, David Clements, raising these
points was politely brushed aside: "Thank you for your views on the subject
which have been duly noted."

The RNIB's own website has usability faults, as do the big banks'. It took
expert users an average of 24 minutes to
register online with Egg, the internet bank, against the bank's claim of 10
minutes. Egg, admittedly, asks for more
information than other banks, but most special needs users took more than
half an hour to complete the form.

Bunnyfoot's research set-up includes the use of eye-tracking equipment, a
Swedish infra-red device that enables the
researchers to build up a picture of how a normally sighted volunteer looks
at a web page. Sadly for online advertisers, it
seems that regular web users quickly become adept at ignoring

New guidelines that will make it less easy for a site to be labelled
accessible by box-ticking are on the way. In the
meantime, the Disability Research Commission is auditing some 1,000 UK sites
to establish the state of the art in the UK.
Miscreant sites identified in the survey are not expected to be penalised
this time; but can the accessibility police,
polygraph at the ready, be far behind?


Regards Steve
MSN Messenger:  Internetuser383@hotmail.com

Received on Tuesday, 15 July 2003 20:13:36 UTC

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